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ANALYSIS: Federal Complaints Citing Ransomware Continue to Climb

April 11, 2022, 9:00 AM

Complaints filed in federal court in 2021 containing the term “ransomware” hit an all–time high of 165, continuing their recent steady upward trajectory.

This increase follows two years in which such complaints doubled: There were 62 in 2019 (up from 2018’s 31), and 140 in 2020, according to a search of Bloomberg Law dockets.

2022 appears set to continue the trend, with 46 complaints in Q1. If the other quarters of 2022 follow suit, this year could potentially see as many as 184 complaints, compared to 2021’s 165.

Ransomware is malicious software that invades a victim’s system and holds its information hostage. The perpetrator then demands a ransom to release the information. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaints Commission reported on March 31 that in 2021, ransomware victims reported $49.2 million in losses.

The FBI has also found that there have been year–over–year increases in attacks and ransom payments, reflecting the same upward trends as Bloomberg’s docket data.

Ransomware–as–a–service has made such attacks easier than ever. Using RaaS, a perpetrator can rent ransomware software and infrastructure from another party, meaning that perpetrators no longer need the level of expertise that used to be necessary to carry out a hack and extort a ransom.

Perhaps as a result of this easier access, ransomware is proving to be increasingly mentioned in litigation, from patent disputes over ransomware–fighting products to insurance claims for losses. While some of the search results for “ransomware” appear in attachments or contexts not relevant to the core of the complaint, the increase in appearance of the term in federal filings correlates with the annual increases in incidents reported to the FBI and rising costs.

Up next: An analysis of the types of litigation involving ransomware, including a new category overtaking the others in 2022.

Bloomberg Law subscribers can find related content on our Practical Guidance pages, including our Ransomware FAQs page, our Ransomware Guide, our Ransomware Response Checklist, our Advanced Dockets Search, and our Practical Guidance on Using Bloomberg Law Dockets page.

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