Bitcoin is leading to computer hostage situations


There are a few good reasons to use bitcoin: It’s global, private and won’t bulk up your wallet. But there’s another more sinister perk. The currency will not be traceable when you collect it as ransom for a computer taken hostage from a community college in Southern California. A gang of hackers recently held Los Angeles Valley College’s data at bay and received $28,000 in bitcoin ransom in exchange for setting it free.

Luckily, according to the Los Angeles Times, the school has an insurance policy for such unexpected eventualities.

“It was the assessment of our outside cybersecurity experts that making a payment would offer an extremely high probability of restoring access to the affected systems, while failure to pay would virtually guarantee that data would be lost,” Chancellor Francisco C. Rodriguez revealed in a statement. “After payment was made, a ‘key’ was delivered to open access to our computer systems. The process to ‘unlock’ hundreds of thousands of files will be a lengthy one, but so far, the key has worked in every attempt that has been made.”

According to Phil Lieberman, a cybersecurity expert quoted in the LA Times, “The attacks generally come out of Eastern Europe and cannot be stopped because the United States does not have pacts with the countries where the attacks are launched. The governments of countries that launch [these] are uncooperative, and, in fact, benefit from the criminal activity going on within their borders.”

Although it surely provides small consolation, the college is not alone in enduring a high-tech shakedown. According to the Wall Street Journal, these virtual kidnappings have become so prevalent that companies are being advised to have people on staff who actually know how to acquire bitcoin — it is apparently the currency of choice among those who prefer kidnapping data from cyberspace over kidnapping people off of city streets.

On the upside, firms that pay up can keep invasions discreet and data private.

“From what we are seeing,” security industry expert Katherine Keefe told the Journal, “it appears that many hackers are finding it easier to make money by holding companies to ransom for bitcoin than through selling personal data on the dark Web,” referring to untraceable Web sites hidden from most users.

So, vulnerable CEOs, keep your insurance paid up and your bitcoin surplus deep.

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