Cyber-currency bitcoin is becoming much less attractive to cyber-criminals and hackers, claims a security expert. The anonymity of the virtual cash has in the past made it a favourite with cyber-thieves who blackmail victims with all manner of viruses. Now, hi-tech gangs are quickly converting payments into other currencies, according to IBM security expert Etay Maor in a recent interview.
A single bitcoin is worth $235 today, much lower than the $1,105 value of late 2013.
The act of scrambling data with nefarious programs is known as ransomware. The thieves behind it demand payment in order to decrypt the data, and it’s become popular with hi-tech criminals over the last few years. The gang behind the notorious cryptlocker program is said to have made more than $3 million from victims before it was busted. Bitcoins have often been a preferred payment method for such attacks, said My Maor, but the volatility of the virtual currency and its falling value has forced the criminals to convert it into other forms of cash quickly.
“Most of them won’t keep bitcoins – they don’t like the valuations bitcoin has – so they just use it as a layer of obfuscation, and move it to a different form of money”, Mr Maor said during an interview at the RSA security conference in San Francisco.
Many of the ransomware groups use people who are not directly connected, know as mules, to clean the cash by paying into a legitimate bank account, and receive a fee of 20%.
But police forces and computer security firms around the world have achieved some success against ransomware gangs. Computers involved in the cryptlocker malware were recently seized and the encryption program broken so that victims could get back their data without having to pay up.
Furthermore, Dutch police have been working with Kaspersky Labs to analyse a server that was seized in an operation against the coinvault ransomware, which led to the creation of a free program that can decrypt the scrambled data for those affected.
SOURCE: The Register