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

  • RW

    Your right to a degree. You mentioned “the wandering Jew”.

    I elaborate that the Jewish people, historically have tended to migrate almost exclusively to locations that are economically and culturally vibrant already. I would speculate that Jews have thrived in these places and have often improved the bounds of their economies and knowledge base.

    You can also ask; how many massive entertainment conglomerates, Nobel winners or billionaires has Isreal developed? If Jews are so capable, why isn’t Tel Aviv the Rome of our time?

    Jews are successful because they value education, maintain a strong social cohesive, they actively monitor and have a good sense for Zeitgeist wherever they are and they carefully choose the places they settle and congregate themselves heavily in these choice locations.

    But most importantly (haulocaust increased the importance of this aspect), they actually designed their culture for success. They not only attend Harvard, they use what they learned to better the group as a whole. With as much, they studied intricate networking systems, adapted to it and in many cases improved upon them. (See how Japan acquired Aegis warships and made them better).

    Of course there is nothing wrong with any of this. It’s when you elaborately gain disproportionate power in any society where you would stand out, you must take care when attempting to make a society better (Civil Rights movement) and rewriting that society all together (mass immigration). Ask blacks in China, Mexico, Philippines or India how much opportunity they have? Go to businesses owned by their American diaspora and see how many blacks they hire. Go to Silicon Valley and see how many East or South Asian tech workers wish they could work with more black people. California might work as a state, but as a nation, I think your rolling the nuclear dice here. I hope we can succeed as a tolerant pluralistic superpower but at this stage in human societal development, it’s a pipe dream.

    And if Jews really are the icon for success, they would see that fundamental human successes happen over generations. Just look at the rest of the planet? Are we ready?