In the old days, criminals liked their ransom payments in briefcases full of unmarked bills. These days, there’s a new preferred method for hostage takers: the virtual currency Bitcoin.
In a modern day version of a mob shakedown, hackers around the world have seized files on millions of computers, taken down public websites and even, in a few cases, threatened physical harm. The victims, who have ranging from ordinary computer users to financial firms and police departments, are told that their only way out is through a Bitcoin payment that is sometimes more than $20,000. One set of attackers, believed to be based in Russia and Ukraine, collected about $16.5 million in Bitcoins in a little over a month, primarily from victims in the US. , according to the security firm Sophos.
Criminals like the virtual currency because it can be held in a digital wallet that does not have to be registered with any government or financial authority and because it can be easily exchanged for real money. It has forced the authorities to shut down the online drug bazaar, Silk Road, where heroin and cocaine were sold using Bitcoin. At the moment, A single Bitcoin can be sold online or on the street for around $290.
“The criminal underground very much likes Bitcoin,” said Curt Wilson, a senior threat intelligence analyst at Arbor Networks. “Bitcoin has enabled a greater sense of obfuscation,” said Curt Wilson, a senior threat intelligence analyst at Arbor Networks.
Bitcoin, which was released by an anonymous creator in 2009, has been a hit with recently been gaining mainstream appeal. start-ups in the industry have won winning investments from big names like Goldman Sachs and the New York Stock Exchange, which have praised the technology as a faster, more efficient way