The Role of Cryptocurrencies in the Age of Ransomware

    Now more than ever, there has become an obvious connection between the rising ransomware era and the cryptocurrency boom. Believe it or not, cryptocurrency and ransomware have an extensive history with one another. They are so closely linked, that many have attributed the rise of cryptocurrency with a corresponding rise in ransomware attacks across the globe. There is no debating the fact that ransomware attacks are escalating at an alarming rate, but there is no solid evidence showing a direct correlation to cryptocurrency. Even though the majority of ransoms are paid in crypto, the transparency of the currency’s block chain makes it a terrible place to keep stolen money.

    The link between cryptocurrency and ransomware attacks

    There are two keyways that ransomware attacks rely on the cryptocurrency market. First, the majority of the ransoms paid during these attacks are usually in cryptocurrency. A perfect example is with the largest ransomware attack in history, the WannaCry ransomware attacks. Attackers demanded their victims to pay nearly $300 of Bitcoin (BTC) to release their captive data..

    A second way that cryptocurrencies and ransomware attacks are linked is through what is called “ransomware as a service”. Plenty of cyber criminals offer “ransomware as a service,” essentially letting anyone hire a hacker via online marketplaces. How do you think they want payment for their services? Cryptocurrency.

    Read more about the WannaCry ransomware attacks here

    Show Me the Money

    From an outsider’s perspective, it seems clear why hackers would require ransom payments in cryptocurrency. The cryptocurrency’s blockchain is based on privacy and encryption, offering the best alternative to hide stolen money. Well, think again. There is actually a different reason why ransomware attacks make use of cryptocurrencies. The efficiency of cryptocurrency block chain networks, rather than its concealment, is what really draws the cyber criminals in.

    The value of cryptocurrency during a cyber-attack is really the transparency of crypto exchanges. A ransomware attacker can keep an eye on the public blockchain to see if his victims have paid their ransom and can automate the procedures needed to give their victim the stolen data back. 

    On the other hand, the cryptocurrency market is possibly the worst place to keep the stolen funds. The transparent quality of the cryptocurrency blockchain means that the world can closely monitor the transactions of ransom money. This makes it tricky to switch the stolen funds into an alternative currency, where they can be tracked by law enforcement.

    Read about the recent CSU college system ransomware attack here

    Law and Order

    Now just because the paid ransom for stolen data can be tracked in the blockchain doesn’t automatically mean that the hackers who committed the crime can be caught too. Due to the anonymity of cryptocurrency it is nearly impossible for law enforcement agencies to find the true identity of cybercriminals, However, there are always exceptions to the rule. 

    Blockchain allows a transaction to be traced relating to a given bitcoin address, all the way back to its original transaction. This permits law enforcement access to the financial records required to trace the ransom payment, in a way that would never be possible with cash transactions.

    Due to several recent and prominent ransomware attacks, authorities have called for the cryptocurrency market to be watched more closely. In order to do so, supervision will need to be executed in a very careful manner, not to deter from the attractiveness of anonymity of the currency. 

    Protect Yourself Anyway You Can

    The shortage of legislative control of the cryptocurrency market, mixed with the quick rise in ransomware attacks, indicates that individuals need to take it upon themselves to protect their data. Some organizations have taken extraordinary approaches such as hoarding Bitcoin in case they need to pay a ransom as part of a future attack. 

    For the common man, protecting against ransomware attacks means covering your bases. You should double check that all of your cyber security software is up to date, subscribe to a secure cloud storage provider and backup your data regularly. Companies of all sizes should implement the 3-2-1 data backup strategy in the case of a ransomware attack. The 3-2-1 backup plan states that one should have at least three different copies of data, stored on at least 2 different types of media, with at least one copy offsite. It helps to also have a separate copy of your data stored via the air-gap method, preventing it from ever being stolen.

    Learn More About Getting Your 3-2-1 Backup Plan in Place

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