Cybercriminals have reportedly targeted a number of schools in Taiwan, threatening to destroy their computer systems and data if a bitcoin ransom isn’t paid.
According to a report in Focus Taiwan, a national news agency, malicious hackers have compromised computer networks from 9 schools in Hualien, Taiwan’s largest county situated on the eastern coast of the country.
The cybercriminals are demanding a payment of eight bitcoins (approx. $9,600), the Hualien County government revealed. Taking control of a number of schools’ printers, hackers have left a number of undisclosed threats with sheets of paper print-outs, according to the county’s education department.
So far, no bitcoin ransoms have been paid. Instead, schools have received instructions from the education department to password-protect their printers and purchase antivirus software to mitigate cyberattacks.
While fears of a data compromise remain, there is no evidence to show any leak of information. It’s entirely likely that the cyberattack was carried out through ransomware malware, a common ploy for cybercriminals to extort ransom from victims in exchange for decryption keys to unlock the compromised computers and network.
Figures from the country’s ministry show that at least 55 schools in Taiwan have been targeted and attacked by hackers demanding bitcoin ransoms, since the turn of the year. Law enforcement officials have deployed investigators to the affected schools but police have, so far, been unable to determine the cybercriminal operation instigating the attacks.
A Global Menace
Extorting bitcoin through ransomware has become a global menace to such an extent that big businesses have started stockpiling the cryptocurrency. Threat intelligence statistics peg ransom payments to have reached $ 1 billion in 2016, representing a 4000% increase in a year. Through 2015, the cybercriminal group behind the then-infamous Cryptowall 3.0 variant of ransomware reportedly raked in an estimated $325 million in bitcoin. Hundreds of thousands of individuals around the world became victims of the malware.
In figures from December 2016, cybersecurity firm Kaspersky estimates that one business is hit every 40 seconds by a ransomware, on average. It’s worse for individuals, where the rate went from 20 seconds to every 10 seconds last year.