Why do you think hackers love bitcoin?
Have you noticed how many hackers use bitcoin for ransom?
In March 2009, representatives of crime agencies including MI6 and the FBI, as well as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, gathered for a closed session at a conference in a central-London hotel. The topic: the potential use of virtual currencies by organised criminals and terrorists.
“At the time, everyone was getting very exercised about Second Life,” recalls Dr Simon Moores, a former technology ambassador for the UK government, who convened the session as chair of the international e-Crime Congress. The online virtual world, launched in 2003, allowed users to buy virtual goods in virtual Linden Dollars, named after Linden Lab, the company behind the game.
“Bad guys were using this currency to buy virtual Picassos for $500,000 as a way of laundering the money,” Moores adds. Later that day, he wrote in his notes: “I’m still trying to digest the fantastic scale of the criminal opportunities and the money that can be made and laundered outside the control of law-enforcement agencies and Governments.”
Almost a decade later – an age in digital evolution – those same agencies are absorbing the impact of a rather different and wider ranging breach of cybersecurity, and the potentially vast implications for the current criminal currency of choice: bitcoin, which quietly landed online just weeks before the London conference.
Victims of the WannaCry ransomware attack, which started on Friday, received a simple message on their computer screens: if you want to see your computer files again, pay us $300 (£230) inside the next 72 hours and we’ll unlock them for you, no questions asked. The ransomware had spread automatically between computers with out-of-date security patches, affecting hundreds of thousands of users at dozens of organisations including the NHS, as well as railways in Australia and a car plant in France.