Though bitcoin’s anonymity makes it popular, hackers may find it impossible to collect the $70,000 collected so far without leaving a trail behind them.
As organizations around the world continue to clean up from this weekend’s record-breaking malware outbreak, ransom payments continue to trickle in to bitcoin accounts set up by those behind the massive hack.
But even as victims transfer digital currency to the WannaCrypt extortionists in the hopes of recovering their scrambled files, it’s not at all clear that the hackers will ever be able to spend that virtual cash without getting caught.
Some security experts have suggested similarities between the ransomware code and previous attacks linked to North Korea might mean the isolated and impoverished country–previously accused in an $81 million digital robbery of the Bangladesh central bank, the notorious 2014 Sony Pictures hack, and even bitcoin thefts from South Korea computers–is behind the malware outbreak. Either way, after the hack took down systems at hospitals, police stations, and factories around the world, it’s inevitable that investigators around the world will be watching for any attempts to claim the ransom payments.
Bitcoin is seen as more anonymous than other digital payment tools like credit cards, since it’s effectively built around numbered accounts rather than names and addresses, making it a popular choice for illicit online transactions like ransom demands and drug sales. But the entire currency is built around a permanent, public log tracking how virtual coins have been transmitted from numbered account to numbered account, which experts say could make it difficult for the WannaCrypt creators to trade their digital coins for traditional cash without leaving a trail behind them for prosecutors to find.