A new report by crypto and blockchain analytics firm CipherTrace has taken a look at the increased use of privacy-oriented cryptocurrencies such as Monero that are continuing to be a preferred payment option for criminals who launch ransomware attacks on civil and governmental infrastructure across the world.
Monero Is Go-To Cryptocurrency for Ransomware Hackers
Monero has become a focus of US law enforcement as well with the US Securities and Exchange Commission securing public contracts to develop tracing tools focused directly on the cryptocurrency. Monero is able to hide its traces by using a range of solutions including ring signatures, mixers, and stealth addresses, which is often taken advantage of by not just libertarians, but also illegal criminal organizations.
The need for such tools maybe even more pressing now according to CipherTrace’s “Current Trends in Ransomware” which took stock of the problem throughout 2021, reporting a 500% increase in such attacks year-over-year. Double extortion attacks between 2020 and 2021 went up dramatically, with the culprits encrypting victims’ data but also stealing it to auction it off on black marketplaces.
Meanwhile, crypto payments to ransomware groups hit a record $600 million in 2021, Chainalysis, another analytics company reported in a solemn paper assessing how far-spread the problem has become. Monero has been a preferred cryptocurrency for close to 50 of all criminal organizaitons identified by CipherTrace. At least 22 requested payments in Monero, with some venturing into both Bitcoin and Monero.
Trading Off Safety for Better Profit
Accepting Bitcoin is a risk as it opens criminals to easier tracing as reported by the US Secret Service. Bitcoin is easier to track whereas Monero is able to obfuscate the “money trail.” However, hackers and ransomware groups are bartering safety for a higher yield. For example, someone looking to sell Bitcoin at an all-time high may be eager to do so now.
One of the most nefarious ransomware groups, REvil, which had even POTUS intervene and issue a warning to governments that support it, chose to go from BTC ransoms to XRM, benefiting from the much better privacy of the currency.