While computing devices have undoubtedly become powerful tools for bringing immensely greater amounts of efficiency into everyone’s daily lives, they also come with drawbacks in the forms of privacy and security flaws. While it’s great that anyone can message anyone else in the world at the click of a button, it may not be equally great if those messages can be read and relayed by a third party. Incentives for proper data protection and network security have existed in the past, but bitcoin has changed the game by adding a financial component to the equation.
How Bitcoin Changed Hacking
On a recent episode of The Bitcoin Game, Hacker J. Maurice, who led the investigation into the missing Mt. Gox bitcoins, explained how bitcoin has completely revolutionized the world of hacking. Instead of stealing data, hackers are now able to steal cash from people’s computer like digital bank robbers. Maurice stated:
“Bitcoin really changed the hacking world because it introduced this new concept of incentivized hacking. If you hack someone who has bitcoins and you steal their money, then you’re directly getting that money, and that’s very different from how the world was before where you would have to hack into an ecommerce site, get a whole bunch of credit card numbers, and then try to monetize those credit card numbers by ordering stuff to a maildrop or however they did it before.”
In other words, some hackers are now interested in stealing bitcoins, which is real money, rather than passwords to bank, email, or social media accounts.
Hacking Non-Bitcoin Users for Bitcoin
In his interview on The Bitcoin Game, J. Maurice also noted non-bitcoin users are affected by this new incentives structure enabled by the digital currency:
“That’s why you see this ransomware — CryptoLocker type software that encrypts all of your data and holds it hostage unless you send [the hacker] bitcoins. The hackers want to use bitcoin; it’s a new way to get money out of people.”
The most recent large-scale victim of ransomware was the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles. Hackers forced the hospital to make a payment of roughly $17,000 worth of bitcoins to regain control of its computer system after they infiltrated it earlier in the month.
It’s becoming clear that the way bitcoin has changed the hacking world will affect everyone and not only bitcoin users.
Giving People a Reason to Care About Security
Although major media outlets have mainly focused on the negative aspects of bitcoin and ransomware, there is a silver lining to this new phenomenon: Bitcoin is giving people a reason to care about operations security (OPSEC). The general public may not even care that their social media or email accounts get hacked because they think they have nothing to hide, but everyone will definitely care if they get locked out of their school or work-related documents.
Even in the case of the recent ransomware attack on the hospital in Los Angeles, J. Maurice believes negligence may have been involved. The self-described crypto-anarchist shared the following statement with CoinJournal:
“Hardware failures, human error, and viruses all cause large organizations to occasionally experience data loss. When this incident occurred, the IT staff should have simply restored from a recent backup — the fact that the hospital paid the cryptolocker ransom indicates their IT staff wasn’t properly backing up their patients’ medical data.”
Even in the aftermath of the global surveillance disclosures provided by Edward Snowden, it appeared that many people did not care about the security of their own devices. Perhaps now more people will care when their money is at stake.