Monday 29 May 2017

What you need to know about Bitcoin after the WannaCry Ransomware attack?

After the recent worldwide attack of ransomware, Bitcoin was highlighted in the news again. The harmful software locks the victim’s access to all their files and data and refuses to grant them access unless a ransom is paid in the form of at least $300 in bitcoin. This leaves one wondering what exactly is bitcoin and why do hackers want their payments in this form?

What is bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a type of a digital currency. One can buy dollars or euros with it and also one can trade any other currency. It is stored in an online wallet and through this wallet, one can use bitcoin online and also in the physical world for purchasing services and goods. Bitcoin is also supported by PayPal. Bitcoin also has valuation and it’s price keeps fluctuating up and down, just like any other currency.

What's different about bitcoin?

Usually, while purchasing something online, one uses a credit card or a debit card. This card connects to information about the user, such as the name and the billing address. One can use bitcoin the very same way one uses debit or credit cards and the transactions made are completely anonymous. This can’t be used to personally identify you. Whenever one trades in bitcoin, a private key is used which is associated with the user’s wallet and a code is generated, called an address. This address is then publicly linked with the transaction but no personal details and information are identified. In this way, every bitcoin transaction is recorded and is signed securely in an open ledger that can be viewed and checked by anyone. Thus, bitcoin can be used to protect one’s privacy.

Is this why the WannaCry hackers chose Bitcoin as a form of payment?

Most possibly, yes. Bitcoin has gained its reputation as a technology that can facilitate crime in the news media. Although the identities of users making bitcoin transactions are not revealed, law enforcement can trace these transactions and the movement of bitcoin with the help of the public ledger. Online criminal operations that have used bitcoin, have been successfully prosecuted by the Justice Department.

Law Enforcement and WannaCry

The government is already investigating these attacks. White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert stated that the process of finding out who is behind the crime, also called as attribution, is a generally tough process in computer attacks. Most of the times, the attackers are not easy to catch hold of as they are beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement. Their activities are hidden behind multiple layers of security.

Money Collected by the Attackers

According to Quartz, the news site tracking the amount of money in the hackers’ wallet, so far the amount looks to be about $55,000. It’s not a lot of money considering that the European Union Law enforcement agency, Europol, has said that more than 200,000 computer systems have been affected. Still, in recent years, the value of a single bitcoin has seen a steady rise. An all-time high price of $1,830 per bitcoin was seen just hours before the WannaCry attack began to spread. However, after the attack was revealed, the price fell by $200. Looking at how easily hackers can attack with ransomware, acquiring even a handful of bitcoin and keeping a hold of it for sometime can help the cyber-criminals gain a large sum of money.

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