Cryptocurrency ‘Fueling’ Ransomware Incidents

High return and obscure transactions are attracting cyber criminals




While Bitcoin’s value continues to swing wildly from one year to the next, its influence on the financial markets is being matched by its impact on the black market.

Rising maturity and acceptance of cryptocurrency by the general public is being partly blamed for the simultaneous evolution of ransomware, with new strains and sophisticated techniques being reported.

Cyber criminals are no longer taking a broad, ‘scatter-gun’ approach to ransom-based malware, but are using more targeted efforts underpinned by the fact that transference of cryptocurrency is easier to mask, according to cyber security thought leader, Joseph Steinberg.

 

'It is far easier to move, disguise, hide and launder $50,000 transferred as Bitcoin than to do the same for $50,000 paid by wire or credit card.'

 

As Steinberg outlines in his article, Ransomware and Cryptocurrency: How Two Intertwined Ecosystems Grow Together (available to read in Cyber Security Hub’s 2018 Global Report), the proliferation of crypto-mining—secretly employing malicious software that steals the processing power of infected computers to create new units of cryptocurrency—has given attackers a simpler alternative to ransomware, but because use of ransomware still offers a larger potential return in illicit funds, the volume of ransomware attempts has continued to grow.

“Ransomware is more likely than other strains of malware to inflict serious harm—all while simultaneously avoiding detection for prolonged periods of time,” explains Steinberg.

“As the size of ransoms has increased, so has the dependence on cryptocurrency – it is far easier to move, disguise, hide and launder $50,000 transferred as Bitcoin than to do the same for $50,000 paid by wire or credit card.”

Further to cryptocurrency’s ease of use and the manner in which transfer is difficult for authorities to trace, criminals are believed to be using the likes of Bitcoin as their primary revenue stream, not only for profit, but to fund research and development into even more sophisticated and efficient ransomware.

This reality suggests that cryptocurrency is spurring many variants of organized criminal activity—not just ransomware.

“It is possible that the rise in Bitcoin has produced the greatest enrichment of lawbreakers in the history of humanity,” says Steinberg.

Outside of cryptocurrency, the rise of Internet of Things (IoT) technology is also being viewed as a new enabler of criminal activity. Given the extent to which cars, domestic utilities, toys, factory equipment, medical devices, and other traditional apparatuses are now connected to the internet, ransomware has been presented opportunity to target an array of devices beyond PCs and mobile devices.

 

Hackers are finding much of the technology easy to break into and, coupled with the camouflage of a cryptocurrency address, are finding it easier to evade law enforcement efforts.

 

As many IoT devices are manufactured and released to the public quickly, security software is often inadequate. Hackers are finding much of the technology easy to break into and, coupled with the camouflage of a cryptocurrency address, are finding it easier to evade law enforcement efforts.

Steinberg predicts that criminals may soon be “creating ransomware that displays messages such as, ‘Pay me or I’ll make every item your factory produces have a dangerous defect’…or even “pay me or I will cause your trucks to crash.”

Businesses and private individuals alike are encouraged to investigate, explore and adopt mechanisms to optimize their security online, particularly as ransomware shows signs of becoming less lucrative, more intelligent and easier to deploy in the coming years.

To read the full article and more on this issue, you can now download a copy of CSHub’s 2018 Global Report: Cryptocurrency’s Role In Cyber-Attacks.

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