The growth of ransomware is likely to double in 2017 unless the governments decide to crack down on all potentially illegal payments, a European cyber security firm warned on Wednesday.
According to IT security company F-Secure, there was one known ransomware family variant in 2012 which grew to 35 by 2015 and soared to 193 in 2016.
"If the US pursues all the forms of potentially illegal payments, ransomware's growth could be abated. Otherwise, we expect to see the new ransomware families we discovered in 2017 at least double," said Sean Sullivan, Security Advisor at F-Secure, in a statement.
The open-source virtual currency Bitcoin has made crypto-ransomware's business model profitable, feeding an online crime wave that has seen new extortion-enabling malware families at least double each year since 2012.
"Bitcoin survived and thrived during the last US presidential administration," Sullivan added.
Forty-two per cent of all Bitcoin transactions last year took place in China exchanges as Chinese companies have made considerable investments into the vast server farms needed to mine the digital currency.
"While better block-chain provides them with visibility over their markets, officials in China likely have little financial incentive to see the Bitcoin market hindered in any way," Sullivan said.
But the US government shows little interest in legitimising the virtual currency as investment due to "concerns about the potential for fraudulent or manipulative acts and practices in this market".
"If governments don't act now to come up with a strategy for dealing with digital currencies, it's not going to get any easier," Sullivan observed.