Spike in Ransomware Attacks Linked With Rise of Crypto: FireEye CEO

Divya  |  Jun 29, 2021

In an interview with CNBC, cybersecurity firm FireEye’s CEO Kevin Mandia said that the advent of cryptocurrencies is closely related to the increase in ransomware attacks. Mandia thinks cybercriminals capitalize on crypto networks’ privacy incentives to hijack systems and collect payments while flying under the radar as there are unlimited, risk-free opportunities for such intrusions.

Outlawing Ransomware Payments is Inadequate Against Attacks

In his assessment of the situation, Mandia suggested that cryptocurrencies have made it easier for hackers to carry out operations from anywhere in the world. He stated, “There’s a direct correlation. When you look at the rise of ransomware, it absolutely aligns with the rise of anonymous digital currencies.” In addition, he noted that digital currencies act like an “enabler” because “you can break in anonymously and be paid anonymously, and now you can commit crime from 10,000 miles away in a safe harbor.”
The cybersecurity executive highlighted that awareness of the issue has increased significantly since recent incidents like the Colonial Pipeline made headlines. However, he pointed that there are “unlimited amount of opportunities to hack us and no risks or repercussions to those doing the intrusions.”

Mandia also opined that outlawing ransom payments will not guarantee results while referring to the Colonial Pipeline case from last month. The company reportedly paid $5 million in ransom following a network-wide hack, although U.S law enforcement later recouped a considerable portion of this payment. 

In Mandia’s view, its imperative for governments to undertake diplomatic measures and ensure that manipulation of cyberspace’s anonymity carries heavy risks.

Many Experts Disagree With Linking Cryptocurrencies and Criminal Activities

Several leading voices in the market disagree with Mandia’s opinion and the general notion that links cryptocurrencies with criminal activities. For instance, Katie Haun, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz and a former federal prosecutor, asserts that it’s simply a matter of people seeing authorities work on cases where crypto was used as the tool of choice by the criminals.

Speaking from personal experience, Haun stated cybercrimes with crypto always leave a trail, making digital assets an inconvenient technology for cybercriminals. She said, “The fact is, when crypto is used for the illicit activity it leaves ... digital bread crumbs, and I can tell you that, firsthand, I used blockchain technology to actually solve crimes.”

Former NSA hacker, David Kennedy, who now runs the security firm TrustedSec, is a proponent of making ransom payments illegal. He believes a law could potentially deter victims from submitting to the demands of hackers and lead to a decline in such activities.

However, he contends that outlawing ransom wouldn’t be feasible in the short term as some companies have to struggle before reclaiming their systems from the attackers.

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