By Alex DeMetrick

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — When it comes to spreading disruption, hackers who use ransomware are a growth industry.

“The reason it’s become so popular is because it’s relatively easy for criminals to do,” said Chris Novak, with Verizon’s Global Investigations.

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All it takes is someone on the payroll to open the wrong e-mail or attachment, locking up all of the computer’s information.

“The only way to gain access is if somebody provides you with an encryption key to unlock the software,” said cybersecurity expert Steve Taormino.

That encryption key most often comes with a demand for money, which many businesses end up paying. That’s causing ransomware attacks to double in each of the last two years.

Just last month in Baltimore, the city’s 911 system was hit, forcing it to go to slower manual dispatching.

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There was also an earlier ransomware attack against Medstar Health. The reason hackers target them is their essential services.

“They know these facilities and these agencies have to have their data, they have to continue operating on a day-to-day basis, otherwise it’s going to fall apart and the immediate backlash is just crazy,” Taormino added.

But paying the ransom is still a gamble.

“You’re negotiating with criminals, so there’s no guarantee you pay the ransom and you’re going to get anything back at all,” Novak said. “I’ve seen organizations pay, and there’s silence.”

Ransomware can also hit individuals. Experts advise that people frequently change their passwords and back up their data.

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