"A Tale of Two Markets: Investigating the Ransomware Payments Economy"
Kris Oosthoek, Jack Cable, and Georgios Smaragdakis.
Communications of the ACM [to appear]. [CACM Contributed Article]


Abstract:
Ransomware attacks are among the most severe cyber threats. They have made headlines in recent years by threatening the operation of governments, critical infrastructure, and corporations. Collecting and analyzing ransomware data is an important step towards understanding the spread of ransomware and designing effective defense mechanisms. We report on our experience operating Ransomwhere, an open crowdsourced ransomware payment aggregator to collect information from victims of ransomware attacks. With Ransomwhere, we have gathered around 13.5 thousand ransom payments to more than 87 criminal ransomware actors with total payments of more than $101 million. Leveraging the transparent nature of Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency used for most ransomware payments, we characterize the evolving ransomware criminal structure and ransom laundering strategies. Our analysis shows that there are two parallel ransomware criminal markets: commodity ransomware and Ransomware as a Service (RaaS). We notice striking differences between the two markets in the way that cryptocurrency resources are utilized, revenue per transaction, and ransom laundering efficiency. Although it is relatively easy to identify choke points in commodity ransomware payment activity, it is more difficult to do the same for RaaS.




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