Obtaining money by threatening to reveal information is a not a new phenomenon. Take, for example, the extortion demand issued against the Duke of Wellington in 1824 which gave rise to the famous phrase “publish and be damned”. Today, extortion is alive and well in the cyber world whether by taking data hostage through encryption, stealing data and threatening to leak it or denying access to certain data.
Cyber extortions were probably first reported in the seventies when two reels of magnetic tape were stolen from the Bank of America, reports SecurityWeek.com. Since then, however, things have come a long way. Stealing sensitive data for a ransom has given rise to a type of malware which quietly encrypts all the data on an infected machine before issuing a demand for money in return for the encryption key. Failure to pay may mean the destruction of the data files.
But cyber extortions can take other forms as well including flooding websites with traffic in order to crash services, good old-fashioned theft of data with a threat to expose it, and holding accounts hostage so they cannot be used until a ransom is paid to free them. This is all 21st century cyber piracy. Attacks are facilitated by services like Bitcoin which allow payments to be made digitally to an unmonitored and anonymous account which protects the extortionists from exposure.