Ransomware has become a global pandemic of the cyber security kind, spreading across industry sectors from meatpacking to mass transit in the past few days.

A rash of high-profile ransomware attacks began last month, when hackers extracted more than $4m after targeting the Colonial oil pipeline that connects Texas to the northeastern US.

This week, systems at JBS, the Brazilian meat processing company with extensive operations in the US, were also infected by ransomware, forcing slaughterhouses to cancel work shifts.

A Massachusetts ferry service was disrupted by a ransomware attack on Wednesday and the Japanese medical device provider Fujifilm said it had also been forced to shut down parts of its global network after it was targeted.

Attacks rose 150 per cent in 2020, according to Group-IB, a security firm. The average ransom payment increased more than 300 per cent, Lex points out.

It’s led to the Biden administration pressuring US businesses to bolster their cyber defences. “We urge you to take ransomware crime seriously and ensure your corporate cyber defences match the threat . . . the threats are serious and they are increasing,” Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technologies, wrote in a memo on Thursday to business leaders.

Insurers are also sounding warnings about the rising costs of cover for such attacks and that companies need to increase their controls if they want insurance protection. From the start of April to mid-May, premiums jumped 27 per cent from last year’s levels, according to the insurance broker Aon.

Column chart of Change in US premiums (quarter-on-quarter, %) showing The rising cost of cyber insurance

Ransomware’s pandemic proportions means some insurers are arguing governments will need to step in and provide a financial backstop.

“There is a need to find a way to cover the risk, which is too large for the insurance industry itself,” said Isabelle Santenac, global insurance leader at consultancy EY. “There will be a need to find some public-private partnerships to ensure that the risk is covered [and] to also work on how to limit the risk and prevent the risk.”

1. Google follows Apple in privacy tightening Google is strengthening privacy protections to counter Apple’s image as a better steward of personal data. In changes that will come as a fresh blow to the near $400bn-a-year digital advertising industry, Google will introduce extra safeguards for Android users who opt out of sharing their “Advertising ID” — a device identifier that allows marketers to track them as they switch from app to app.

2. Palantir helps Babylon to marketUS big data company Palantir has taken a strategic stake in British health firm Babylon, as part of a $4.2bn blank-cheque deal to take the start-up public in the US. Babylon, which offers a range of healthcare services to 24m patients via a mobile app, has agreed to merge with Nasdaq-listed special purpose acquisition company Alkuri Global.

3. Ant crawls backChinese regulators have approved Jack Ma’s Ant Group to begin operating a new consumer finance company, in the first concrete sign of an easing of tensions with Beijing after Ant agreed to a “rectification” deal in April. The newly licensed unit is called Chongqing Ant Consumer Finance and can issue consumer loans, borrow from banks and issue bonds.

4. Elliott uploads Dropbox interestElliott Management has amassed a more than 10 per cent stake in Dropbox, making the activist hedge fund the largest institutional shareholder in the cloud storage group. Lex says it might try to nudge the company into selling to a user-hungry giant such as Oracle or Dell.

5. DeFi definitely crypto’s latest VC crushThe fastest-growing cryptocurrency start-ups of the past year have been those aiming to abolish financial intermediaries, reports Miles Kruppa from Silicon Valley. Decentralised finance, or “DeFi”, projects aim to replicate basic financial services such as lending and trading using software programs known as blockchains, cutting out traditional middlemen.

Column chart of Number of DeFi deals showing VC-backed DeFi projects proliferate

Taavet Hinrikus, the first employee of Skype and co-founder of fintech Wise (formerly TransferWise), is backing a new investing platform called Lightyear which allows users to trade stocks free of commission and with lower foreign exchange fees. The platform, which has raised a $1.5m pre-seed round this week, will try to apply the core Wise principle of lowering FX fees to make it cheaper to buy international stocks, hoping to disrupt incumbent trading apps which often make a healthy margin on customers buying shares in different currencies. Hinrikus is now one of Europe’s most active angel investors. He says he’s backed over 100 start-ups in the past 13 years, with an average ticket size of £250k.

Elsewhere in European start-ups this week, Sifted looked at which fintech companies offer the best — and worst — equity deals to employees; while in funding news, Europe’s best-financed scooter company Tier raised $60m from Goldman Sachs and Edinburgh-based asset management firm Baillie Gifford backed Berlin-based freight forwarder Sennder in an $80m Series D round.

Firefox is probably not your first-choice browser, it comes third for me behind Chrome and Microsoft’s Edge, but it can prove a useful alternative when cookies start causing problems and there is a brand new version out this week. The improvements are almost exclusively visual. Features include a new icon set, typography and spacing. The toolbar and menus have been streamlined and Tabs have been given a makeover “so they are now gently curved and float above the toolbar”. It all looks fresh, so perhaps it’s worth a fresh look by you the user.