The hackers behind the infamous WannaCry ransomware have had a lucrative week. So far, they have racked up almost $80,000 in bitcoins. But their next step may be more difficult – they still have to figure out how to get their hands on that money.
The well-publicized cyber-attack, which began in Asia, has locked up hundreds of thousands of computers in more than 150 countries. Once a computer gets infected, a tab pops up demanding a $300 payment in bitcoin to unfreeze the data.
Shockingly, despite no clear evidence that anyone who pays the ransom actually receives the promised decryption keys to unlock their encrypted files, some people have been putting up the funds, sending their bitcoin off to one of the hacker’s three bitcoin wallet addresses.
But now, with the world’s cybercrime teams watching those bitcoin addresses, the question is: Will the hackers be able to launder that money and spent it? Or, is the money tainted, traceable, and therefore worthless to the thieves?
Follow the coins
Originally bitcoin was touted as an anonymous payment vehicle. But over the years it has become clear that bitcoin is pseudonymous rather than truly anonymous.
Bitcoin addresses, payments and transactions are all visible on the blockchain. And by analyzing transaction patterns, it is possible to trace money and find the actual parties behind the public keys – strings of numbers bitcoin uses to identify its participants.
As WannaCry is the most widespread bitcoin ransomware attack in history, the criminals behind it have garnered a lot of attention. So, if they want to actually spend their funds, they will have to find a clever way to remove all links from the original bitcoin addresses.
As of right now, though, the bitcoins are still sitting untouched and the trail is cold.
Hiding their tracks
So what are the options for the bad actor(s) behind the ransomware attack?
Laundering bitcoin is a little different from laundering fiat money, but is just a matter of applying the right tools, according to Emin Gün Sirer, a professor at Cornell University. Technologies already exist for shedding so called ‘tainted’ bitcoins – they just require a little technical know-how.
One of the simplest processes is ‘chain hopping’, where bitcoins are converted into other digital currencies, usually at offshore exchanges.
“Following the trail gets quite difficult as the coins cross jurisdictions and change shape,” Gün Sirer told CoinDesk.
Another technique known as ‘tumbling’ would allow the hackers to pool their ill-begotten bitcoins with other people’s coins.
In a bitcoin tumbling service, coins from different sources are mixed together and then re-disbursed. Conceivably, the hackers could repeatedly mix their coins until they were diluted enough to throw law officials off their path.
But Ethan Heilman, a researcher at Boston University who designed a tumbler, pointed out that mixing bitcoin is risky business, especially when dealing with larger sums of money. As he pointed out, one of the problems the hackers may run into is finding a large enough number of bitcoins to adequately mix with.
“Even if they mix the coins such that they will be hard to follow, if the WannaCry hackers make a mistake and join the coins back together, those coins could become vulnerable to clustering and other blockchain analysis techniques,” he said.
Further, it is unclear how effective most mixers actually are, the researcher added.
Notably, the fact that the hackers used only three bitcoin addresses to collect their money suggests they don’t know much about bitcoin privacy. Had they used a unique bitcoin address for each computer WannaCry infected, the money would have been a lot more difficult to trace.
In a LinkedIn post, Neil Walsh, the UN’s head of global cybercrime, pointed to that and other shortcomings in the ransomware to suggest the hackers are likely in over their heads.
“We estimate that the attackers are relatively unskilled, and are probably unprepared for the impact their malware turned out to have. It is quite possible that they are unsure how to launder the bitcoin funds safely.”
However, as Gün Sirer pointed out, hacking is a rich, stratified ecosystem, and the people who put together the exploit may now be looking for an expert at laundering coins. Or, they may simply be biding their time before attempting to retrieve the funds.
“The authorities are revved up right now, and time will help dilute their focus. The hackers can probably afford to wait, potentially for a long time.”
Hacker image via Shutterstock
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Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency that can help protect your identity when making purchases online. But it’s not foolproof. Kevin Mitnick, one of the world’s most famous hackers and author of the book "The Art of Invisibility," offers some tips that will help you remain anonymous.
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Following is a transcript of the video:
The whole idea of really being truly invisible is a disconnect between you as the user and your first connection to the internet.
If you use bitcoin, there is a blockchain. And the blockchain is really traceable.
In fact, during the trial of Ross Ulbricht, the guy that was accused of running the drug emporium Silk Road, they were able to trace millions of dollars of transactions to the wallet on his computer. So to try to anonymize bitcoin, you can go to a bitcoin ATM.
You could buy it from person-to-person on the street, which is probably the safest way if you’re using a phone that’s not really registered to you. Like a burner device.
Or you could use services that launder bitcoin. So you could buy bitcoin, for example, with a pre-paid card. You can go to any of the pharmacies, buy prepaid gift cards.
You could go to certain sites and actually convert that to bitcoin for a large fee, and then you could go take that bitcoin and launder it even further. They have laundering sites.
So you basically send bitcoin to them, and they’ll mix it with other people’s bitcoins, and eventually send you bitcoin back with a small fee that’s deducted from the transaction.
And then, when you have this clean bitcoin, you could use it, for example, to top up data cards or to purchase email accounts, where you have to sign up for a subscription, to make it really hard to trace you as the anonymous user behind it.
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It doesn’t matter how great your online content is if no one visits your website. This principle holds true for small businesses, multinational corporations, and everyone in between. When the internet was still young, you could get an edge on the competition by being intentional about driving traffic to your website.
Now, you need a robust online presence just to keep up. Those in charge of blogging for a company, managing social media pages, or any other form of content marketing must find creative ways to increase their company’s visibility online.
Search engine optimization is one important goal. If your company sells rose bushes, you would want your website to be among the first results when customers type in things like “where to buy rose bushes,” “Mother’s Day flowers,” “best types of roses to plant,” and “rose gardening.”
