Hackers often target government-related websites to drive a point home. In China, a government website was breached in February of 2017, although no one knew who was behind this attack. It turns out the hack was executed by a teenager who tried to obtain a bitcoin payment from the Chinese government. Interestingly enough, the money had changed hands, which ultimately lead to his arrest.
Bitcoin Will Not Help Criminals Stay Anonymous
For the longest time, hackers and other cyber criminals have assumed using bitcoin as a payment method would keep their identities hidden. While it is true bitcoin provides pseudonymity traits, it is not an anonymous payment solution by any means. In fact, the Chinese police tracked down the 0.5 Bitcoin to a 16-year old teenager responsible for hacking a government website. It is not the first time relying on bitcoin ultimately gets criminals arrested.
This hacking incident is of great importance to the local police authority. The arrest occurred in Shenzhen, where they found the person responsible for hacking the Jieyang Airport Economic Zone website. To be more specific, ransomware played a role in this process, as all of the documents stored on this platform were locked. It cost the staff 0.5 Bitcoin to receive the ransomware decryption key. Paying the demand is never a guarantee to have file access restored, yet things turned out OK in this story.
As one would expect from ransomware these days, the amount to be paid would go up as more time progressed until the payment was made. Government authorities saw little other option than just to pay the 0.5 bitcoin request and have their services back up and running. Once the payment was made, the local police authority investigated the matter to ensure they could catch the person responsible for the attack.
Thanks to a collaboration between a special task force and the airport’s Public Security Bureau, they tracked down the bitcoin payment recipient in less than two days. This goes to show they somehow pinpointed the location of the arrested teenager, although it is unclear how this happened. Either he didn’t mask his tracks all that well, or the investigators had help from one of the many Chinese bitcoin exchanges. Considering how everyone in China goes through a thorough KYC process when signing up for a bitcoin exchange, that scenario is not unlikely.
It is important to note this does not mean every person responsible for a bitcoin ransomware attack will be arrested in the future. Not too long ago, the government was unable to find the culprits behind a three-bitcoin ransomware attack. It is not easy to track down criminals using bitcoin as a payment method, but the task is not as impossible as some organizations make it out to be either.
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