WASHINGTON: Financial institutions reported to US authorities $590 million in ransomware-related payments in the first half of 2021, setting a pace to beat the combined previous decade as cyber-extortion booms, a report revealed Friday.

According to the US Treasury Department report, the figure is 42 percent higher than the amount reported for all of 2020, which comes as the costly and debilitating attacks have spiked.

"If current trends continue, (reports) filed in 2021 are projected to have a higher ransomware-related transaction value than (reports) filed in the previous 10 years combined," Treasury said.

The attacks involve breaking into an entity's networks to encrypt its data, then demanding a ransom, typically paid via cryptocurrency in exchange for the digital key to unlock it.

White House weighs broader oversight of cryptocurrency market

Washington has sought to crack down on a sharp rise in attacks, including issuing its first sanctions against an online exchange where illicit operators have allegedly swapped cryptocurrency for cash.

Recent attacks on a major US oil pipeline, a meatpacking company and the Microsoft Exchange email system drew attention to the vulnerability of US infrastructure to digital pirates.

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