Cyber Extortion

Cyber extortion refers to the act of blackmailing a person with the threat of releasing private information to the public. The victim is then required to pay a ransom, which is usually in the form of cryptocurrency since it is hard to trace.

Cybercriminals often first try to gain access to the target’s data, and if they’re successful, they will reach out to the victim with demands. The threats can vary, depending on the kind of private data they have acquired. For some, it is deletion, for others manipulation while for most it is data disclosure.

Ransomware is one of the most common forms of cyber extortion. In a ransomware attack, the victim’s files are encrypted and rendered inaccessible until a ransom is paid. The victim can also get locked out of multiple accounts.

The origin of cyber extortion

The advent of the internet opened the door to a new playing field for criminals, who could now operate on an ephemeral, digital space. These “cyber” criminals as they would later be called, enacted the first form of the ransomware attack as far back as 1989 with malware known as the “AIDS Trojan”. 

However, ransomware would gain more popularity in the 2010s due to the emergence of cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrency afforded the cybercriminals much-needed anonymity and made it harder to trace them after payment was made. This would only embolden more of these kinds of attacks going forward. 

The infamous “WannaCry” virus used for a ransomware attack in 2017 is one example. The records show it affected over 200,000 systems spanning more than 100 countries. The ransom for releasing the files was to be paid in Bitcoin.