NASCAR team pays Bitcoin ransom to avoid being unable to race

There are all kinds of problems that a NASCAR team has to deal with leading up to race day. In 2016, one of those problems is ransomware.

Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing crew chief Dave Winston isn’t the most tech-savvy guy in the world. So when a few odd files started popping up on the laptop he was using he didn’t think too much about it. He deleted the files and went about his business.

Then things took a dramatic turn. Suddenly, every file that Winston tried to open looked like gibberish. He started to panic, because this wasn’t just any old laptop. This particular system was used to maintain spreadsheets critical to the team’s operations, and in Winston’s own words “nothing of course was backed up because nobody ever backs up their computers until it’s too late.”

Like so many have, the CSLR crew chief had fallen victim to ransomware. VP Jeremy Lange told NASCAR that they had to “to get Dave off the ledge because his data had been hacked,” so they decided quickly to trust the bad guys and pay up. The ransom was relatively small — just $500 — but they had to go through a crash course in Bitcoin to figure out how to pay it.

Fortunately, there happened to be a Bitcoin ATM just a short drive away from the team’s garage. Also fortunate: the decryption key they were provided after paying the ransom actually worked and Winston got his files back.

racing-ransomware

Winston thinks there’s a silver lining. NASCAR is one of the biggest sports in the US, and he hopes the incident will help raise awareness of ransomware and the importance of good backups with other teams — and the public.

It also encouraged CSLR to re-evaluate their security habits. They struck up a relationship with Malwarebytes to lock their systems down and picked up a geeky new sponsor in the process. In suitably nerdy fashion, Malwarebytes’ deal with CSLR is the first in NASCAR to be based on CPM.

And in case you’re wondering, this isn’t the first time malware caused a racing team trouble. Two years ago, a Trojan infection kept the Marussia’s F1 team from hitting the course.

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