The NCSC and ICO share joint letter with the Law Society after increases in ransomware payments.
Solicitors are being asked to help keep the UK safe online by combating an increase in payments made to ransomware criminals.
The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) ask the Law Society in a joint letter to remind its members of their advice on ransomware and emphasise that paying a ransom will not keep data safe or be viewed as a mitigation in regulatory action by the ICO.
The NCSC, which is part of GCHQ, and the ICO state in their letter that they have seen evidence of an increase in ransomware payments, and that in some cases, solicitors may have advised clients to pay in the belief that it will keep data safe or result in a lower penalty from the ICO.
The two organisations request that the Law Society inform its members that this is not the case, and that they do not encourage or condone paying ransoms, which can incentivise criminals and do not guarantee that files are returned.
Ransomware involves cyber criminals encrypting an organisation's files and demanding money in exchange for access to them. These attacks are becoming more sophisticated and damaging, and the UK government is collaborating with partners from all sectors to reduce the threat.
With this in mind, the National Cyber Strategy was launched in December 2021 to provide £2.6 billion in new investment and strengthen the UK's role as a responsible cyber power.
Combating cybercrime, particularly ransomware, is central to the strategy, which aims to improve law enforcement partners' ability to respond to cyberattacks.
For example, the National Crime Agency's (NCA) National Cyber Crime Unit (NCCU) was established to bring together law enforcement experts into a single elite unit. There is also a well-established network of regional cyber crime units (ROCUs) that provide access to specialised capabilities throughout the country.
NCSC CEO Lindy Cameron said:
“Ransomware remains the biggest online threat to the UK and we do not encourage or condone paying ransom demands to criminal organisations.
“Unfortunately we have seen a recent rise in payments to ransomware criminals and the legal sector has a vital role to play in helping reverse that trend.
“Cyber security is a collective effort and we urge the legal sector to work with us as we continue our efforts to fight ransomware and keep the UK safe online.”
John Edwards, UK Information Commissioner, added:
“Engaging with cyber criminals and paying ransoms only incentivises other criminals and will not guarantee that compromised files are released. It certainly does not reduce the scale or type of enforcement action from the ICO or the risk to individuals affected by an attack.
“We’ve seen cyber crime costing UK firms billions over the last five years. The response to that must be vigilance, good cyber hygiene, including keeping appropriate back up files, and proper staff training to identify and stop attacks. Organisations will get more credit from those arrangements than by paying off the criminals.
“I want to work with the legal profession and NCSC to ensure that companies understand how we will consider cases and how they can take practical steps to safeguard themselves in a way that we will recognise in our response should the worst happen.”
In the event of a ransomware attack or other cybercrime, organisations should report any ongoing incidents to Action Fraud (on 0300 123 2040, which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week), the Information Commissioner's Office (for data breaches under the GDPR), or the NCSC for any major cyber incidents.
Then, law enforcement will be able to lessen the impact of the attack and secure evidence that will aid in an investigation.
The ICO will recognise when organisations have taken steps to fully understand what happened and learn from it, and when, where appropriate, they have raised their incident with the NCSC and can demonstrate compliance with appropriate NCSC guidance and support.
The NCSC provides extensive advice on mitigating the ransomware threat, such as advising businesses to keep offline backups. All of its advice is available on its ransomware pages. On its website, the ICO recently updated its ransomware guidance.
Report all Fraud and Cybercrime to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or online. Forward suspicious emails to firstname.lastname@example.org. Report SMS scams by forwarding the original message to 7726 (spells SPAM on the keypad).