LAS VEGAS -- The growth of the Internet of Things will offer new ransomware opportunities for cybercriminals, according to a report released Thursday by Symantec.\n\nResearchers were able repackage existing Android ransomware -- Android.Simplocker -- inside a new Android Wear project, and when the phone was infected, so was a paired smartwatch. Once executed, the ransomware made the watch unusable, and also encrypted files stored on the watch\u2019s SD card.\n\nResearchers said they haven\u2019t seen any examples of this kind of ransomware in the wild yet.\n\nAccording to a report by Symantec researcher Kevin Savage, cybercriminals switch their focus to a different malware type approximately every two or three years of reaching a peak.\n\n\u201cThe patterns\u2026 suggest that crypto ransomware growth is already at, or close to, its peak,\u201d he said. \u201cThis means it may soon plateau before finally entering a declining phase.\u201d\n\nThis could be because of increasing crackdowns by law enforcement or changes in international law or financial regulations, he said.\n\nIn addition, ransomware might not be as difficult to protect against as commonly thought, according to Engin Kirda, co-founder and chief architect of security firm Lastline, and a cyber security professor at Northeastern University.\n\nKirda presented a paper at Black Hat on Thursday that analyzed 1,359 samples of ransomware and determined that 61 percent only affected user desktops and did not touch stored files at all, 35 percent deleted files -- most without actually wiping the data from the disk -- and around 5 percent used encryption.\n\nBut the most effective of the crypto-based ransomware, such as Cryptowall and Cryptolocker, use the strong encryption that is built into Windows. This means that defenders can monitor for particular behaviors, like access to the encryption libraries.\n\nPlus, all ransomware has one additional weakness, said Kirda -- ransomware has to show the ransom note to the user, while quickly looking for files in the background for encryption or deletion.\n\n\u201cThe behavior that the ransomware shows is quite predictable,\u201d he said. \u201cIt aims to infect people and extort money as soon as possible.\u201d\n\nWhile current antivirus software does a bad job at catching it, behavior-based techniques should be more effective, he said.\n\n\u201cWe should be able to do a better job of mitigation,\u201d he said.\n\n\u201cThis does not mean that it will go away,\u201d said Symantec\u2019s Savage. \u201cInstead it is likely that crypto ransomware may enter a decay phase within two years but the decay phase will be drawn out and never reach zero.\u201d\n\nOne possible new avenue of exploration for criminal gangs is the Internet of Things, which includes, in addition to smartwatches, smart TVs, smart clothing, smart fridges, smart locks and Internet-enabled cars.\n\n\u201cAll of these devices are effectively connected computers which could potentially be hijacked by cybercriminals and held to ransom,\u201d Savage wrote in his report. \u201cImagine a scenario your smart house lock refuses to allow entry to your own house or where your car is taken over by ransomware and refuses to start, allow entry, speed up, or slow down until a ransom is paid.\u201d\n\nSome devices, such as network-attached storage devices, have already been hit by criminals, while researchers have shown the ability to gain remote access to a moving Jeep Cherokee and take over lights, steering, transmission, and brakes.\n\n\u201cIt\u2019s not happening yet, but it\u2019s something we might see in the future because it\u2019s not something that\u2019s too difficult to do,\u201d said Lastline\u2019s Kirda.\n\nIn addition to going after consumers, attackers might also target industrial control systems, hospitals, and other targeted organizations, he said -- but this might pose some logistical problems for attackers. If they warn organizations that an attack is coming, the organization might take steps to protect itself.\n\n\u201cBut if they shut stuff down, the damage is already done, so why pay up?\u201d he said.