Senate Bill 1137 took effect on the first of the year.
Senate Bill 1137 took effect on the first of the year.

Beware perpetrators of ransomware in California: Under a new bill that went into effect on Jan.1, you will now face four years in a state prison.

Senate Bill 1137, which was signed in September, took effect on the first of the year. It updates the state's penal code to differentiate the crime of ransomware from existing extortion statutes. Ransomware is generally malware downloaded into a computer or network that enables cyberthieves to lock systems up until a ransom is paid, usually via Bitcoin.

Pointing out the explosion in cases of ransomware, Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), who authored the bill, said in a statement when the law was passed that prosecutors will now have "the clarity they need to charge and convict perpetrators of ransomware.” He noted that there has been “a dramatic increase in the use of ransomware," which the new law treats what is "essentially an electronic stickup, with the seriousness it deserves.”

Between April 2015 and March 2016, Kaspersky Labs reported that more than two million individuals were affected, an 18 percent spike from the previous year. Further, the FBI reported that victims across the U.S. lost more than $209 million in ransomware payouts in the first three months of 2016, compared with $25 million in the entire previous year.

The California bill, Hertzberg said, regards the crime "which is essentially an electronic stickup, with the seriousness it deserves.”

Wyoming passed similar legislation in 2014.