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Study Finds Most Ransomware Solutions Just Pay Out Crypto

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A study by ProPublica found that most ransomware solutions providers have one weird trick for getting rid of hackers – paying them off.

Ransomware activity is growing weekly according to experts at CoveWare. The result? Companies who just want to pay the ransom and move on.

According to CoveWare, ransomware attacks were up in Q1 2019:

In Q1 of 2019, the average ransom increased by 89% to $12,762, as compared to $6,733 in Q4 of 2018. The ransom increase reflects increased infections of more expensive types of ransomware such as Ryuk, Bitpaymer, and Iencrypt. These types of ransomware are predominantly used in bespoke targeted attacks on larger enterprise targets.

Once hackers encrypt an infected computer, however, the real question is how to unlock your data. ProPublica found that many data recovery firms simply pay the ransom and then charge a premium for their trouble.

Proven Data promised to help ransomware victims by unlocking their data with the “latest technology,” according to company emails and former clients. Instead, it obtained decryption tools from cyberattackers by paying ransoms, according to Storfer and an FBI affidavit obtained by ProPublica.

Another U.S. company, Florida-based MonsterCloud, also professes to use its own data recovery methods but instead pays ransoms, sometimes without informing victims such as local law enforcement agencies, ProPublica has found. The firms are alike in other ways. Both charge victims substantial fees on top of the ransom amounts. They also offer other services, such as sealing breaches to protect against future attacks. Both firms have used aliases for their workers, rather than real names, in communicating with victims.

Going up

Ransomware is getting worse.

After US Attorney General traced and indicted two Iranian hackers for releasing ransomware called SamSam, authorities hoped the prevalence of attacks would fall. Instead, it rose, beating 2018 levels considerably.

The reason, many believe, is because ransomware is so lucrative. Hackers can launch an attack and then, when the victims discover the hack, they negotiate briefly with companies like MonsterCloud and others to unlock the computers. However, many of these companies offer recovery methods and many security researchers work on free methods this one for the popular WannaCry ransomware.

Unfortunately, the hacks are getting worse and the software necessary is getting more complex.

CoveWare admits to actually negotiating with scammers. They’ve found it to be one of the simplest methods for getting data back. The concern, however, is that these efforts are inadvertently funding terrorism. Further, they write, it is taking longer to decrypt hacked computers, thanks to new versions of the ransomeware. In Q1 2019, wrote CoveWar, the “average downtime increased to 7.3 days, from 6.2 days in Q4 of 2018.”

Pattern recognition

CoveWare CEO Bill Siegel has found that the average ransomware recovery isn’t really a negotiation with “terrorists” as US Government officials believe. They’ve negotiated a “few hundred” ransomware cases this year and find that each hacker is different and often just frustrated.

“Our sense based on our study of the industry and experience is that the vast vast majority are relatively normal people that don’t have legal economic prospects that match their technical abilities,” Siegel said. “They also live in parts of the world that are beyond the jurisdiction of Western law enforcement, and are ambivalent about stealing from the West.”

Their process for talking with the hackers is also quite precise.

“We study their communications patterns so that we can build up a database of experience. There is a surprisingly small group of threat actors that are active at any given time, so identifying them is relatively straight forward. From there, we have scripts and tactics that we have honed over our experience. We draw on those to develop a negotiation strategy on behalf of our client. We know the hackers based on the profile and patterns they exhaust. We don’t communicate with them outside of representing our clients in a negotiation. All of the data exhaust we create from our cases is provided to law enforcement on a quarterly basis as well.”

Zohar Pinhasi of MonsterCloud said his company worked hard to use both methods – recovery and ransom.

The recovery process varies from case to case depending on the scope and nature of the cyber attack. Our methods for achieving data recovery and protection are the product of years of technical experience and expertise and we do not disclose the process to the public or to our customers. That is communicated clearly up front. However, what I can tell you is that we are a cyber security company, not a data recovery company. We have vast knowledge and experience dealing with these criminals, and we spend countless hours staying atop their evolving methods in order to provide our clients with protections against all future attackers, not just the one infiltrating their data at the time they come to us. We offer a money back guarantee to any client if we are unable to recover their data, and to date we have not had a single client report a follow-up attack from the same criminals or any other attacker.

While sending a few thousand BTC to a strange address might not sit well with many victims, it still looks like the best way to reduce downtimes. After all, it’s the organization’s fault for catching the ransomware bug in the first place. Prevention, as they say, is often better than the cure.

Image via Coindesk archive.

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Robinhood Opens Trading for 7 Cryptocurrencies in New York

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Robinhood, the popular stock and crypto investing app, has officially launched bitcoin, ethereum, and other cryptocurrency trading in New York.

Silicon Valley-based Robinhood received a BitLicense from the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) in January 2019 and on Thursday opened access to crypto trading in the Empire State.

From the press release:

Currently, you can invest in seven cryptocurrencies on Robinhood Crypto: Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Bitcoin SV, Ethereum, Ethereum Classic, Litecoin, and Dogecoin. You can also track price movements and news for those and 10 additional cryptocurrencies.

