Cryptocurrency, today, has become a global phenomenon to most people. People are rapidly going mainstream and more people are analyzing the crypto world.
Meanwhile, investors aren’t the only ones showing interest in cryptocurrency.
Cybercriminals are thrilled with the idea of unregulated money.
Cryptocurrency has opened new cyberattack vectors and a new way for cybercriminals to disappear, leaving no trace.
Because of its anonymity, cryptocurrencies play an important role in the underground economy.
They are often used for C2C (criminal-to-criminal) payments on Darknet marketplaces and forums.
It was estimated that around $76 billion of illegal activity annually involves Bitcoin, and Cryptocurrency Ventures estimated that over 70 percent of all cryptocurrency transactions will be for illegal activity.
Many hackers ask for payment from victims for cyberattacks, like DDos extortion or ransomware in cryptocurrencies. (Victim-to-criminal – V2C).
While the increase in cryptocurrency eases cybercrimes, it gave a consequential boost to novel type developments of cryptocurrency cyberattacks.
But, what’s the role of cryptocurrency in cybercrime? How Cybercrime trends impact cryptocurrency? What are cyberattacks that cyber criminals are taking advantage of? Read out to know more about it, but let’s know first what cryptocurrency actually is.
What’s the Gist of Cryptocurrency?
A cryptocurrency is a form of digital transaction that circulates without requiring a central monetary authority, such as a bank or government.
Instead, cryptocurrencies are created using techniques of cryptography that allow people to sell, buy or trade safely.
Cryptocurrencies can be interchanged for goods and services, though they mostly are used as investment vehicles.
Cryptocurrency is also a part of the operation of some financial networks, where digital tokens are essential for carrying out online transactions.
The most important feature of a cryptocurrency is that it is not regulated by any central authority and is completely decentralized.
Unlike paper currencies which are controlled by governments, cryptocurrency operates independently of central banks.
Blockchain technology that lies at the core of cryptocurrency enables people and institutions to shift funds instantly.
It’s known as cryptocurrency because it is built on strong cryptography.
The reason that Blockchain cannot be altered is because that blockchain data is approved by millions of participants, or “miners” scattered worldwide.
For example, Bitcoins are created at a pre-determined rate regardless of any value and without any political or economic influence.
Bitcoin is the first and most cryptocurrency that serves as a digital “gold standard” for the whole system.
According to the 2019 Internet Organized Crime Threats Assessment (IOCTA) report by Europol, bitcoin is the most preferred and frequently used cryptocurrency among cybercriminals.
How Cybercrime Trends Impacts Cryptocurrency?
Cryptocurrency assets exist in the independent and decentralized online environments, that’s not held by any of the central authorities.
While it’s independent online environments makes it accessible to more people, it also exposes cryptocurrency to a high risk of cybercrime.
Cybercriminals can easily hack into steal funds and trading platforms. They generally employ tactics of cyberattacks to steal cryptocurrency.
As we know, cryptocurrency is already the most preferred form of exchange in ransomware attacks for cybercriminals.
The ease of anonymity in the domain of cryptocurrency works as a profit for cybercriminals, that makes this domain all more liable to cyber-attacks.
What are Cryptocurrency Cyberattacks?
There are several types of cryptocurrency cyberattacks that cybercriminals take advantage of.
These include ransomware, DDoS extortion, cryptocurrency exchange hacks, and cryptojacking.
Cryptocurrency and Ransomware
Ransomware is one of the biggest cybersecurity trends in history, designed for extortion of money by encrypting the user’s data.
This malware mostly displays an on-screen message asking the victim to pay a ransom to restore access.
Typically, cyber criminals demand payments such as Bitcoin or any form of cryptocurrency. Thus, the attackers are virtually impossible to be traced.
2017 was the year when the biggest cyberattacks happened; global outbreaks of the notorious NotPetua and WannaCry that affected many large organizations.
2017 was also the year when the Bitcoin price growth increased from below $1,000 to around $20,000, reaching its all-time high of $19,783.21 on December 17th.
Coincidence? We don’t think so.
DDoS extortion campaigns are most common and are driven by its ability to use payments of cryptocurrency that makes it quite difficult for investigators to track the money as it goes from victims to criminals.
Cybercriminals blackmail the organizations or individuals and ask them to pay Bitcoin to protect their site or service information from being disrupted by DDoS attacks.
