Ransom for Cybercrime Paid with Difficult to Trace Cyber Currency
As reported by The Associated Press, a state prosecutor’s office in Pennsylvania paid out more than $1,000 in bitcoin currency to free up its hacked computer network. District Attorney Stephen Zappala’s office was just one of the hundreds of thousands of systems targeted by the organization known as the “Avalanche network.”
This news surfaced shortly after authorities in the US and Europe were able to successfully disable the Avalanche Network.
Pittsburgh Attorney Soo Song estimates that Avalanche, which has been operating since at least 2010, has hacked into an estimated 500,000 computers worldwide. “The takedown of Avalanche was unprecedented in its scope, scale, reach, and level of cooperation among 40 countries,” said Song.
“Avalanche was a platform to distribute malware to people who wanted to buy it and use it to infect the computers of people and businesses,” reports The Washington Times. The platform offered two types of malware: one that would lock up a network until the victim agreed to pay a ransom and another that was used to steal online banking information.
Zappala’s office was hit by the second type of malware in 2015 when one of his employees clicked on a link that appeared in a phishing email (phishing is a common tactic used by hackers to trick people into installing malware).
The employee “opened the link because it appeared to go back to a legitimate government agency,” said Zappala. The link infected the entire system, which has since been modified to fend off future attacks.
Zappala decided to fork over nearly $1,400 to free up the network. His detectives were able to trace the phishing email to Australia, but couldn’t locate the specific source. Zappala is content to let the feds take it from here because “the penalties the federal government can impose are much more substantial than we can impose.”
Since the attack on Zappala’s network, 189 infected computers have been located and five suspects have been arrested.
The evolution of money
Bitcoin is an electronic currency or “cryptocurrency” invented by programmers in 2008. Often hailed as the “first decentralized digital currency,” bitcoin is a convenient way to conduct online transactions.
Bitcoin has an anonymous quality to it, which made Avalanche Network’s ransomware program work. It’s also why criminals on the “darknet market” use it to buy and sell illegal drugs.
Zcash, an electronic currency launched in October, promises levels of encryption that make it virtually untraceable. To create a secret and secure system that couldn’t be hacked, the makers of Zcash opened a “backdoor” into their own system and, in a sense, swallowed the key.
The backdoor “ceremony” took place simultaneously in five stations across the world, one of which was inside a vehicle rapidly crossing through British Columbia.
The bizarre ceremony took four days, after which all RAM chips storing fragments of the backdoor key were smashed and burned.
Editor’s note: For more informantion, research the “dark net” where you can buy illegal drugs, illicit porn and even hire a hitman in complete anonymity. It’s dark, its creepy and its the ultimate in black market dealings. This is part of our future.