Attention: Cointelegraph stongly advises NOT to fulfill any email demands coming from scammers calling themselves the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), a division of ISIS.
The Radicati Group research showed that about 84% of all email traffic in 2013 was spam. A report from Online Headquarters of Kaspersky Lab security experts securelist.com shows that in Q2 2015, the percentage of spam in email traffic was 53.4%. According to cnet.com, about 30% of Americans knowingly open spam, to which they say: "I know I shouldn't, but I will." It's time to say “No”.
Scammers demanding money for the Syrian Electronic Army in New Zealand
The latest report on major email scams comes from a news website stuff.co.nz, based in New Zealand. Hackers claiming to be the Syrian Electronic Army are sending emails demanding a ransom of $1,500 in Bitcoin to support ISIS' army in its war. Hackers demand to send money to a specified account within 72 hours, otherwise someone from the email recipient’s family is promised to be killed. The text of the email says:
"If you refuse to pay the money all the important files from your computer will be deleted. Also, if you will go to the police after you have paid the money we will destroy you and all your family."
Emails contain personal information of the recipient, such as their phone number, IP address and date of birth. Moreover, the alleged terrorists promise to keep track of the recipient's phone calls, internet traffic, as well as keep an eye on their house.
According to Scott Rees, Senior Sergeant at the local Police District Command Centre, he had received four reports of the email on Saturday morning alone. Police is working on identifying the perpetrators, and also to find out how did the scammers obtain people's personal information.
"It makes me really angry that they'll be emailing people less cynical than I am and probably scaring them out of their wits," said a woman, who reported about the threat email. She used to live in Auckland but moved to Australia in 2012.
Igor Mikitasov, who lives in Bangkok but has his family stay in New Zealand, posted on Facebook that he received a similar email demanding to send money to help SEA fight the Russian Army.
“The e-mail shows specific personal information about me and my family members, who are living 10 000 km away from Bangkok. They not only have electronic personal data, but also things that could only be discovered by physical surveillance.”
Igor asked if there are network security experts out there, who can locate these scammers, find out who they are and fight back for a bounty.
How to fight against hackers and scammers demanding Bitcoin ransom
While Bitcoin is a digital currency that provides a certain level of anonymity, some people try to misuse it in different kinds of scams. Amid these worrying reports, one has to be able to counter the threat of financial cybercrime. Fortunately, modern security specialists and law enforcement agencies have developed specific solutions to fight back. Cointelegraph has asked several IT and security specialists to share their opinion on the case.
“It is not clear who the author of those emails really is. Today's state of the world, with the current refugee crisis and most people's inability to judge IT security risks, makes a great combination for such a criminal initiative. […] This case actually reminds me of CryptoLocker and CryptoWall, malware that encrypts data on your hard drive and asks you to pay in order to decrypt it. Last month, Joseph Bonavolonta, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Cyber and Counterintelligence Program in the FBI's Boston office, said that the FBI often advises people to just pay the ransom. According to one study, up to 40% of victims of CryptoLocker paid to unlock their files. I doubt that the this Syrian Electronic Army email will be as effective because there is no proof of real danger (unlike with CryptoWall, where you can't access your data anymore). A few percent might pay though. People will be looking for advice. The media will play an important role here educating those who received these threats.”
Michal Wendrowski believes it is a scam. His advice is to ignore these messages and report them to the Police.
Another “NetSec Genius” calling himself “Hacker sp00f3d” also commented on this:
“Hard to say, how to fight against it. It's one thing to deal with the attack, and another thing to deal with the phenomenon. There are two possible ways of fighting against it: technological and administrative. US has an Echelon system. Russia have systems SORM1 or SORM2. These systems, when used properly, can help to catch such villains.”
Alena Vranova, Co-Founder & Director at SatoshiLabs commented:
“To me it looks like someone trying to scam people through a database of stolen records. I would not react to that the same way I don't answer to African bank transfer requests. […]More importantly this may be yet another event resulting from companies' and governments' inability to protect private data online. The way we approach and maintain sensitive data has to change. "Don't collect what you can't protect" should be a basic security mantra for most companies. Of course, legislation doesn't help much here, on the contrary, we see attempts of regulators to enforce more data collection and even waiving liability in case of data breaches.”
Never pay the ransom
Usually, security specialists and agencies advise users and companies to never pay the ransoms that are demanded in such emails.
Today, Acting National Crime Manager Paul Berry said that the NZ police are investigating the case of SEA emails. Users who do feel at risk are advised to contact their nearest Police station. Berry also commented:
"Other recipients may not feel as threatened but may still wish to assist with the investigation in order to prevent it from spreading further."