New York is unique and problematic for crypto traders because all purveyors must apply for a BitLicense, most notably for companies that are “storing, holding, or maintaining custody or control of virtual currency on behalf of others,” according to NYDFS.

Many crypto startups have avoided the requirements entirely by becoming BitLicense refugees and refusing to do business in the state.

“Here we are two miles from the Statue of Liberty and you cannot sell CryptoKitties in the state without that license. That’s the absurdity of what’s happened here,” ShapeShift CEO Erik Voorhees complained in 2018 when asked about the controversial license at CoinDesk’s Consensus conference in New York.

Image courtesy of Robinhood

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Generation Bitcoin: 90% of Millennials Prefer Crypto to Gold: ETF Expert

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By CCN: The US investing industry stands on the precipice of a dramatic upheaval that could see bitcoin and other cryptocurrency assets replace gold in investor portfolios.

That’s according to Nate Geraci, president of the ETF Store, an independent investment advisor. He revealed in a Bloomberg TV interview that his millennial clients are clamoring to hold bitcoin in their portfolios – if only the SEC would let them.

Crypto in a Landslide: ETF Expert Says Millennials Plan to Kick Gold to the Curb

Responding to a question from Bloomberg analyst Eric Balchunas about whether he would ever invest client funds in a bitcoin ETF, Geraci stunned his fellow panel members when he said that millennial investors overwhelmingly desire to hold bitcoin instead of traditional hedge assets like gold.

How overwhelming? Ninety percent.

“When we talk to our younger clients – we have a core gold allocation in our portfolios, and they’ll ask about that and say, ‘What about crypto?’ And if you talk to, primarily millennials, and ask them which they prefer, bitcoin or gold, it’s a landslide. It’s not even close, it’s like 90% prefer bitcoin.”

Geraci’s bold claim was more anecdotal than scientific, but there’s plenty of hard data that demonstrates that younger investors are vastly more comfortable with holding cryptocurrency in their portfolios than investors who grew up in the pre-digital era.

In April, a Harris Poll survey found that 18 to 34-year-olds are “very” or “somewhat” likely to purchase bitcoin within the next five years. That might not seem overwhelming, but consider that only 37% of Americans in that demographic currently own stocks.

Similarly, a February eToro survey found that 43% of millennials trust crypto exchanges more than stock exchanges, even though crypto trading platform hacks dominate the mainstream news cycle.

ETF Would Reduce Crypto Investing Risks

bitcoin etf vaneck bitcoin price

ETF Store President Nate Geraci said that there is rabid demand for a bitcoin ETF, especially among millennials. | Source: Shutterstock

Nate Geraci further pointed to the success of the $1.5 billion Bitcoin Investment Trust (OTC: GBTC) as proof that there is sufficient market demand for a crypto ETF.

He noted that the over-the-counter product regularly trades at a staggering premium to the underlying value of its BTC assets. That’s because GBTC shares fluctuate based on supply and demand, not just the price of bitcoin. An ETF, he said, would flatten that premium and thus reduce investor risk.

“It seems a bit incongruent to me that we have that product out there trading, where investors really could get hurt if they don’t understand that premium, but we don’t have a bitcoin ETF.”

“The demand is there,” he concluded.

SEC Kicks the Bitcoin ETF Can Down the Road

Unfortunately for crypto bulls, millennials aren’t the ones manipulating the levers of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which holds unilateral authority to approve or deny bitcoin ETF applications.

The SEC, as CCN reported, continues to punt on the issue. Last week, the regulatory agency extended its long trend of delaying ruling on cryptocurrency products when it postponed its decision on the VanEck/SolidX Bitcoin ETF to August 19. Most industry insiders expect the SEC to delay the VanEck/SolidX product again, pushing its final ruling until October 18.

Dave Nadig, the managing director of ETF.com, said that he believes the SEC is still in “information gathering mode” but that there is a “reasonable chance” regulators approve the first bitcoin ETF before the end of 2019.

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Ripple Price Analysis: XRP Lost Critical 5000 SAT Support Area – What’s Next?

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Ripple’s XRP has seen a price decline totaling 6% over the past 24 hours of trading, bringing the current price for the coin down to around $0.3754 at press time. The cryptocurrency has lost a further 16% over the past 7 trading days.

This price drop largely is due to the retracement seen in Bitcoin, although XRP also has seen difficulty when priced against Bitcoin.

XRP currently is ranked in 3d place amongst the top cryptocurrency projects by market cap value, holding a $15.89 billion market cap, according to CoinMarketCap at time of publication. 

