As we have seen in the crypto world, nobody is safe from crypto-based ransomware, and in the case of one Spanish city – Jerez de la Frontera – that lesson is being learned all over again.
Jerez Under Fire
A hacker has apparently taken an entire city hostage. The computer network of Jerez de la Frontera has been locked up by a malicious actor who is demanding bitcoins in exchange for loosening his or her hold on the system. The attack first began on Tuesday night with what were deemed small outages of the town’s website. By early morning Friday, the entire city was under threat.
At press time, it is unknown how much the hacker wants. While a ransom is being requested, a specific amount has not been set. The city, which houses 212,000 residents, is calling upon the aid of three tech experts newly arrived in Jerez to see if they can potentially unlock the computer system without requiring the issuing of the bitcoin payment.
Mayor of the town Mamem Sanchez says that he and government officials will only allow the website or the city’s computer network to run until they’re “100 percent sure” that the situation has been fully contained.
The sad truth of the matter is that while many security experts advise against paying hackers, several companies that have fallen victim to such actors often wind up forking out the ransom, claiming it is cheaper to do this than to rebuilt entirely new computer systems. It’s an unfair set of circumstances given that the victims have done nothing wrong and wind up having to pay out funds that the offending party did not earn.
Crypto ransoms appear to be growing in popularity amongst malicious industry players. Last January, one of Norway’s wealthiest businessmen reported that his wife had been kidnapped by criminals who were demanding $10 million in Monero (XMR). Monero is widely appreciated amongst bad actors given its quasi-anonymous properties.
Monero Is a Big Deal
Monero has become so popular among black market dealers and cyberthieves that it is often the target of crypto jacking attacks on personal computers. Crypto jacking works when a third party takes over one’s computer system without that person’s knowledge or permission. The party then uses the computer’s energy to mine Monero (and sometimes other cryptocurrencies) for a profit, while the owner gets nothing unless you count the expensive energy bills that they receive following the end of each month.
Crypto ransomware has also gone up heavily in 2019, with Coveware reporting that the average bitcoin or crypto payment during the first half of the year has shot past the $12,000 mark. That’s nearly double the average payment in 2018. In addition, approximately 98 percent of computer-based hack attempts now ask for bitcoin payments.