Cyberattacks are the fastest growing crime in the United States, and they seem to be increasing in size, sophistication, and cost. In fact, they are projected to cost the world $6 trillion annually by 2021, up from $3 trillion in 2015, according to research and publishing firm, Cybersecurity Ventures.

However, under a bill presented by Sen. Hans Zeiger, local businesses or other entities would have legal solutions to fight against social media extortion.

Senate Bill 5495 states that a person could be found guilty of social media extortion if they commit extortion by means of a threat. The bill would categorize the crime of social media extortion as a class C felony. SB 5495 also would require a social media provider to remove negative social media posts associated with alleged extortion and identified within a copy of a police report.

“This bill creates some legal solutions for businesses or other entities that may find themselves in a blackmail or extortion situation like the restaurant in my district did,” Zeiger, R-Puyallup, told the Senate Law and Justice Committee on Tuesday. “Cybercrime is a growing challenge with real impacts on small businesses in our state, and we need thoughtful legal solutions that allow us to tackle cyber extortion head on.”

According to Zeiger, he brought the bill forward after Napoli Italiano, a restaurant in Puyallup, started receiving bad reviews and web attacks from IP addresses appearing to originate from Romania. After a few days, the restaurant was contacted with a message saying that the bad reviews would stop and be removed if they agreed to wire $900 to an individual in Singapore. If they declined to pay, the bad reviews would continue. Instead of paying, Napoli Italiano took their story to the press, but they reportedly had little legal recourse to address the situation.

“Businesses are at the mercy of these criminal groups and social media platforms are not addressing or monitoring this problem,” Johnny Bristol, marketing consultant for Napoli Italiano, said in a statement. “Businesses and marketing agencies need the cooperation of the social media platforms to mitigate the effect of these malicious attacks. Senator Zeiger’s bill would hold both parties accountable and protect our businesses. As a witness to one of these attacks, I can say this is very badly needed and Washington businesses will benefit from this legislation and be able to thrive without worrying about these harmful social media blackmail attacks.”

According to researcher and publisher Cybersecurity Ventures, cyberattacks are the fastest growing crime in the United States. They are projected to cost the world $6 trillion annually by 2021, up from $3 trillion in 2015.

Thumbnail image courtesy of Sen. Hans Zeiger’s office.