Beware of phishing attacks when in Las Vegas, according to a new study. Sin City has been found as the most likely place to catch Bitcoin ransomware in the United States.
Viva La Ransomware
The unsuspecting, lay internet user is most prone to ransomware infections in Las Vegas, a survey by internet security company Malwarebytes revealed.
Ransomware is malicious computer code that’s commonly downloaded via email attachments. These are distributed using phishing attacks, where the malicious contents are housed within a seemingly friendly email. The code essentially takes a user’s computer hostage, accompanied by a note asking for a ransom payment in bitcoin to ‘unlock’ the computer.
In their study, the security firm reviewed almost half a million ransomware detections between July and October 2016. It only looked at metropolitan areas in the US with a population of 250,000 or greater, however, following a found correlation between ransomware infections and population density in a 2015 FBI study.
But despite Las Vegas being only the 28th most populous city in the U.S., Nevada is, in fact, the third-most urbanized state, according to the 2010 census. Moreover, Vegas is an entirely different breed since it is a major tourist hub with a large turnover of people distracted by the casino lifestyle.
“Vegas is a place where people go from all over the world,” Adam Kujawa, the Malwarebyte’s Director of Malware Intelligence, explained. “They visit a central location, they connect to all kinds of Wi-Fi connections, whether it be hotels, casinos, things like that.”
[A] lot of people tend to be less cautious when they’re in Vegas, so that’s our first theory — that people just click on anything.
Another theory from Data Science Analyst Nima Samadi suggests that more tech-focused cities like San Francisco or New York might be better informed and prepared for such attacks. Other cities rounding off the top ten were Memphis, Tennessee; Stockton, California; Detroit, Michigan; as well as a trifecta of Toledo, Cleveland and Columbus in Ohio.
“I think maybe these more cosmopolitan major cities have more an awareness or knowledge of these security issues,” Samadi said. “And maybe that’s why some of these midwestern cities or smaller cities are more often victims of opportunity, in the sense that they’re more likely to fall for potentially the phishing scam or whatever it might be.”
Don’t Blame Bitcoin Just Yet
But ransomware is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it’s been around for almost twenty years before Bitcoin was invented. Before Satoshi Nakamoto invented Bitcoin in 2009, ransomware payments were made using wire transfer, prepaid cards, or by SMS/mobile payments.
Nowadays, however, it is almost always demanded in bitcoin.
But this is not because Bitcoin is “anonymous.” It is not. It is pseudonymous.
“Prepaid cards are actually more anonymous because they can be mailed and then used or resold internationally with effectively no trace,” explains Peter Van Vakenburgh from Coincenter.
Bitcoins on the other hand, “leave a trail of pseudonymous breadcrumbs on the blockchain,” which can give additional clues to law enforcement in tracking down the criminals.
Instead, they prefer Bitcoin because it’s fast, reliable, and verifiable, according to Van Vakenburgh, who adds:
The hacker can simply watch the public blockchain to know if and when a victim has paid up; [they] can even make a unique payment address for each victim and automate the process of unlocking their files upon a confirmed bitcoin transaction to that unique address.
Why do you think Las Vegas is the most susceptible city in the US for ransomware? Let us know in the comments below!
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