Bitcoin Ransom Extortion an Increasing Problem
21st century Digital Extortions on the rise with Bitcoin at the Center
Bitcoin Ransoms in Lieu of Duffle Bags of Cash
One way people have been using or should I say misusing Bitcoins is through demanding ransoms from people with crypto coins as the payoff instead of a bag of unmarked cash. Early Bitcoin users quickly realized that the currency could be useful for ransom payments. We along with other news outlets and independent reporting organizations covered it most recently involving a LA hospital. Authorities have had trouble estimating the exact number of victims because many do not report their problem and quietly pay the price. The Federal Bureau of Investigation said it had received 992 complaints related to just CryptoWall alone between April 2014 and June 2015 with losses totaling $18 million. This figure does not include plots involving other programs.
Bitcoin: Easy to Use for Honest People and Crooks alike!
Think about it if you’re a blackmailer ransomer what better way than use Bitcoin to get your payoff without detection? If you demand a payoff in cash form the authorities will stake out that pile of money where it is located and wait for the ransomer to pick it up or have the bills marked somehow to know to hunt it down. In the past the methods for paying off attackers could be risky for the extortionist. A credit card payment or bank transfer could easily be traced by the police, so the victims were usually asked to buy prepaid cards. Thats why Bitcoin is becoming an increasingly favored mechanism utilized by these crooks to receive their black money in instances.
In a tale of a physical extortion, a few weeks ago a plot by crooks against dozens of people who visited Switzerland’s largest strip club unfolded. Patrons received letters threatening to expose them and “destroy” their lives unless they pay a ransom of more than $2,000 in bitcoin. Between 50 and 60 patrons of the Globe in Schwerzenbach, near Zurich, received the threats to send pictures to their family and friends, according to nightclub manager Fritz Mueller.
Bitcoins Relative Anonymity Allows for Misuse by Criminal Element
Bitcoin has made ransom deliveries easier and more untraceable than ever for criminals because at the core of cryptocurrencies are a decentralized network of computers that collect no personal information about users. Unlike the days of duffel bags and briefcases filled with bricks of ten thousand dollars stacked a hundred at a time, Bitcoin payments can be made without an in-person meeting.
The FBI wants companies to know that the Bureau is there for them if they are hacked. But if that hack involves Cryptolocker, Cryptowall or other forms of ransomware, the nation’s top law enforcement agency is warning companies that they may not be able to get their data back without paying a ransom.
“The ransomware is that good,” said Joseph Bonavolonta, the Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s CYBER and Counterintelligence Program in its Boston office. “To be honest, we often advise people just to pay the ransom.”
As of late 2014, Dell SecureWorks said CryptoWall had infected over 800,000 computers. This is one of the many names of malware viruses that can encrypt files of unwitting victims. It’s the modern day version of the mafia shakedown, hackers globally seize files on computers around the world, take down public websites and wreak havoc. The victims who range from ordinary computer users to financial firms and police departments are told that their only way out is through a Bitcoin payment that is sometimes more than tens of thousands of dollars.
Steps and Safeguard Measures can be Implemented to Thwart off Cyber-Crooks
Potential solutions to thwart these ransom threats should be made. For example, digitally marking coins used for ransom payments similar to how in hostage situations bags of money are marked with invisible dye. Individual and people in businesses need to be more careful when clicking around inadvertently loading malware onto their machine because it said “click here” or “open the attachment” more. Just goes to show you how what lengths criminals are willing to go to in order to make a quick buck. This ongoing situation should not deter people from seeing the potential benefits with Bitcoin, but highlight how like with many other powerful products, services, and ideas lies a potential for misuse.