'Plague of our time:' Ransomware attacks on the rise

’Plague of our time: ’ Ransomware attacks on the rise

MEQUON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Cyber criminals have demanded millions in ransom from pipeline and meat companies recently.

The attacks have been growing for years, as criminals have successfully gotten companies to pay up.

Cybersecurity experts said that's created a vicious cycle, where successful ransom payments convince criminals to keep on attacking.

"Ransomware is a plague of our time," said Hold Security Chief Information Security Officer Alex Holden.

The company monitors cyber criminals to try and identify their next target. It also helps victims of ransomware attacks.

"Companies are literally fighting for their livelihoods, and it's not only the heads of a company, it's the employees who may lose their jobs," said Holden.

He said that pressure has convinced companies to pay the ransoms, often with insurance money. That's signaled criminals to keep up the assault.

"A signal that they should be stealing more, unfortunately," said Holden.

The University of Wisconsin held an online discussion Tuesday to discuss what can be done to stop these growing attacks.

"A lot of companies and organizations are very stingy with their security budget," said UW Madison Professor Somesh Jha.

Holden said the government needs to set rules for cybersecurity, like it does speed limits for highways.

"How they can do computing safely, and what safeguards they should be implementing," said Holden.

But it also comes down to us -- using different passwords for every site that needs a login, not clicking suspicious links and not falling for emails designed to fool us.

"Defending your computers, using good passwords, doing good backups, following good cybersecurity hygiene," said Holden.

He said cyber criminals are trying two tactics.

Encrypting their victims' data and holding it for ransom.

They're also stealing the data and using it to blackmail their victims as well.

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