Bitcoin Used to Pay Ransoms
by Temerity Forthright
Last month I published an article revealing how Bitcoin is being used as the new world currency. Bitcoin is a virtual, electronic, unregulated currency that is gaining widespread acceptance and usage worldwide. “Bitcoin – Monetary Scam or New World Currency” article
In perhaps the highest profile case to date, a California college recently used Bitcoin to pay a ransom to hackers who gained access to its computer system and locked out users with encrypted keys.
Los Angeles Valley College in Valley Glen, California, paid $28,000 in Bitcoin after it was attacked by “ransomware.” College administrators said it decided to pay the cyber-ransom after their cybersecurity company told them they would lose all their data since the college had no backup system.
The anonymous hackers even sent the college an online ransom note. They threatened to remove all the private keys used by students and faculty to access data if the college did not meet a deadline of seven days. They also demanded the ransom be paid in Bitcoin.
Still, according to officials it would take weeks to recover all the data, assess the damage, and restore the college’s server to normal operations. It was determined that paying the $28,000 ransom would be cheaper than having cybersecurity experts remove the ransomware.
In February of 2016, the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center paid a 40 Bitcoin ransom (equivalent to $17,000) after hackers seized control of the hospital’s computer system. When the ransom was paid the hospital administrators received the decryption key which was used to restore normal computer operations.
In both cases, authorities were contacted and alerted to the cybercrimes. In both cases, the ransom was paid with Bitcoin.
Hackers, seeing the success of Bitcoin ransoms, have set their sights on a wider variety of targets. The Allegheny County Pennsylvania District Attorney’s Office recently paid $1,400 in Bitcoin for ransom, a paltry amount in today’s world of hacking.
Bitcoin can be accessed from anywhere in the world. It is attractive as a payment of choice for hackers because of its anonymity. Bitcoin is digital, virtual – but more importantly – anonymous. It is impossible to trace or track. No marked bills, no bank transfers, no clandestine drop-off points, no car chases, no paper trail.
Not only is the FBI interested in finding the thieves – so is the IRS. They aren’t just busy collecting taxes, they are also dealing with the fact that Bitcoin ransom payments may qualify as tax deductible!
And since there’s no honor among thieves, even “dark net markets” are being hacked for ransom. The dark net market specializes in black market or illicit websites. Some of these sites have been hit by hackers and held for “denial of service” ransom, often in Bitcoin.
There are ways to avoid being hacked for cyber ransom. Mostly it involves prevention. Here are a few tips: back up your data regularly, show hidden file-extensions, filter EXEs in emails, disable files running from AppData folders, use a Cryptlocker Prevention program, disable RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol), update your software, and use a reputable security system.
Cybercrimes, hacking, and ransomware may be the future of international criminal activity. And Bitcoin is increasingly the preferred method of payment for ransom.