Information is rapidly becoming one of the most valuable assets we have. Businesses, governments and criminals all seem to be keen to get their hands on our data, either to find out what we think, influence what we think or not really caring what we think, so long as they can use the information they have about us to fleece us out of our savings.
The more we find out about Facebook the more it makes us wonder how safe we are online. When an innocuous site which is meant to let us keep in touch with our friends and family is accused of being instrumental in spreading hate speech, fake news and propaganda, and are giving as much as 5 times more value to Angry reactions than Likes, Loves or Care reactions, meaning that other users and group members are much more likely to see posts that cause fury than they are to see those that are touching or simply agreed with.
But this isn’t a blog about the ongoing tribulations that Facebook, aka Meta is currently experiencing. Rather this is a blog about data being taken and used as a hostage to blackmail retailers who depend on discretion to attract their customers.
Graff are firm which designs and sells jewellery to a clientele which includes A list celebrities, presidents, monarchies, millionaires and billionaires. However, instead of stealing precious stones, necklaces and bracelets, heisters known as the Conti Gang -a cybercrime organisation based in Russia but operating globally- instead chose to target the paperwork of their clients instead. Receipts, invoices, contact details, images of what people were buying, all sorts of information was gathered and just 1% of it was published as proof that they had the info and were serious.
What they want is money, many millions of dollars in fact, from Graff. In return for the cash they will not publish the details of these world leaders, financiers, movie stars and moguls. The data they have released to prove their intent has included information on 11,000 clients, including purchases made by the Trump family, the Beckhams and Oprah Winfrey.
The appeal of ransomware and blackmail over bank and jewellery store heists is obvious. Police in different jurisdictions work, or indeed fail to cooperate with one another, in different ways. There is no danger to bystanders, no weapons are involved, there are no guards, CCTV, alarms or security systems to get past. All they need do is send an email.
The impact of releasing the data on the privacy of those concerned would be crippling, and theoretically more expensive than the jewels which were purchased. It could provide phone numbers, physical and email addresses which are currently beyond top secret, as well as giving clues to clandestine and behind-the-scenes relationships and arrangements between some of the most politically motivating people in the world today.
Graff of course could simply refuse to pay the ransom, which would harm their business as they depend on trust and discretion between themselves and their clientele. If Graff don’t pay up the gang of heisters have two immediately obvious recourses: publish more of the details, putting Graff in an even more embarrassing position, or turn their guns on the people of whom they have all this sensitive data.
That could end in a huge payday, or, something which is more likely, they will get the secret services of some of the most powerful countries in the world very interested in them. More to the point, they will also come under the eye of less powerful, and potentially less international law abiding countries’ secret services as well.
Graff say that they haven’t lost anything irreplaceable and all their systems are back up, rather missing the point that it wasn’t the hackers’ intention to delete information, but to copy it and share it where those most affected least want it shared: in public. A spokesperson also said that they had been in touch with those whose details had been compromised and advised them of “appropriate steps to take”. While being sympathetic, having been hacked, and with many thousands of details of transactions being taken of some of the most powerful and therefore security conscious people in the world, Graff advising them what they should do next is a bit rich!
The statement from the Graff employee goes read: “’Regrettably we, in common with a number of other businesses, have recently been the target of a sophisticated – though limited – cyber attack by professional and determined criminals.
‘We were alerted to their intrusive activity by our security systems, allowing us to react swiftly and shut down our network. We notified, and have been working with, the relevant law enforcement agencies and the ICO.
‘We have informed those individuals whose personal data was affected and have advised them on the appropriate steps to take.’
They also said that they were able to ‘rebuild and restart our systems within days – crucially with no irretrievable loss of data’.
Which is nice for them, but is of very little comfort to the people whose details they failed to protect. It’s thought that rather than attacking servers via an internet access attack, the gang sent an email with software in it which was then opened by an unwary employee. The Conti Gang are understood to be among the most aggressive and active users of ransomware to attack and then blackmail organisations, companies and wealthy individuals with both the FBI and NSA warning of an increasing number of attacks against US organisations as recently as September.
The FBI have also made it known that the Conti Gang has been operating a “Ransomware-as-a-Service” syndicate which has been involved in capturing the data of at least 16 heathcare companies in the US, where directors are paid huge salaries while many people are afraid to go to seek medical help because of the costs involved in going to hospital or visiting a doctor’s surgery.