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Crypto ransom attack payments reached over $1 billion in 2023

According to blockchain analytics firm Chainalysis, payments from crypto ransom attacks almost doubled, hitting a whopping $1 billion in 2023. Scammers going after big targets like hospitals, schools, and government offices pocketed $1.1 billion last year, a jump from $567 million in 2022. However, losses from other crypto crimes like scams and hacks actually dropped in 2023, as per Chainalysis.

Bitcoin, the big daddy of cryptocurrencies, has shot up by 60% since the end of September, reaching $43,134. The excitement stems from the anticipation of a new U.S. bitcoin ETF and signals that central banks worldwide might start cutting interest rates.

“An increasing number of new players were attracted by the potential for high profits and lower barriers to entry,” Chainalysis said. According to Chainalysis, “big game hunting” has taken over as the main strategy in recent years. The majority of ransom revenue now comes from payments of $1 million or higher.

Chainalysis reported that a crew of digital extortionists called “cl0p” scored almost $100 million in ransom payments by hijacking a file sharing software called MOVEit.

Loads of organizations, from government departments to the UK’s telecom regulator and energy titan Shell, have reported cybersecurity breaches linked to the MOVEit software tool. This tool is usually used for shuffling around hefty amounts of data, often stuff like pension details and social security numbers, which can be super sensitive.

In November, a report revealed that the cybercrime gang “Black Basta” had pulled in over $107 million in bitcoin through extortion. A big chunk of the laundered ransom payments ended up flowing into the sanctioned Russian crypto exchange Garantex.

UN reports highlight that cryptocurrency theft from cyberheists and ransomware attacks serves as a major cash source for North Korea. However, Chainalysis’ data may underestimate crypto’s role in all criminal activities since it only tracks crypto sent to wallet addresses flagged as illicit. It doesn’t cover payments for non-crypto-related crimes like crypto used in drug trafficking transactions.