Cryptocurrency theft hits US$1.1bn in 6 months

  • By Elizabeth Fry

Cybercriminals are increasingly using malware offered on the dark web to steal digital currency, a new report finds.

During the past six months, Carbon Black, a Massachusetts-based cybersecurity firm uncovered more than US$1.1 billion in cryptocurrency-related thefts during the past six months.

To check this figure, the cybersecurity firm looked at the most recent data from the FBI’s Internet Crime Center that reported volume of cryptocurrency theft was almost equal to the $1.3 billion in victim losses from internet crime reported for all of 2016.

Carbon Black reckons much of the theft is being perpetrated through dark web marketplaces that offer malware for cybercriminals to use. These malware offerings have an average listing price of $224 and are geared toward unsophisticated users.

An analysis of the marketplace suggests cryptocurrency-related malware listings are designed to cater to unskilled cyber actors, or those looking to make a quick buck from highly vulnerable victims.

“The listings are riddled with phrases that emphasize the sheer simplicity in using these tools," the report said

“The phrases are not something we typically expect to see in offerings geared toward sophisticated actors.”

Ellicit economy

According to Carbon Black, the available dark web marketplaces represent a US$6.7 billion illicit economy built from cryptocurrency-related malware development and sales.

The research revealed there are about 12,000 dark web marketplaces selling approximately 34,000 offerings related to crypto theft.

Cryptocurrency exchanges were the most vulnerable target for cybercriminals, accounting for just over 27 per cent of attacks.

“These exchanges represent prime targets for cryptocurrency theft, fraud, and harvesting of user information for follow-on targeting by these same criminals,” Carbon Black said.

Tokyo-based Mt. Gox, the largest bitcoin exchange at the time, was the victim of hack in in 2011.

More recently, hackers stole US$530 million worth of a cryptocurrency called NEM from Japanese exchange Coincheck, and South Korean exchange Youbit lost 17 per cent of its digital assets in another cyberattack.

Businesses were the second most vulnerable group, with criminals in many cases hacking into their computer systems and demanding cryptocurrency as ransom.