Cryptocurrency: Cybercriminals Follow The Money

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Once confined to the underworld of dark web markets and ransomware payments, cryptocurrency has made impressive strides toward legitimacy in recent years and true to form, cybercriminals are following the money. In fact, analyst firm Gartner predicts that by the year 2020, the banking industry will derive one billion dollars of business value from the use of blockchain-based cryptocurrencies. The continued endorsement of cryptocurrency will, however, only fuel security risks associated with digital transactions. Fortunately, there are ways that conscientious organizations and consumers can keep their cryptocurrency investments safe.

How Did We Get Here?

Cryptocurrency has been around for more than a decade. The most widely used currency — Bitcoin — was launched in 2009. Its easy procurement and relative anonymity made cryptocurrency an early favorite among cybercriminals. Cybercrime campaigns had been using nontraditional currencies for years, mostly for their own exchanges, but occasionally for an extortion effort. None of the earlier electronic currencies ever achieved wide adoption, but when Bitcoin did so, they sensed an opportunity. Suddenly, a ransom demand could be made in Bitcoin, with a reasonable chance that the victim would actually be able to figure out how to pay it. It’s no accident that billions of emails, compromised websites and even mobile apps have sought to infect users with ransomware in the last three years.

While its checkered past and recent volatility have been well chronicled, less well known has been its growing acceptance among banks and other financial institutions as more consumers get into the cryptocurrency game. For example, many apartment dwellers around the world can now pay the rent via Bitcoin, using third-party providers like Coinbase and ManageGo.

Another little talked about but significant trend in cryptocurrency adoption has come from large investments from banks and tech companies to hedge against future ransomware attacks. Because ransomware attackers often ask for payments in cryptocurrency, these institutions bought early in large quantities at lower prices. When cryptocurrency prices surged, this risk management initiative turned out to be a surprisingly strong investment.

Cryptocurrency Threats And Following The Money

As with most early adopters, the first wave of cryptocurrency users had a built-in tech savviness and operational security not necessarily shared by the public at large. As a result, the growing acceptance of cryptocurrency is not without risk. Let’s start with one important fact.

Mining cryptocurrency requires enormous amounts of computing power. As a result, business networks have become popular targets among crypto thieves. The Proofpoint cybersecurity research team recently identified, tracked and helped dismantle part of a massive botnet. The botnet included individual companies with thousands of compromised endpoints, all working surreptitiously to mine cryptocurrency and spread the infection further across the corporate network.

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