This latest cyberattack reveals just how much economic power our computers have

What is your data worth to you?

Last week, cyber criminals launched the biggest cyber-attack in history. ‘WannaCry’ held millions of people’s data to ransom and demanded a significant sum of money in return (Think Miss Marple meets The Matrix).

Now, they’ve taken it to the next level. A second cyber-attack, Adylkuzz, launched yesterday, taking control of hundreds of thousands of computers and essentially enslaving them to produce more money (Think The Matrix meets The Big Short…)

More than anything, these two attacks reveal just how much economic power rests inside our computers; in terms of the value of the data stored, and the power of the computer to produce more profit for a savvy cyber-criminal.

First, data.

WannaCry began on May 12th in Spain, spreading to the UK, Germany, India and eventually to over 150 countries. It infected personal computers, corporate networks and government systems. And it gathered data that holds a serious amount of economic potential – to the owner, and to the attacker. 

The attack came in the form of a piece of 'ransomware' infecting hundreds of thousands of Windows XP computers. WannaCry encrypts personal files on a device and holds them hostage unless $300 is paid to the attacker. After three days this doubles to $600. After seven, all the files get deleted forever. At that point, you probably want to cry (get it?).

How much the encrypted data is worth is in some cases impossible to put into monetary terms. It could be old birthday photos, wedding videos, holiday journals – but it could also be financial information, sensitive passwords, or anything else. The more sensitive the data at stake, the more likely the victim is to pay up.



But there’s another value to the data that extends beyond what it means to its owner. Data is more than just a personal ‘asset’, or thing of value: once stolen, it becomes a tradable commodity in the underground black market of the deep web.

The underground data market works like any other market in the economy. There’s a good (or ‘commodity’) which some want and others have – in other words, supply and demand. Black markets trade illegal commodities, like drugs, weapons, and even personal assassins for hire. Sensitive data can also be traded, like passwords, credit card details and even Uber accounts.

Once the sensitive data enters the black market, a price for it is determined depending on the demand for it. The higher the demand for the data, the higher its market value is, and the larger the profit that can be made off it. For example, passwords to a large bank account will be in higher demand than a password to someone’s MySpace - even if that MySpace account had photos on it which to the owner were priceless. In an anonymous market where the goods at stake are of no emotional value to anyone, financial value becomes all that matters.

Then, money creation.

The second attack, ‘Adylkuzz’, infected over 200,000 computers. But this time, they didn’t hold anyone hostage – instead, they enslaved our devices themselves.

The Adylkuzz malware uses the same worm to get into a computer as WannaCry does. Interestingly, this worm was created by the National Security Agency (NSA), an American government military intelligence organization (the one that Wikileaks hacked into) to hack computers.

Unlike WannaCry, which flashes a massive message onto your screen, Adylkuzz runs its software in the background on a computer, so users may not even know they’ve been infected. It steals computer power, possibly slowing the device, to ‘mine’ for a type of named Monero.

‘Mining’ means that a computer uses its power to solve a complex equation which eventually creates a bitcoin – like striking gold in a goldmine, (except unlike mining a goldmine you’ve got to be really good at maths). Without bitcoin miners, no new coins could be brought into circulation.

That’s what differentiates this attack from WannaCry. The value isn’t in your data – it’s in the fact that these people can use your computer to literally create money.

Next? Who knows.

In both cases, it seems pretty clear that at least one of the things motivating these attackers is profit. But unlike other forms of theft, most of us aren’t even aware of the economic potential of what’s being taken until it’s too late. We don’t know yet who’s behind these attacks, or what they really want – but it’s probably a good idea to download some antivirus software on your computer just in case...

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Reader Comments

  • WhereAreTheVikings

    What a terrible, terrible shame. Western Civilization nurtured capitalism, and now capitalism is destroying it. And these young people seem to welcome the invasion of their homeland. The media and schools have been very efficient in wiping out all traces of blood and soil.

    • prollawalllynotahumanoid

      Capitalism isn’t the problem. It’s corrupt politicians taking bribes and kickbacks from Globalists and the Chinese.

      • WhereAreTheVikings

        Maybe I should have said crony capitalism. Although Italians importing Chinese to make “Italian leather” shoes is not crony capitalism. It is capitalism, pure and simple.

        • prollawalllynotahumanoid

          That would be crony capitalism and globalism combined. They aren’t concerned with the affect their policies have upon their citizens, the health and welfare of their society and culture or their economy. What it isn’t is fair-free trade to further national interests.

          • WhereAreTheVikings

            I’ve always seen them as one and the same, but perhaps they need to be named individually, just to bring home the point.

      • WhereAreTheVikings

        But now that travel is so easy and borders are virtually down through H1bs and the like, theoretically you can’t blame capitalists for the pursuit of cheaper labor, although I do heartily blame them not being more patriotic than that. Perhaps the emerging nationalism will force them to voluntarily do what they should have morally been doing all along, and that is employing business practices that preserve their countries and nationalities. The government should be doing everything it can to encourage that, to the extent that small government should do anything but guard the borders and strictly, drastically, limit immigration.

      • Henry Lam

        It is China with its corrupted mindset affecting the world.

        • prollawalllynotahumanoid

          No it is not. Capitalism is the fairest and least corrupt system of all.

          Socialism and communism is based on authoritarianism, coercion and police intimidation. It has and always will be rife with criminality, bribes and kickbacks.

          Corruption can be anywhere but it is the very basis of socialism and communism.

    • Henry Lam

      The government is too weak. They do not understand the mindset of communists and how they educate their people. Those communist people are only loyal to their country and could be dangerous. The immigration law should only accept those who accepted multiculturalism and taught from a democratic education system. This virus events clearly has shown how stupid to take China as a friend.

      • WhereAreTheVikings

        The government is not too weak. Just weak-minded about some things.

  • Gabi Rodrigues

    For how many days can a country maximum close their borders to foreigners maximum? Like now, with the virus, everyone is using 30 days. Can it be more?