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Pay up or Else: Bitcoin Bomb Threat Emails Show up in New Zealand and Australia

Last Updated March 4, 2021 3:15 PM
Mark Emem
Last Updated March 4, 2021 3:15 PM

Investigations are underway in Australia and New Zealand following reports of bomb threats where the sender is demanding a payment in bitcoin failure to which they will detonate an explosive device.

The emails are believed to be similar to the ones that had earlier been received by various institutions and facilities in the United States and Canada including schools, government buildings, and media outlets. However, there are some slight differences in the name of the explosive devices as well as in the subject line of the email.

While it resulted in evacuations, building sweeps and lockdowns in some cases in North America, nothing of the sort has been reported in either New Zealand or Australia so far. Cybersecurity agencies in the two countries have, however, acknowledged the bomb threat emails.

‘Real Threat Until Confirmed Otherwise’

The cybersecurity agency of Australia, the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC), earlier put out a brief message on its website  detailing the situation:

“The emails claim an explosive device has been hidden in the recipient’s premises, and will be detonated unless a ransom is paid in bitcoin.”

While advising Australians not to respond to the sender of the bomb threats or to pay the ransom, the cybersecurity agency indicated that it was taking the threat seriously:

“The ACSC believes this to be a scam, however as a precaution, state policing agencies are treating this as a real threat until confirmed otherwise. If you receive the email, we encourage you to contact your local police service.”

CERT NZ Advisory

In New Zealand, the computer emergency response of the government, CERT NZ, also disclosed that it was aware of the threat in an advisory  on its website on Friday:

“A small number of New Zealanders have reported receiving threatening emails that claim an explosive device is hidden in the recipient’s office, and will be detonated unless an amount of ransom in bitcoin is paid.”

Just like the ACSC, CERT NZ has also advised New Zealanders to contact the police in the event of receiving the email bomb threat. New Zealanders have also been advised to refrain from contacting the sender or paying the ransom before they have communicated with the police.

While not much information has been obtained regarding the sender so far, the target countries do not appear to be random. Australia and New Zealand enjoy high cryptocurrency awareness and usage and could be considered fairly progressive in that respect. The Reserve Bank of New Zealand has for instance designated cryptocurrencies as a payment system while the Australian government has legalized bitcoin and stated  that ‘it can be used just like money’.

Featured image from Shutterstock.