Finance | Prager Metis | Jul 29, 2015

Held Ransom by Your Email

Remember when Bruce Willis starred in Hostage? Well if you don’t, let me tell you about it. Willis plays a hostage negotiator for the L.A Police. During the movie, one of his negotiations turns sour, pushing him to leave the force. Just as he starts to feel like his life is becoming normal again, his family is suddenly taken hostage. At that point, Willis needs to decide whether to negotiate or fork up the money.

Now imagine yourself on your computer receiving an email from a bizarre address. You open the email as most people would, but instead of finding that stupid chain message from your social media obsessed friend, you instead find yourself clicking on a ransom note for your online privacy. What could make this situation worse you may ask? Oh, you’re just being asked to pay in Bitcoin.

So, what is Bitcoin? Bitcoin is an online currency that is untraceable and not associated with the dollar, or any currency for that matter. Within the last two (2) years, the online currency has been spreading like wildfire, having won major investments from Goldman Sachs and the New York Stock Exchange. In 2009, an anonymous creator released emails that capture your private information into cyberspace, leaving all who opened them doomed.

Most of you are probably sitting around thinking this could never happen to you, but several people, along with companies, have been held hostage. DDE4BC is one of the major email addresses that a certain criminal or criminals use to threaten and overwhelm company websites with message traffic unless a Bitcoin payment is made. Victims say that they were asked to pay around $10,000 in order for the attack to stop.

In an email made public by the attacker, he or she wrote, “Do not ignore me, as it will just increase the price. Once you pay me you are free from me for the lifetime of your site.”

Before the online hostage breakthrough, most hostage situations involved police providing marked bills for the exchange in order to track the attacker. Now, Bitcoin not only is untraceable, but victims cannot reclaim their money. This is because there is no way to pay these attackers by PayPal or credit card.

Ted Weisberg, president of Seaport Securities, was hit this past June. When Ted first saw the email, he was convinced it was a joke, until confirmation from his competitors. Ted refused to pay the ransom which caused the company’s website to go down for a day and a half. Fortunately, they were able to repel the bombardment of message traffic with the help of an anonymous IT genius.

The stories go on and on. Some people have had their families threatened, police departments have had threats regarding their information being made public, etc. Many would like there to be a way to trace Bitcoin, but on the other end of things, naysayers do not want the identity of Bitcoin to change.

Until a solution is made, be careful next time you open your email, because Bruce Willis doesn’t handle tech crimes.


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