- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Ransomware, a type of computer virus responsible for several recent wide-scale cyberattacks, has joined the ranks of nearly a million other words recognized by the Oxford English Dictionary.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) announced over 1,100 new entries this week, adding newcomers including hangry, mansplaining and ransomware to its growing list of over 829,000 words and counting.

“A type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid,” reads Oxford’s newly accepted definition of ransomware.

“Some of the most common forms of ransomware are designed to encrypt the user’s data and to display a message threatening permanently to delete it or publish it online if a ransom is not paid within a certain amount of time.”

The word ransomware has been in use since at least 1988, albeit not always to describe the rash of malware that has crippled computer systems in countries around the world in recent years, according to Oxford.

“This established meaning dates to at least 2005, but there is a rarer, earlier sense referring to non-malicious open-source software, which is available free of charge but requires a fee for access to all features, functions or updates,” explained Katherine Connor Martin, Oxford’s head of U.S. dictionaries.

More recently ransomware has been used to describe malicious, money-grabbing malware at the center of several high-profile cyberattacks, including most notably the WannaCry strain that infected computers in over 150 countries last year,

Attributed to North Korea by the U.S. and others, WannaCry compromised computer systems used by victims ranging from the U.K. National Health Service and the Indian government, to FedEx and Russian Railways.

A report released this month by Sophos, a British security firm, found that 54 percent of organizations surveyed were hit with ransomware in 2017. A separate study published recently by Malwarebytes, a Silicon Valley security company, reported that ransomware attacks nearly doubled in 2017, and thanks in part to the U.S. government losing control over a classified hacking tool subsequently incorporated into WannaCry.

Oxford adds to new entries four times a year to its OED, “the most complete record of the English language ever assembled,” according to the wordsmiths. Its next additions are due in April 2018.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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