The perpetrators of the global cyberattack that caused havoc in 150 countries demanded “ransom” money in bitcoins, but experts believe the anonymity that the virtual currency affords is not necessarily impenetrable.
Bitcoin, heavily-coded electronic tokens that take their name from software first put online in February 2009 by several software designers using the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto, essentially allow those who possess them to remain anonymous.
The message that flashed up on hundreds of thousands of screens infected by the WannaCry virus over the last few days demanded payment of $300 (275 euros) in Bitcoin, saying: “Ooops, your files have been encrypted!” It warned that if payment was not made within three days the price would double, and if none was received within seven days the locked files would be deleted.
“Bitcoin is digital cash. The transactions are totally anonymous and non-refundable. However they are totally traceable, Nicolas Debock of London-based Balderton Capital that specialises in virtual currencies said.
“All the transactions are stored in databases called blockchains. It’s anonymous but anyone can monitor a bitcoin address and see how the money moves,” Debock said.
“No-one can take the money off those who hold it, but it is possible to follow in detail the activity on the account.” That is the problem for investigators, according to Pierre-Antoine Gailly, who compiled a study on bitcoin and other cyber currencies for French state body CESE in 2015.