Cyber-attacks can happen at any time, to anyone, at any cost. Cyber criminals can strike and wreak havoc. The Optus hacking is proof even the second largest telecommunications provider in Australia isn’t safe.
Attacks on the rise
Global ransomware attacks increased by 80 per cent between February 2021 and March 2022, compared to the previous year.
According to a recent prediction, ransomware will be the top tactic used in third-party breaches and supply chain attacks in 2022, and the global cost of ransomware damages will grow to $42 billion by 2024.
You’ve likely heard of ransomware, but do you know what it is or how it works?
Ransomware is malicious software or malware that usually prevents access to a user’s computing device. Users are asked to pay ransom money to access their important data files rather than sell this information in an underground market.
Ransom payments are paid via cryptocurrency, such as bitcoin.
Hackers choose cryptocurrency because, unlike traditional currency, tracking crypto transactions is not simple. Far from it!
Edith Cowan University (ECU) Senior Lecturer Dr Mohi Ahmed is now leading a new charge to beat online hackers at their own game.
“If the crypto transactions are accurately traceable, there will be a drastic reduction in ransomware attacks,” Dr Ahmed explained.
Tracing the criminals
Mobility Markov Chain (MMC) is considered a potential solution to trace or identify the crypto transactions when the cyber criminals use the tumbler/mixing service to hide.
“This de-anonymisation of cryptocurrencies will help identify the actual users involving the crypto transactions, not only for ransomware attacks but can also help identify other cyber-enabled crimes,” Dr Ahmed explained.
“To effectively use the MMC, it is crucial to have a verified database with crypto transactions for ransomware attacks.”
Dr Ahmed has been leading multiple projects to develop the RANSOMCOIN dataset that will be analysed further to understand the movement of ransomware-related bitcoin transactions.
Be on the lookout
Also read: Australia targeted by Cyber criminals, fights ransomware
Supply chain attacks
Put simply, this is a method where hackers exploit vendor relationships to breach organisations and allows attackers hit hundreds or sometimes thousands of victims at once.
Ransomware – a service
Here attackers use affiliate networks to distribute ransomware on a wide scale, allowing the ‘experts’ in breaching networks to share profits with the most advanced ransomware organisations.
This method utilizes data theft, customer communications, and distributed denial of service (DDoS) as layered extortion attacks to increase ransom payouts from the victim.
Helping the fight
If successful in tracing those responsible for ransomware, Dr Ahmed’s tracing method could be utilised by law enforcement agencies, in particular cyber detectives.
Upon a potentially successful rollout in Australia, it could be utilised by the FBI too.
“Ransomware can affect anyone using the internet, and hackers are continuously working towards making ransomware more sophisticated,” Dr Ahmed said.
“This is exactly why research on ransomware is not only beneficial for Australia’s national security but also has a global impact.”
If cyber criminals are getting smarter, so should the IT specialist.