Growing Concern Over Ransomware and Cryptocurrency [Weekly Cybersecurity Brief]

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While ransomware attacks are not a new threat, there are two major additional aspects setting what seems to be a new era for them.  For one, there is growing concern over the rate at which these cyberattacks are occurring including a string of large-scale and headline grabbing cases. The other evolving characteristic of such events is the use of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. We look at some of the latest news stories covering the trend.

After experiencing a major ransomware attack leading to the shutdown of beef plants in North America and Australia, meat processing company JBS announced that it paid hackers an amount equaling around $11 million. As The Hill reports, JBS explained that it paid the ransom in order to “mitigate any unforeseen issues related to the attack and ensure no data was exfiltrated.” To fulfill the hackers’ demand, the company paid the ransom using bitcoin. JBS is not the only company to meet such a cyberthreat with a cryptocurrency offering though. Colonial Pipeline CEO Joseph Blount also shared that the company paid $4.4 million in bitcoin as a response to the recent attack that caused a days-worth of production suspension. While U.S. investigators were able to recover a large portion of that ransom, a warning has still been issued about handling ransomware attacks in such a manner.

In a recent statement, FBI director Christopher Wray raised a flag around the significant pickup in ransomware activity. When speaking at a House Judiciary Committee hearing, Wray stated that “We think the cyber threat is increasing almost exponentially,” according to a report by Axios and re-shared via Yahoo News. When addressing the issue, he noted that the amount paid toward ransomware attacks has tripled within the last year. Although in the cases like JBS and Colonial the companies are following suit and paying the ransom, Wray advised refraining from making ransomware payments.

It is not simply paying the ransom that is causing alarm. Now, bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are making it possible to “extort huge ransoms from large companies, hospitals and city governments,” and to do so through a method that is “very difficult — though not impossible — to trace,” as Greg Myre writes for NPR. Although in an instance like Colonial Pipeline the FBI was able to recover the ransom, it not only took a lot of resources to do but reflected a process that is very difficult to complete. Using cryptocurrency, hackers can continue transitioning the digital money through a series of anonymous accounts making it both hard to ultimately catch. For example, the FBI had to reportedly go through 20 accounts when tracking down the Colonial payment. As Yonatan Striem-Amit, a co-founder of Cybereason, told NPR, “You now have a possibility to move millions of dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency across national boundaries in seconds,” meaning this concern is likely to stay.

Key Takeaways:

“JBS paid $11 million to hackers to resolve ransomware attack” – Jordan Williams, The Hill

https://thehill.com/policy/cybersecurity/557685-jbs-paid-11-million-to-hackers-to-resolve-cyberattack

  • Meat processing company JBS announced that it paid hackers an amount equaling around $11 million.
  • To fulfill the hackers’ demand, the company paid the ransom using bitcoin.
  • Colonial Pipeline CEO Joseph Blount also shared that the company paid $4.4 million in bitcoin as a response to the recent attack that caused a days-worth of production suspension.

“FBI director says cybersecurity threat is increasing “almost exponentially”” – Erin Doherty, Yahoo News

https://www.yahoo.com/news/fbi-director-says-cybersecurity-threat-202522727.html

  • FBI director Christopher Wray raised a flag around the significant pickup in ransomware activity.
  • When speaking at a House Judiciary Committee hearing, Wray stated that “We think the cyber threat is increasing almost exponentially.”
  • Wray advised companies to refrain from making ransomware payments.

“How Bitcoin Has Fueled Ransomware Attacks” – Greg Myre, NPR

https://www.npr.org/2021/06/10/1004874311/how-bitcoin-has-fueled-ransomware-attacks

  • Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are making it possible to “extort huge ransoms from large companies, hospitals and city governments,” according to Greg Myre of NPR.
  • Ransom demanded via cryptocurrencies is difficult to trace because it allows hackers to transfer money throughout anonymous accounts.
  • While the FBI was able to recover some of the Colonial Pipeline ransom paid in bitcoin, it took tracking around 20 accounts and a large number of resources.

 

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