Good SEO gets your company’s website to rank as highly and prominently as possible.
Start by creating a list of keywords and phrases that relate to your industry, product, or company. Research how SEO works, then brainstorm ways to put crucial SEO principles to work for your company.
Need a little help?
Check out the infographic below to learn more about increasing visibility and improving your SEO. You’ll see how partnering with industry influencers to reach potential customers can help your business.
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Uber is now the ‘Uber for trucking’ – Uber Freight is a new service from the ride hailing company that pairs up trucking companies, including independent operators, with loads that need to be hauled from one place to another. The app looks a lot like the main Uber app, but it’s targeted towards vetted and approved drivers, who can browse for nearby available loads, see destination info, distance required and payment upfront and then tap to book.
The idea is to streamline something that used to take hours of back and forth negotiation via phone or other communication, putting it in a simple workflow with confirmation of job acceptance and rates paid within a few seconds.
Uber also notes that they’re addressing another big pain point when it comes to small trucking companies and independent drivers: payment speed. Like many freelancers, truckers typically have to wait at least 30 days to receive a pay out, while Uber Freight will pay “within a few days, fee-free, for every single load,” according to the company, and in cases where payments don’t go through so quickly, Uber will pay additional fees depending on the wait periods.
This service is entirely focused on drivers and trucking companies, and Uber makes not mention in its press materials around the launch of Otto, the automated trucking service it acquired last year and still operates separately. It would be hard to imagine a scenario in which Uber wouldn’t make use of information and data gleaned from this new service to help further develop its autonomous trucking ambitions however.
The key to making any kind of self-driving tech more robust is logging lots of miles on the road for systems to learn from, after all, and this can help them in that regard much like Uber’s regular consumer car service informs its self-driving pickup plans.
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Chris Cornell, the legendary frontman of Soundgarden, Audioslave, and Temple of the Dog, has died at the age of 52-years-old. The singer with the eclectic and powerful voice died Wednesday night after he had just finished a concert in Detroit.
His representative, Brian Bumbery, released a statement that called the death “sudden and unexpected” and that said the singer’s family would be “working closely with the medical examiner to determine the cause.”
The singer’s body was found unresponsive in his Detroit hotel room around midnight on Thursday. Detroit’s WXYZ reported that police said Cornell’s wife called a family friend and asked him to check on the singer because she hadn’t heard from him. The friend forced opened the hotel room door he found Cornell on the bathroom floor.
Police received a 911 call at midnight from an unnamed person at the MGM Grand Casino in downtown Detroit requesting assistance.
The cause of death is unclear, but police in Detroit are investigating the death as a possible suicide.
Director Michael Woody of the Detroit Police Department’s media relations said:
“When the units arrived they were met by a gentleman who indicated that Chris Cornell had been found in his room. When officers went to the room they found Chris Cornell laying in his bathroom, unresponsive and he had passed away. We are investigating it as a possible suicide but we need to wait on the medical examiner to determine the cause and manner of death.”
Woody said that police are unable to discuss what was found in Cornell’s hotel room at the time of his death.
“We are at the beginning stages of the investigation and we can’t say anything about the scene.”
Cornell, who was born in Seattle in 1964, was instrumental in making grunge music popular. In 1984, the band Soundgarden started and Cornell was the frontman. In 1991, Chris teamed up with members of what would become Pearl Jam, including Eddie Vedder, Mike McCready, Stone Gossard, Matt Cameron, and Jeff Ament. From 2001–2007 Cornell was the lead singer for Audioslave.
Besides being in three massively successful bands, Cornell had a tremendous solo career, known for his soulful covers of popular songs. Cornell co-wrote and performed “You Know My Name,” the theme song for the 2006 “James Bond” film, “Casino Royale.”
Here is the last tweet from Chris Cornell before a Soundgarden show in Detroit.
— Chris Cornell (@chriscornell) May 18, 2017
Last year, Cornell had an eerie quote in Rolling Stone when discussing the death of David Bowie:
You don’t know how important someone is to you as an artistic influence until suddenly they’re gone. I’ve certainly been having that experience. It’s kind of equal parts sad and celebratory to think, “Awesome. What an amazing career he had and what an amazing legacy he’s left for everybody.
RIP Chris Cornell.
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Michael Flynn and other advisers to Donald Trump’s campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race, current and former U.S. officials familiar with the exchanges told Reuters.
The previously undisclosed interactions form part of the record now being reviewed by FBI and congressional investigators probing Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
Six of the previously undisclosed contacts described to Reuters were phone calls between Sergei Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, and Trump advisers, including Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, three current and former officials said.
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The effects that stun guns cause to your body are — literally — shocking.
Here is a transcript of the video:
Stun guns don’t just affect your body.
Your brain also takes a hit.
Stun guns shock you with 50,000 volts of electricity.
That’s 5X stronger than the maximum voltage allowed for electric fences.
When that much electricity enters your body…
… it hijacks your nervous system.
Normally, nerve cells use electricity to send information from the brain to your body… and vice versa.
If you stub your toe, for example, neurons fire electric signals to your brain which interprets them as pain.
But the human body generates at most 100 millivolts.
When you’re shocked with 500,000X that amount…
… it’s like a power surge to your nerves.
The shock overwhelms your nervous system, causing your muscles to lock up.
As a result, you can’t move and will likely fall down.
But mobility isn’t the only thing you lose.
Your brain’s ability to process new information is also impaired.
Plus, you have a harder time remembering that new information later.
Don’t worry, the damage is only temporary.
Brain function returns to normal after about 1 hour.
Luckily, your body bounces back much faster.
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