Carbondale IT expert calls FBI’s Colonial ransom recovery ‘astounding’



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CARBONDALE, Ill. (WSIL) — “How in the world did they get a hold of someone else’s Bitcoin?”

That question ran through James Mayer’s mind as he read the FBI’s update to an investigation that began last month.

The FBI announced Monday it recovered around $2.3 million in Bitcoin that the company Colonial paid to a group that hacked its pipeline. Colonial said it paid the hackers around $4.4 million last month.

RELATED: Official says US seized ransom made to pipeline hackers

Mayer, the founder of Mayer Networks in Carbondale, says hacking a cryptocurrency wallet like Bitcoin is next to impossible.

“The amount of time to hack private keys is insanity,” Mayer said.

Private keys are 10 to 12 words or phrases that make up a crypto wallet’s password, Mayer says. But Mayer believes the Colonial culprits were exposed after public facing servers went down.

That’s when the FBI, Mayer says, may have caught a break.

“The FBI gained access to the server by legal means to confiscate whatever data was on there,” Mayer said. “A very smart hacker made a very silly mistake and left the private keys sitting on this private server.”

Last month, investigators said a Russian hacking group called Dark Side hacked the Colonial pipeline, triggering a gas panic around the country.

Mayer says Bitcoin’s price is making it tempting for hackers to attack using ransomware.

“A year and a half ago, Bitcoin’s price was around $4000. Well, it wasn’t worth it,” Mayer says. “Right now, $60,000 a Bitcoin is a lot of money.”

The price of the coin as dropped since then, to about $33,170 as of this writing.

The group Cybersecurity Ventures estimates that global ransomware damage could exceed $265 billion by 2031. But Mayer says the attacks could keep coming if companies keep giving in to hackers’ demands.

“We can create some encrypted malware software and go after these businesses, and if they encrypted you know they have to pay us some money'”, Mayer said, as an example. “So, why not?”

The post Carbondale IT expert calls FBI’s Colonial ransom recovery ‘astounding’ appeared first on WSIL.


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