NYU Researchers have found that 95% of the ransomware proceeds they were observing were laundered through btc-e
Criminals use ransomware to extort money from individual users and big businesses. Time
SAN FRANCISCOÂ â Ransomware surged last year, becomingÂ a multi-million dollar business that'sÂ so profitable it's creating a "vicious cycle" of ever-increasing attacks, sayÂ researchers at New York UniversityÂ and GoogleÂ who tracked the criminals'Â payment networks.
âItâs here to stay,â saidÂ Elie Bursztein, anti-abuse research lead atÂ Google.
The findings suggest that â even though the last two large ransomware attacks, WannaCry and Petya, did not seem to raise that much money â the criminal cyber industry in general has much to gain by exploiting users with these attacks.
The research team was able to track ransomware payment addresses and information via public sales of the digital currency bitcoin, watching more than $25 million in payments over the past two years.Â They plan to present their research on Wednesday in Las Vegas at Black Hat, one of the country's largest computer security conferences.
Ransomware is malicious software that criminals use to first infect a victim's computer and then encryptÂ the files on it. To regain access to their files, victims must pay a ransom, typically in anonymous digital currency such as bitcoin.
It is increasingly one of the biggest money-makers for cyber criminals, who have been diligentlyÂ creating new forms of itÂ to boost their earnings. A recent variant, Cerber, is able to fully encrypt a newly-infected computer in under a minute andÂ has consistently made $200,000 per month over the last year, the researchers found.
âItâs a vicious cycle, the more money they make, the more aggressively they spread the malware,â said Bursztein.
One popular method isÂ "ransomware-as-a-service," where criminal organizationsÂ rent out ransomwareÂ programs and the support system necessary to get paid to other criminals, charging a cut of the profits for the service, according to a 2017 VerizonÂ report on data breach investigations.Â
Other innovations includeÂ time limits after which the criminals delete encrypted files, ransoms that increase the longer the victim takes to pay,Â ransom pricesÂ that vary based on the estimated sensitivity of filenamesÂ and a newÂ option that allows victims to decryptÂ their files for free if they help infect others.
Ransomware programs aren't typicallyÂ âownedâ by any one group of criminals. In fact, the researchers tracked 34 different families of ransomware that are being distributed by criminals.
However, some of those criminals are better at making money off their crimes than others andÂ have developed real expertise in how to push their programs out to more victimsÂ and make it easy for victims to pay them,Â said Damon McCoy, a New York University computer science and engineering professor who researches ransomware.Criminal innovations: help desks
This can include amenities such as multi-lingual help desks to assist the victims in buying digital currency to pay the ransom.
With these new features, infectionÂ numbers began to shoot up in the second quarter of 2016 and have stayed high ever sinceÂ â and it doesn't seem likely they're going to come down any time soon because it's such a profitable crime, said McCoy.
Itâs also difficult to stop because itâs hard to track where the moneyâs going and thus find the criminals who are receiving it. The research team found that 95% of the ransoms they observed being paid went through BTC-E, a bitcoin exchange platform.
âItâs hard for law enforcement to put pressure on BTC-E because itâs a Russian-operated bitcoin exchange," said McCoy.
Google hasÂ seen concern about ransomware among the publicÂ ratchet up significantly in the past year and a half. Searches about ransomware have increased more then ten times, said Berzstein.
While the researchers couldnât offer a fix for the overall problem of ransomware, they did have one piece of advice â back data up regularly. A Google survey found that just 37% of people do so, putting them at risk for losing irreplacable photos and documents forever.
âWe really really want to encourage people to back up their files,â said McCoy.
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