Ransomware’s Big Year – from nuisance to “scourge”? - DEF CON Policy Panel

Conference:  Defcon 29



The evolution of the conversation around cybersecurity and the increased attention it is receiving as a national security priority, particularly in response to ransomware attacks. The need to focus on attribution and follow the money trail in order to combat cybercrime.
  • Cybersecurity was previously treated as a back burner issue, but recent ransomware attacks have elevated it to a national security priority
  • The ransomware task force has issued a report with 45 recommendations covering all aspects of cybersecurity
  • Attribution is a hurdle, but following the money trail can be an effective method of combatting cybercrime
  • It is important to engage non-technical executives and lawyers in conversations about cybersecurity and provide training and education to increase awareness
Atlanta's cybersecurity insurance policy was only a month old when the city had to rebuild everything due to a ransomware attack, highlighting the importance of being prepared for cyber threats.


According to a former senior White House official, 2020 was the year that ransomware went from being a nuisance to a full-scale national security threat and a “scourge”. After an awkward adolescence spent shaking down individual users for a couple hundred dollars and a big debut in 2017 with WannaCry and NotPetya , ransomware really hit the big time in 2020. Ransom payments may have topped $400 million plus that year. But those sums are nothing compared to the damage that ransomware campaigns can cause, especially when they hit critical infrastructure like Colonial Pipeline. And even months after Colonial Pipeline, ransomware continues to regularly subvert and cripple enterprises in the US and Europe. Are we not learning the right lessons on defense? Or is it not just an infosec problem, but also an international security issue, with cybercrime being actively wielded – yet again – as a political weapon?