Bitcoin's value surges amid spate of ransomware attacks

News by Kate O'Flaherty

The risk of ransomware attacks is surging as virtual currency Bitcoin's value rockets.

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The risk of ransomware attacks is surging as virtual currency Bitcoin's value rockets, experts have told SCMagazineUK.com.

With Bitcoin's value reaching US $1,000 (£600) last week, the anonymous currency is becoming more attractive to would-be attackers. Ransomware attacks have risen more than ten-fold in the past two-and-a-half years, with 300,000 incidents in the last quarter, according to McAfee's third quarter threat report.

Last month, the National Crime Agency's (NCA) National Cyber Crime Unit warned that thousands of UK businesses could have been affected by sophisticated CryptoLocker ransomware, which demanded Bitcoins in exchange for releasing data. It is thought that attacks are spreading over the rest of Europe.

The rise of Bitcoin is not necessarily fuelling ransomware attacks, but is "certainly making the blackhats more secure in their anonymity", Clive Longbottom, founder of analyst firm Quocirca, told SCMagazineUK.com.

Ransomware attacks are "a fairly easy thing" made easier by inadequate anti-virus software, Longbottom said.

"Getting an email or social networking notice to a user with a link in it is pretty simple: the key is then to try and get the payload through any anti-virus systems in place. As so many users do not bother to implement anti-virus, and many more never update them, getting a payload in under the radar via a link is not as hard as trying to get it in through a direct payload."

The use of online payment methods makes the process of tracking the people behind attacks even more difficult, Marta Janus, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, warned. "Bitcoin-based payment systems are a promising opportunity for both cyber criminals and traditional crooks, as the currency allows people to remain anonymous, at least as long as they are extremely careful.

"However, all Bitcoin transactions are stored publically, so the level of anonymity depends on how the user protects their own privacy," Janus adds.

Andrew Mason, co-founder and technical director of security and compliance company, RandomStorm told SCMagazineUK.com that the increase in ransomware attacks is caused by "increasingly sophisticated malware and people's willingness to open email attachments from untrusted sources, rather than the availability of any particular virtual currency."

"Businesses can avoid being caught out by ransomware through ongoing vulnerability management that includes monitoring for malware and educating employees on current scams to dissuade them from clicking on malicious attachments,” he added.

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