It has been quite a week for the FBI. First it got back a large chunk of the Bitcoin paid to the gang behind the Colonial pipeline ransomware attack. Then it led a global operation which saw suspected criminals tricked into using a messaging service operated and monitored by the agency.
Rory Cellan-JonesTechnology correspondent@BBCRoryCJon Twitter Published48 minutes agoSharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingimage copyrightAustralian Federal Policeimage captionItems seized in the messaging-app sting included motorbikes and money On this week’s Tech Tent, we explore whether criminals will now think twice about using tech in their activities.
When it comes to understanding and using the latest technology it has often seemed that law enforcement is always at least one step behind the criminals. Not this week. Just how the FBI managed to retrieve $2.3m (£1.6m) of Bitcoin paid to the DarkSide ransomware gang is far from clear. Theories range from the agency having an insider in the gang who handed over the private key to the Bitcoin wallet where the ransom had ended up, to the criminals being careless enough to leave their loot in a well-known exchange which could be ordered to hand it over.
Some have even suggested that Colonial only paid the ransom at the behest of the FBI so that the gang could be tracked more effectively. Whatever the truth, Ciaran Martin, who as former head of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre worked closely with the Americans, thinks life may have been made harder for the criminals. “There’ll be a lot of people now distrusting the payment mechanisms of cryptocurrency,” he tells the programme.
“And when there starts to be a bit less trust, that’s a good thing.” Suddenly the idea that Bitcoin movements can be tracked – something that cryptocurrency experts have been pointing out for years – seems to have become fashionable. “Pipeline investigation upends idea that Bitcoin is untraceable,” read a New York Times headline this week.
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