UK NCSC, ICO urge lawyers to stop clients paying cybercrime ransoms

The UK National Cyber Security Centre and Information Commissioner’s Office warn the Law Society that paying ransoms will not protect data or lessen regulatory action.

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The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and data protection regulator the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) have issued a joint letter to the Law Society urging lawyers to warn their clients against paying cybercrime ransoms. The guidance follows a rise in ransomware payments being made by businesses and seeks to emphasise the stance of both the NCSC and ICO that payment of a ransom will not keep data safe or be viewed as mitigation.

Paying ransoms will not protect data, lessen regulatory action

In their letter, the NCSC and ICO cited recent evidence of an increase in the number of ransomware attacks and ransom amounts being paid. “We are aware that legal advisers are often retained to advise clients who have fallen victim to ransomware on how to respond and whether to pay. It has been suggested to us that a belief persists that payment of a ransom may protect the stolen data and/or result in a lower penalty by the ICO should it undertake an investigation. We would like to be clear that this is not the case.”

Payment does not guarantee decryption of networks or return of stolen data, nor does it lessen potential regularity fallout, the letter stated. “UK data protection law requires organisations to take appropriate technical and organisational measures to keep personal information secure and to restore information in the event of an information security incident. The ICO does not consider the payment of monies to criminals who have attacked a system as mitigating the risk to individuals and this will not reduce any penalties incurred through ICO enforcement action.” Instead, the ICO said it recognises mitigation of risk as organisations taking steps to fully understand what has happened and learning from it, raising their incident with the NCSC/law enforcement where appropriate, and evidencing that they have taken advice from or can demonstrate compliance with appropriate NCSC guidance and support.

Legal sector key to fighting ransomware

The legal sector has a key role to play in reversing ransomware payment trends, stated NCSC CEO Lindy Cameron. “Ransomware remains the biggest online threat to the UK, and we do not encourage or condone paying ransom demands to criminal organisations. Cybersecurity is a collective effort, and we urge the legal sector to work with us as we continue our efforts to fight ransomware and keep the UK safe online.”

John Edwards, UK information commissioner, added that engaging with cybercriminals and paying ransoms only incentivises other criminals to carry out malicious activity. “We’ve seen cybercrime costing UK firms billions over the last five years. The response to that must be vigilance, good cyber hygiene, including keeping appropriate back up files, and proper staff training to identify and stop attacks. Organisations will get more credit from those arrangements than by paying off the criminals.”

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