Most hackers are motivated by the potential for financial gain and the ease that such cryptocurrency cyberattacks can be performed.
Extortion is one of the easiest tricks and the oldest way for hackers to gain profit.
A group that carries a lot of activity using the ‘DDoS-as-an-extortion’ technique was DD4BC (abbreviation for “DDoS for Bitcoin”) that first appeared in 2014 and was arrested in 2016 by Europol.
In October 2019, a fake group “Fancy Bear” was sending ransom demands to financial organizations and banks across the world, threatening to launch the DDoS attack.
In some cases, cybercriminals carry out small cryptocurrency Cyberattacks to demonstrate their capabilities and validate the threat.
But no serious follow-up cyberattack have been observed.
Cryptocurrency Exchange Hacks
Cryptocurrency itself is a very tempting target for cybercriminals.
In 2018, more than $1 billion in cryptocurrencies was stolen from exchanges and other platforms across the world.
Frauds and attacks that previously targeted traditional payment systems, fiat and bank currencies, have now been adapted to incorporate the cryptocurrencies.
Cyberattacks on the various crypto assets like personal crypto wallets or crypto exchanges have now become a routine, an increasing number of phishing and malware activities targeting the enterprises and crypto investors.
In 2017 and 2018, cryptojacking shook up the threat landscape when cryptocurrency prices skyrocketed to record levels.
It also made a comeback during the 2019 summer that saw trading prices recover after a striking crash in 2018.
The attack consists of the hackers, they use the computing power of a compromised device to mine (generate) cryptocurrency without the knowledge of the owner.
The types of devices vulnerable to cryptojacking weren’t limited to servers, computer, or smartphones. IoT devices can also be infected.
The main effects of cryptojacking for users includes:
- Device slowdown
- Overheating batteries
- Increased energy consumption
- Devices becoming unusable
- Reduction in productivity
There are two main types of cryptomining are intrusive cryptojacking malware and passive crypto mining through scripts running in an internet browser from the victim.
Both techniques exploit the processing power of the victim, without their permission, to mine cryptocurrencies.
Initially, the malware operators deployed the Bitcoin baser crypto miners.
But as Bitcoin became difficult to mine on regular computers, they switched to other altcoins.
Due to its anonymity-centric features, Monero lately became the favourite currency among the gang of cybercriminals.
In March 2019, the Coinhive closure, the most popular mining script, led to the decline in the frequency of browser-based cryptomining.
Meanwhile, attacks against the organizations and consumers continue to happen and evolving.
There are reports of cryptojacking malware both going the file-less and assimilating the Eternal Blue exploits to replicate and spread themselves over a network, such as a worm virus.
Protection from Cyberattacks:
To avoid more cryptocurrency cyberattacks by not getting infected, following basic security practises in daily life will help you protect yourself from cybercrime.
- Do not open suspicious email attachments
- Do not click on links received from unknown resource
- Make regular offline backups
- Install software updates
- Do not install “free” apps from unofficial stores, apart from Google Play Store or App Store.
- Don’t click on email links that are suspicious unless you know the sender who sent it to you.Email is the most popular source for infecting computer systems with malware.
- Patch software and operating systems regularly.
- Use strong passwords for the Wi-Fi networks, computers, mobile, and IoT devices.
Against DDoS Extortion:
Industry experts don’t suggest paying the ransom that there is no surety that the cyberattack will arrive or that the payment would protect it.
In most cases, such cryptocurrency cyberattacks are empty threats that their authors scare to implement the strategies hoping to fool the victims into paying, and ransom letters are not followed by any disruption or serious attack to the service.
Organizations consider installation of DDoS (Distribution Denial of Service) protection solutions, which automatically detect and block even the smallest DDoS attacks.
The market for cryptocurrencies has been volatile incredibly, and these troughs and peaks have made the cryptocurrency value a hot trending topic that hackers also have an eye on.
There was a recent rise in cryptojacking attacks, exploiting the power of computers of victims to mine the cryptocurrency.
The role of cryptocurrency in cybercrime was its alternative currencies that became the payment method of choice.
Cryptocurrencies have been around existing for more than a decade, but since mid-2017, it has gone mainstream and attracted the huge criminal interest.
Digital money is here to stay for a longer period and will probably play a significant role in the future economy.
As such, it will always be a lucrative target for cryptocurrency cybercrime.
Protection for the mass market and for enterprises against the cryptocurrency related cyberattacks should be a part of everyone’s security strategy.