Soaring bitcoin and cryptocurrency prices this year, making crypto a more-than-$1 trillion market, have attracted a wave of cyber criminals.
Bitcoin-demanding ransomware attacks and social media-based crypto scams have become commonplace as a sudden influx of new users pour billions of dollars into digital assets (subscribe now to Forbes‘ CryptoAsset & Blockchain Advisor to get ahead of the market).
Now, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has warned bitcoin and cryptocurrency buyers, exchanges and payment platforms over the growing threat of criminals looking to steal bitcoin and crypto-assets.
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The FBI alert, first reported by Bleeping Computer, cautions users to be aware of attacks using technical support fraud, phone sim swapping, and identity theft.
Sim swapping, when the attacker requests a carrier transfer a phone number to a new sim card giving them access to incoming SMS messages and calls, has exploded in popularity in recent years, prompting a warning from the FBI in 2019 and guidance from the Federal Trade Commission.
The increase in criminals targetting those holding bitcoin and digital currencies comes after the bitcoin price surged to around $65,000 per bitcoin in April, up from around $10,000 last year, before crashing back. Bitcoin is currently trading at around $32,000. Other smaller cryptocurrencies, such as ethereum and the meme-based dogecoin, have seen even bigger price increases.
“Cybercriminals are targeting cryptocurrency users, exchanges, and third-party payment platforms in the virtual asset industry, resulting in large amounts of financial loss to victims,” the FBI alert, issued via a system for distributing sensitive information to selected groups and individuals called the Traffic Light Protocol, reportedly read.
Once the stolen cryptocurrency has been transferred to attacker-controlled accounts it can be hard for law enforcement to recover it, the FBI warned.
The FBI advised financial and crypto companies to check the origin of emails and keep an eye on recently created accounts while those buying bitcoin and cryptocurrencies were encouraged to use multi-factor authentication—meaning they must have access to at least two devices or accounts linked to the platform—avoid download requests, remote access applications and any unofficial company communication channels.
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The warning comes after the FBI seized around $4 million in bitcoin paid to the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attackers last month, though it remains unclear exactly how the FBI retrieved the funds.
Elsewhere, police in the U.K. this week announced they’d seized nearly $250 million worth of bitcoin as part of an investigation into money laundering.
“While cash still remains king in the criminal world, as digital platforms develop we’re increasingly seeing organized criminals using cryptocurrency to launder their dirty money,” the Metropolitan police’s deputy assistant commissioner, Graham McNulty, said in a statement.