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Ransomware Possession Would Become A Crime In Maryland Under Proposed Legislation

Lawmakers are trying to deter would-be hackers from carrying out cyber attacks that have paralyzed companies, hospital systems and local governments, including Baltimore’s city government.

After two years of ransomware wreaking havoc on local governments, companies, hospital systems and school districts across the country, including the Baltimore city government, Maryland lawmakers have had enough. State senators are considering a bill that would make it a crime to possess ransomware with the intention to use it in a malicious way.

It’s already illegal in Maryland to use ransomware in a way that costs victims money. The malware encrypts data on an organization’s systems until a ransom is paid and has cost organizations millions of dollars over the past few years.

Under Senate Bill 30, ransomware owners convicted of possession with malicious intent would face a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000, according to Capital News Service. Researchers who possess ransomware would be exempt from the criminal penalty.

Senators heard arguments about the bill, introduced by state Sen. Susan Lee, last week. Lee originally introduced the legislation in 2019 and said she has cleaned up the bill ahead of the 2020 legislative session.

“It’s important to establish so criminals know it’s a crime,” Lee, a Democrat, told CNS. “[The bill] gives prosecutors tools to charge offenders.”

Other states have already made possession of ransomware a criminal offense, including Michigan and Wyoming. There is no official research to indicate that the creation of criminal penalties has deterred hackers, but cybersecurity experts say it’s important to show that there are consequences for carrying out the crimes.

“It’s important to send that signal [to perpetrators],” Markus Rauschecker, the program director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Health and Homeland Security, told CNS. “[This bill] highlights the threat and how big it is.”

Committing a cyber attack in Maryland that results in a loss of more than $10,000 is already a felony carrying penalties of up to 10 years in prison and/or up to $10,000 in fines.

Members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee said on Tuesday that they would consider changing ransomware possession from a misdemeanor to a felony due to its huge impact on organizations, according to CNS. Local governments and companies have lost millions on lost revenue and the cost of cybersecurity services to regain access to their data. That’s not including companies that have paid out ransoms, some of whom still did not regain full access to their data.

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