Expect ransomware to grow more aggressive in the coming years, including higher ransom payments and attempts to go beyond attacking data -- by shutting down entire computer systems to utilities or factories.

Through the attacks, cybercriminals have already managed to rake in US$1 billion last year, according to at one estimate.

The computer infections work by first targeting the victim s data, and encrypting it.

However, a key concern is that ransomware will start targeting critical infrastructure, said Jenkins, the director of the DHS enterprise performance management office.

He pointed to the recent example of an Austrian hotel hit with ransomware that took out its keycard system for the hotel doors.

Future ransomware attacks might try to lockdown control systems for a water utility, threatening its operations, Jenkins said.

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