Over the last year, Bitcoin has seen a meteoric rise in popularity. While this has done wonders for the value of the previously unknown cryptocurrency, it has also led to significant challenges for those who deal in it.
One such group of people who were previously enamoured by the cryptocurrency's ease of access and, perhaps more importantly, its promise of anonymity, are cybercriminals who have generally preferred their victims pay them in bitcoin. Until now, that is.
When the Wannacry ransomware attacked thousands of computer last year, the people behind the scheme asked their victims to pay $300 in bitcoin to regain access to their files. At that time, a single bitcoin cost $1,759. Today, that amount has increased to $11,476. A massive return on investment indeed for the people behind that particular variant of malware, but more recent attacks show ransomware makers are ditching bitcoin in favour of 'altcoins' like Monero.
A large part of this has to do with the increased volatility of the currency, which can see its value drop by as much as 50% in less than a month, only to rise to new heights again within the span of a few days. As with any business, malware makers, too, prefer the use of a more stable currency as a sudden drop in value can significantly impact their earning potential.
The other cause for concern among cybercriminals is the massive increase in transaction fees and processing times that bitcoin's recent popularity has resulted in. Briefly reaching a massive $54 on average last month, this would mean that in the above case, Wannacry makers would have lost almost a sixth of their ransom for simply transferring their money.
Conversely, the high transactions fees and the sometimes weeks of waiting before a transaction in bitcoin is processed also make it more difficult for ransomware victims to acquire the required bitcoin, and overall makes it even less likely for the scheme to work as victims may simply be unwilling to wait for long periods - or may miss the stipulated deadlines that often accompany a ransomware attack. The customer's comfort should always be a priority in any venture, even if they're also your victims, and bitcoin is making it hard for cybercriminals to provide that.
Then, there are concerns about just how anonymous the currency really is. Initially believed to be particularly secure and apt at keeping transactions anonymous, there have been multiple instances of authorities tracking clamping down on bitcoin-heavy operations in recent months, leading many to wonder if it isn't as secure as advertised.
All of this has culminated in an exodus of cybercriminals with regard to their cryptocurrency of choice, with many preferring the likes of Monero. The altcoin's value is much less than that of a single bitcoin but the currency is far more stable, and believed to be more secure with better encryption and anonymity making it far more appealing than bitcoin. It's a trend experts believe will continue in coming months among ransomware makers and purveyors of illegal goods on the dark web.