Senate Approves Bipartisan Bill to Combat "Ransomware"

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The California State Senate today unanimously approved Senate Bill 1137 authored by Democratic Senator Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) and co-authored by Republican Senator Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) and others that would make “ransomware” the criminal equivalent of extortion. It would be a crime punishable by up to four years in jail. The bill now goes to the State Assembly for its consideration.

“Senator Hertzberg deserves a lot of credit for bringing a bipartisan coalition together to address the growing problem of ransomware,” said Bates. “Our bill would give law enforcement the 21st century tools they need to fight a 21st century crime that has sadly grown in sophistication and reach. I encourage the State Assembly to send this bill to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk this year.”

Ransomware involves infecting a user’s computer with a virus that locks it until a ransom is paid. Senate Bill 1137 would define “ransomware” in state law and make it a crime to introduce it into any computer, system or network. The range of punishment (up to four years imprisonment) is equivalent to the punishment under current law for extortion.

Earlier this year, Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center paid a $17,000 ransom in bitcoin to a hacker who seized control of the hospital's computer systems and would give back access only when the money was paid. More recently, computer systems at two Southern California hospitals were held hostage by hackers after being hit with ransomware. While patient records were not compromised, such attacks have become more common and brazen.

Last year's 2,453 reports of ransomware hackings to the FBI totaled a reported loss of $24.1 million, making up nearly one-third of the complaints over the past decade. They also represented 41 percent of the $57.6 million in reported losses since 2005.

SB 1137 is supported by TechNet, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, California Statewide Law Enforcement Association, California State Sheriffs’ Association, California Police Chiefs Association and other organizations.