FBI Cyber Division Bulletin: Distributed Denial of Service Attack Bitcoin Extortion Campaigns Expanding


Bitcoin Extortion Campaigns Expanding Distributed Denial of Service Attacks to a Wider Array of Business Sectors

  • 2 pages
  • June 26, 2015


Recent FBI investigations and open source reporting reveal that extortion campaigns conducted via e-mails threatening Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks continue to expand targets from unregulated activities, such as illegal gaming activity, to now include legitimate business operations. The increase in scope has resulted in additional attacks with Bitcoin ransom amounts trending upwards as well.

First identified approximately one year ago, Bitcoin extortion campaigns originally focused on targets unlikely to contact law enforcement for assistance. In early April 2015, the extortion campaigns began regularly contacting legitimate businesses operating in the private sector.

In a typical scenario, a short-term DDoS attack is conducted on a victim’s web site lasting for approximately one hour. The DDoS is followed by an e-mail containing an extortion demand for payment via Bitcoin. If the victim has not paid the demanded payment, there is usually a second, more powerful DDoS attack within 24 hours, which lasts for an additional hour. This is followed by a second e-mail warning and extortion demand with an increased price. In most cases, victim companies have successfully mitigated the attack using third party DDoS mitigating services rather than paying the ransom.

Technical Details

  • The first DDoS attack is usually delivered prior to the sending of a ransom demand at 20-40 Gigabytes per second (Gbps) with a duration of approximately one hour.
  • After the initial DDoS attack, an extortion e-mail is sent to the victim introducing the attacker, highlighting the initial demonstrative DDoS attack, and demanding payment in Bitcoin (ranging from 20-40) to ensure no further DDoS attacks are conducted against the business. If payment does not occur within 24 hours, a second demonstrative DDoS is generally conducted at a higher rate (40-50 Gbps) for an additional hour followed by an additional extortion e-mail.
  • The types of DDoS attacks primarily consist of Simple Service Discovery Protocol (SSDP) and Network Time Protocol (NTP) reflection/amplification attacks with the occasional SYN-flood and, most recently, WordPress XML-RPC reflection/amplification attacks.

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