Looking at the XRP/USD 1-Day Chart:

  • Since our previous XRP/USD analysis, we can see that XRP/USD has fallen further from the $0.39 level, to where it currently is trading at around $0.375. XRP has strong resistance beneath it provided by the 200-day moving average around the $0.3615 level.
  • From above: The nearest levels of resistance lie at $0.3790 and $0.3943. If the bulls can continue further above $0.40, higher resistance can be located at $0.4235, $0.4376 and $0.4617. Above this, further resistance lies at $0.48 and $0.50.
  • From below: The nearest level of support now sits between $0.36 and $0.35. Beneath $0.35, further support is located at $0.34, $0.32 and $0.30.
  • Trading volume has dropped significantly from the average level seen during May 2019.
  • The RSI is in a precarious position as it hovers around the 50 level which indicates indecision within the market. If the RSI drops beneath 50, we can expect XRP/USD to head lower.

xrpusd_may23-min

Looking at the XRP/BTC 1-Day Chart:

  • Against Bitcoin, we can see XRP/BTC has now dropped further beneath the support at 5000 SAT to where it currently trades at press time, around 4850 SAT.
  • From above: The nearest level of resistance now sits at 4910 SAT, 5000 SAT and 5090 SAT. Above 5100 SAT, further resistance exists at 5571 SAT, 5962 SAT and 6000 SAT.
  • From below: The nearest level of support lies at 4731 SAT. Beneath this, further support is expected at 4500 SAT, 4323 SAT and 4000 SAT.
  • Trading volume has also significantly declined toward the second half of May 2019.
  • The Stochastic RSI suggests that price action will head further lower due to a bearish crossover in overbought conditions.

xrpbtc_may23-min

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Ripple Price Analysis: XRP Lost Critical 5000 SAT Support Area – What’s Next?

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Ripple’s XRP has seen a price decline totaling 6% over the past 24 hours of trading, bringing the current price for the coin down to around $0.3754 at press time. The cryptocurrency has lost a further 16% over the past 7 trading days.

This price drop largely is due to the retracement seen in Bitcoin, although XRP also has seen difficulty when priced against Bitcoin.

XRP currently is ranked in 3d place amongst the top cryptocurrency projects by market cap value, holding a $15.89 billion market cap, according to CoinMarketCap at time of publication. 

Looking at the XRP/USD 1-Day Chart:

  • Since our previous XRP/USD analysis, we can see that XRP/USD has fallen further from the $0.39 level, to where it currently is trading at around $0.375. XRP has strong resistance beneath it provided by the 200-day moving average around the $0.3615 level.
  • From above: The nearest levels of resistance lie at $0.3790 and $0.3943. If the bulls can continue further above $0.40, higher resistance can be located at $0.4235, $0.4376 and $0.4617. Above this, further resistance lies at $0.48 and $0.50.
  • From below: The nearest level of support now sits between $0.36 and $0.35. Beneath $0.35, further support is located at $0.34, $0.32 and $0.30.
  • Trading volume has dropped significantly from the average level seen during May 2019.
  • The RSI is in a precarious position as it hovers around the 50 level which indicates indecision within the market. If the RSI drops beneath 50, we can expect XRP/USD to head lower.

xrpusd_may23-min

Looking at the XRP/BTC 1-Day Chart:

  • Against Bitcoin, we can see XRP/BTC has now dropped further beneath the support at 5000 SAT to where it currently trades at press time, around 4850 SAT.
  • From above: The nearest level of resistance now sits at 4910 SAT, 5000 SAT and 5090 SAT. Above 5100 SAT, further resistance exists at 5571 SAT, 5962 SAT and 6000 SAT.
  • From below: The nearest level of support lies at 4731 SAT. Beneath this, further support is expected at 4500 SAT, 4323 SAT and 4000 SAT.
  • Trading volume has also significantly declined toward the second half of May 2019.
  • The Stochastic RSI suggests that price action will head further lower due to a bearish crossover in overbought conditions.

xrpbtc_may23-min

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Blockchain Firm Raises $4 Million From Draper’s VC Fund to Provide Uncensorable Domains

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San Francisco-based blockchain domains firm Unstoppable Domains has secured $4 million in a funding round backed by venture capitalist Tim Draper, co-founder Brad Kam told Cointelegraph in an email on May 23.

Following a $730,000 seed round led by investment firm Boost VC, Unstoppable Domains has carried out a Series A round led by venture capital fund Draper Associates. The previous investment was completed in December 2018, a press release notes.

The new investment funds will be used in the company’s mission to provide blockchain-powered uncensorable websites, as well as simple payments in major cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin (BTC), ethereum (ETH), litecoin (LTC) and others.

By bringing blockchain to the domains industry, Unstoppable Domains intends to “spread free speech around the world,” decentralizing domain names and websites that cannot be controlled by a third party, Draper said in the announcement.

Similar to a cryptocurrency stored in a digital wallet, Unstoppable Domains’ websites are stored in a user’s wallet, while the content is stored on the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) or other decentralized storage networks.

Unstoppable Domains also plans to incorporate blockchain domains with users’ crypto addresses. The company reportedly allows users to replace a wallet’s address with their short domain name that claims to enable simple transactions in crypto.

Recently, electronics supplier Bosch expressed the company’s willingness to take an active position in protecting the openness of the Internet of Things against censorship.

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