Ransomware has been around since 1989 after Joseph Popp created the first malware known as AIDS or PC Cyborg. After 27 years, internet users are still finding themselves becoming targets to advanced versions of these malware which holds them for ransom by encrypting all the files on their computer. Almost all ransomware demand varying amounts in ransom to be sent in the form of bitcoin to the creator or distributor of the malware in order to get the decryption tool to regain access to the files.
The ease of transactions and a certain degree of anonymity offered by bitcoin transactions has made it the preferred currency of cybercriminals. But it may not stay the same way for long. When Bitcoin was introduced, people believed that the digital currency was completely anonymous and hard to track. However, a combination of transparent blockchain that records all transactions and tracking methods have now proven that bitcoin transactions are pseudonymous at best and with some extra effort, the identity of people making bitcoin transactions can be uncovered.
Kaspersky Labs has made that effort to successfully track few suspected cybercriminals behind the ransomware attacks. The cyber security firm followed the bitcoin transaction trail over the blockchain to uncover the people behind it. The technique of following the money is not new. Law enforcement agencies have been doing it for decades. The only difference here is that the money is not in the form of banknotes or electronic transfers across banking network, but as cryptographic hashes recorded on a decentralized, transparent ledger called blockchain.
Few internet security firms have dedicated manpower to track these transactions until they end up on a public site or bitcoin exchanges, from where they can start backtracking again until they zero in on the suspect. Caleb Fenton, a security researcher at SentinelOne has explained his efforts in one of the online publications. He believes that soon there will be enough technology available to trace bitcoin transaction which will effectively put an end to these ransomware attacks and other cybercrimes involving bitcoin.
Many people are convinced that bitcoin is the currency for the crime. Thanks to mainstream media and its relentless coverage of crimes involving bitcoin, people are more aware of the negative aspects of bitcoin than the positive ones. It has also affected the adoption rate of the digital currency. However, it may soon change, once ready tools are available to track transactions and identify the command and control servers.
There have been few successful cases where the law enforcement agencies have been able to investigate and crackdown on those involved with bitcoin and illegal activity. Silk Road and the arrest of Ross Ulbricht is one such example. It is just a matter of time before the long arm of the law catches up with the bitcoin using cybercriminals, putting an end to the ransomware menace.
Ref: The Christian Science Monitor | Image: Kaspersky Blog