Some people have been making money out of bitcoin, despite a difficult week for the cryptocurrency, with the hackers who paralysed Colonial Pipeline’s network reportedly being paid 75 bitcoin, worth as much as $5m, to unlock its systems.
Giving in to such extortion may sound the wrong thing to do, but just over a quarter of victims pay up, according to cyber security researchers at CrowdStrike. Last year, the number of ransomware attacks rose by more than 60 per cent to 305m, according to data from SonicWall, as hackers took advantage of the shift to working from home and the fresh vulnerabilities that created.
Hannah Murphy in San Francisco reports about two dozen gangs dominate the market, and business has been brisk. They earned at least $18bn in ransoms in 2020, according to the cyber security group Emsisoft, with an average payout of about $150,000.
The focus is on the biggest targets for the best possible payouts. Toshiba Tec, a subsidiary of the Japanese industrial conglomerate that sells point-of-sale systems for retailers, said in a statement on Friday that its European operations were hit by a cyber attack this month, carried out by DarkSide, the group implicated in the Colonial hack.
The head of Ireland’s health service said on Friday it had shut down most of its major IT systems, leaving doctors unable to access patient records and people unsure of whether they should show up for appointments, following a “very sophisticated” ransomware attack.
There is no news from either of any ransom payments, but the US is calling on Russia to take action against hackers, with DarkSide believed to operate from there and have tacit approval.
“We have been in direct communication with Moscow about the imperative for responsible countries to take decisive action against these ransomware networks,” said President Biden, noting he hoped to discuss the issue with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
Perhaps this has already had an effect. In late-breaking news, DarkSide has posted on the dark web that it is ceasing operations, having lost control of much of its public infrastructure — including its dark web blog and the server it uses to accept ransom payments — and that its crypto funds had been seized.
“The post cited law enforcement pressure and pressure from the United States for this decision,” said Kimberly Goody, senior manager for financial crime analysis at FireEye’s Mandiant Threat Intelligence arm.
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