A new study by cloud-enabled security solutions provider Barracuda reveals that the rising price of bitcoin is fuelling an increase in cryptocurrency-related cyber-attacks across Asia-Pacific and globally.
Barracuda researchers analyzed phishing impersonations and business email compromise (BEC) attacks sent between October 2020 and May 2021, finding that the volume of cryptocurrency-related attacks closely follows the growing price of bitcoin. The study also revealed that as the price of bitcoin increased by almost 400% between October 2020 and April 2021, so too did impersonation attacks, which grew by 192% over the same period.
When companies started to announce that they will accept payments in bitcoin, it generated more interest in cryptocurrency and started to drive its value up, which according to Barracuda, has seen cybercriminals adopting more sophisticated tactics in order to maximize their profits by cashing in on bitcoin-mania.
According to Barracuda, bitcoin is still largely unregulated and difficult to trace, cryptocurrency has traditionally been used in extortion and ransomware attacks. However, Barracuda’s study reveals that hackers have now started to incorporate cryptocurrency into spear phishing, impersonation, and BEC (business email compromise) attacks, seeing hackers impersonating digital wallets and other cryptocurrency-related apps with fraudulent security alerts to steal bitcoin log-in credentials. They also target employees within organizations with personalized emails aiming to trick them into purchasing bitcoins, donating them to fake charities, or even paying fake vendors.
Based on Barracuda’s research, this trend is fueling a multi-billion economy that not only targets private businesses, but also critical infrastructure, with successful high profile attacks on Colonial Pipeline and JBS where both organizations paid out ransoms, being just the tip of the iceberg, as even the most unsophisticated hackers seek to cash-in on bitcoin.
“You don’t need to be a technical genius to launch a ransomware attack. Ransomware-as-a-service — where you can hire a group to carry out an attack for you — is flourishing on the Dark Web, making ransomware more accessible to criminals, and driving an increasing number of attacks,” said Mark Lukie, systems engineer manager, Barracuda, Asia-Pacific.
Barracuda said that as the volume of ransomware attacks continues to increase year on year, so have the ransom amounts hackers are asking for. The study found that 2019 ransom demands ranged from a few thousand dollars to $2 million at the top end. By mid-2021 most demands were in the millions, with a significant number over $20 million.
Work with law enforcement
“While high-profile, higher value attacks will likely bring greater interest in the regulation of bitcoin, making it harder for cybercriminals to hide, this is still a way off, making it crucial for businesses across Asia-Pacific, to do what they can to stay protected,” Lukie said.
Barracuda advises organizations to avoid paying ransoms and instead work with law enforcement agencies to find resolutions to attacks.
“Staying on top of the latest trends in email attacks and providing employees with security awareness training to identify and avoid attacks, should be high on your priority list when it comes to protecting against these kinds of attacks,” Lukie said. “While making sure you have watertight security solutions in place that provide bot mitigation, DDoS protection, API security, and credential stuffing to secure web applications against ransomware, while backing-up data to minimize downtime, data loss, and get your systems restored quickly following an attack, will give you much needed peace of mind in light of this rising threat.”.