IF YOU THINK you are safe from the gangs of extortionist hackers and don’t need to guard against ransomware crooks, think again. Dollar losses are in the tens of billions and the hackers are becoming more brazen.

According to cybersecurity firm Emsisoft, last year alone in the United States, ransomware gangs hit more than 100 federal, state and municipal institutions, and untold thousands of businesses. Recent attacks underscore the threat posed by hackers.

Many individuals also were targeted, but were too embarrassed to report being taken. The current crypto craze is not helping. Criminals are using secrecy to hide their enterprise.

The criminal syndicates that dominate the ransomware business are mostly Russian-speaking and allied countries. The syndicates have grown in sophistication and skill, and authorities believe they operate with the impunity of the Russian government.

Ransomware scrambles the target organization’s data with encryption. The criminals leave instructions on infected computers for negotiating ransom payments. Once paid, they provide decryption keys for unlocking those files.

Ransomware hackers also have expanded into data-theft blackmail. Before triggering encryption, they quietly copy sensitive files and threaten to post them publicly unless they get their ransom payments.

You need to be careful.

That can present problems even for companies that diligently back up their networks as a hedge against ransomware, since refusing to pay can incur costs far greater than the ransoms they might have negotiated.

Some top ransomware criminals fancy themselves as software service professionals. They take pride in their customer service, providing help desks that assist paying victims in file decryption.

The FBI discourages paying ransoms, but a public-private task force including tech companies, and United States, British and Canadian crime agencies say it would be wrong to try to ban ransom payments altogether. The attackers continue to find new ways to accomplish their dastardly deeds.

The task force recognizes that paying up can be the only way for an afflicted business to avoid bankruptcy. Many victims have cybersecurity insurance coverage, but the criminals know the limits and use it to their advantage.

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LAWMAKERS IN Iowa, Oklahoma and Florida have recently signed bills that stiffen penalties for people who are deemed to be rioting. At least 10 states this year have acted on broader policing bills.

The intent is to give police the powers to respond to lawless behavior and to protect peaceful protesters caught in volatile situations. Why would responsible people want to make it harder for law enforcement to manage protests that have turned violent? That’s when property is destroyed and looting takes place.

What’s hard to understand is the fact that many Democrats and civil rights groups opposed the legislation because they say it gives police greater discretion to arrest demonstrators and it threatens constitutional rights. They say the new laws will make people fearful of joining peaceful protests.

Proponents believe when a protest becomes violent and out of control, innocent, peaceful protesters should leave the area and allow law enforcement officers the space to deal with the uncivil behavior, which makes perfect sense.

Too many times, the bad actors show up at peaceful protests and use the peaceful protesters as shields. Sadly, some of those good, sincere protesters become willing participants in the mayhem which impedes the management of the dangerous and costly behavior.