The demand to move money around anonymously on the internet is so strong that it has led to the creation and adoption of the viable, non-governmental cryptocurrency bitcoin. That sounds like a plotline from a game called Cyberpunk 2077, but it’s real, and it may have enabled an attack against the developer of Cyberpunk 2077.
CD Projekt Red revealed today that an individual or a group is attempting to hold some of the studio’s internal data for ransom. The threat involves older material related to the development of the upcoming futuristic role-playing adventure Cyberpunk 2077, which CD Projekt Red first announced in January 2013. The alleged perpetrator is asking for money in exchange for not releasing the data to the public. CD Projekt Red has said it will not comply with the demands, and it has informed law enforcement. But the company is also warning fans that any leaks that may come out about Cyberpunk 2077 are “largely unrepresentative of the current vision for the game.”
We’ve reached out to CD Projekt Red for more, but the studio says that it is not sharing any information beyond its public statement on Twitter.
— CD PROJEKT RED (@CDPROJEKTRED) June 8, 2017
While the threat against CD Projekt Red is not exactly ransomware, which is a software attack that encrypts your computer until you pay a certain amount of money to the owner of the malware, it fits into a growing trend. More cyberattackers are using using sensitive data as a way to make money by charging a ransom. Last year, PC security firm Kaspersky highlighted ransomware as the greatest online threat to individuals and businesses.
Between the last quarter of 2015 and the first quarter of 2016, ransomware activity has jumped 3,500 percent, according to an Infoblox study. And people paid 10 times more often during that same period. The website Privacy PC has an infographic that details the recent timeline of ransomware attacks and how it has spread, and you can see the rapid improvements to the encryption that powers the malicious tech. That culminated last month with a massive ransomware attack that happened to infect National Health Service hospitals in Great Britain.
But ransomware is not growing in popularity because encryption or malware practices are improving. The threat is spreading because it’s easier to get away with it due to bitcoin. That’s the digital-only currency that is so encrypted that you could buy anything with it without having to expose your identity. This enables you to maintain your privacy in an online environment where someone is always tracking you. In the early days after the introduction of bitcoin in 2008, it also enabled illicit transactions of drugs and other materials on sites like the now defunct Silk Road.
Back in those formative years of cryptocurrency, a single bitcoin was worth less than a dollar. Today, a single bitcoin is worth $2,727.60. Last month, it was worth just $1,700. Speculation has always driven its value, and in April, Japan officially recognized and legitimized it in the eyes of many in Asia. But before this recent surge, bitcoin has gone through a number of crashes and spikes. One of the reasons it never faded away, however, is because it is one of the safest way for crime to pay online.
It’s possible that the alleged perpetrator in the CD Projekt Red ransom case did not demand payment in bitcoin, but that’s the smartest option. Everything else, including cash, is easier to trace. And with bitcoin likely here to stay, more gaming companies could see themselves as targets of future ransom threats than ever before.