When Bitcoin appeared in 2009, a lot of people anticipated that it would remain a niche phenomenon, only popular with cybercriminals and technical arenas. That idea quickly vanished as Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies became one of the most game-changing and troublesome technologies in recent history. Cryptocurrencies, and Bitcoin in particular, are having a dramatic impact in many areas, including cybersecurity.
Cryptocurrency Related Cybercrime Wave
While Bitcoin is the most well-known type of Cryptocurrency, there are numerous versions of the digital currency, and the excitement surrounding them is startling. The hype continues to increase, fueled by the massive rise of Bitcoin with its value skyrocketing by thousands of dollars in the last year. Another major factor driving its growth is the lack of government oversight. Cryptocurrencies are intentionally designed to enable anonymity and be free of government regulation. Unfortunately, these attributes that are driving the success of cryptocurrencies are also the perfect setting for cybercriminals.
There has been a significant rise in cryptocurrency related crimes during the last few years. In 2014, $350 million in Bitcoins was stolen from Tokyo's Mt. Gox exchange. Cybercriminals also stole $60 million worth of Bitcoins from the Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO).
Hackers recently targeted websites using the Wordpress content management system to infect them with Monero mining malware. Monero is another cryptocurrency that has recently skyrocketed in value. According to CNN, the attackers made at least $100,000 within a single week. Cybercriminals also penetrated EtherDelta, a digital exchange where one can purchase cryptocurrencies, and Youbit, a South Korean Bitcoin exchange is filing for bankruptcy after hackers stole almost one-fifth of its clients’ holdings. Last November, hackers stole another $31 million dollars of another cryptocurrency called Tether.
On top of the significant number of attacks directly targeting cryptocurrency exchanges, the rise of ransomware and cryptocurrencies go hand in hand. A significant percentage of ransomware attacks demand payment via Bitcoin or another type of cryptocurrency.
Protection from Cryptocurrency Related Crime
Most of the big-ticket cryptocurrency crimewave is aimed at Bitcoin exchanges. But on a personal level, we all need to protect ourselves from cybercrimes like ransomware that benefit from the rise of cryptocurrency. Some of the simple but highly effective steps we can take include:
- Regularly backup your system. Don’t rely exclusively on permanently connected and automated cloud or other backup solutions. If the data on your PC get’s scrambled, it will propagate to your automatic backup system.
- Carefully filter your email – don’t open anything from someone you don’t know, or open unexpected emails. Never open unexpected attachments. Don’t click on links unless you know and trust the sender.
- Keep your systems updated. Most attacks exploit old, outdated software that contain vulnerabilities.
- Use strong passwords, and two-factor authentication where you can.
- Use caution when browsing. Drive-by malware downloads are a primary way for cybercriminals to infect your system with ransomware, password stealers, and other forms of malicious code.
Bottom Line – Cryptocurrency and Related Crimes Are Here to Stay
A few years ago, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin appeared to be a fad. Today, these technologies and ecosystems are permanently changing the digital landscape—adding another dimension of cybercrime. This trend is not going away.
Organizations need to understand the impact that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies can have on their business and take steps to protect themselves.