Monday, May 15, 2017 – As the world rushes to take stock of a Cybercrime act at an unprecedented global scale. One aspect that has caught media attention is the fact that the ransomware has demanded payment in Bitcoin, the digital cryptocurrency.
100,000 government and private systems have already been attacked and locked by WannaCry, the latest and deadliest Ransomware that has hit organization like the NHS in UK, Fedex, Telefonica, the Russian Interior ministry and many more across 99 countries. What is alarming is that this has just happened in a space of 24 hours and the attacks are likely to spread once businesses reopen today.
The hackers will be able to get away with anywhere between a few thousand to a billion dollars by various estimates. What security analysts agree on though, is that all transactions to any particular Bitcoin address can be easily viewed by anyone. That is due to the underlying architecture of Bitcoin based on the Blockchain technology (which has had an on-off relationship with the Gartner Hype Cycle of late J).
Why is Bitcoin so popular among ransom seekers? It is mainly due to the lack of traceability of this currency as compared to other modes of payment. Bank accounts can be tracked while cash transactions will be completely unmanageable for large amounts. Bitcoin payments transferred through a network of several Bitcoin wallets is extremely difficult to trace given the complexity. This is called a mixing service and it makes it difficult for law enforcement to track the money trail, as by the time the police is able follow the entire transaction, the thieves would have converted the Bitcoins into real money and melted away.
This is not to say that Bitcoin has put an unbridgeable gap between cybercriminals and law enforcers as evidenced by the arrest of Ross Ulbricht, the founder of the drugs facilitating Bitcoin exchange, Silk Road. It is all the more reason that law enforcement agencies need to upgrade their skills and capabilities to deal with the misuse of this technology.
There are two sides to every Bitcoin and its many advantages cannot be ignored, such as,
So clearly there is a need to understand Bitcoin and spread awareness so that people are not easily conned.
On another note, if you are unfortunate enough to be the target of Ransomware, what should you do?
First, the prevention, you should always use a good antivirus and install updates in order to foil hackers’ plans. In the case of WannaCry, Microsoft had already released a patch which closed the security loophole that was exploited by WannaCry. So those who were quick on the draw were able to ride happily into the sunset.
Second, is never to pay the ransom as there is no guarantee that you’ll get your data back, and, you will just end up encouraging the hackers. Finally, if you decide to pay up, there is one piece of advice that you should keep in mind. Bitcoin exchanges, where you can buy Bitcoins are notoriously unsafe and you can end up losing your account information (the one holding real currency) to another set of hackers. So if you do end up buying Bitcoins, then you should create an account specifically for the purpose and close it post the transaction. This way, even of hackers get access to your account information, they still cannot get their grubby fingers on the rest of your dough.
Technology has always been a double-edged sword used for good and evil alike. The onus is on governments as well as the public to keep a step ahead of criminals in the use of technology. If we were to reject technology to avoid its misuse, then we would still have been living as cavemen.