22-year old Kerem Albayrak, a London-based IT analyst, has admitted to blackmailing tech giant Apple in March 2017 after releasing a YouTube video of himself hacking into iCloud accounts, the Daily Mail reported.
By paying the ransom, Apple was to prevent Albayrak from selling the personal data of the service’s 319 million users. Prior to this, the IT analyst had already pled guilty to two charges of unauthorized access to computer material at Southwark Crown Court where he was put on trial. Albayrak had initially demanded USD 75,000 worth of bitcoin (BTC) in ransom, before deciding to increase the amount to a total of USD 150,000 along with iTunes vouchers. At the time, it was worth c. BTC 136, when bitcoin traded at c. USD 1,100 per coin before skyrocketing to almost USD 20,000 by the end of the year.
“I am not going to sentence you today. I am not going to say anything else about the sentence I have in mind,” Judge Christopher Hehir told the defendant, adding that his guilty plea was a “very wise step”. “I need the pre-sentence report before I indicate what sentence I impose.”
The court is scheduled to issue its sentence on 20 December.
It’s not the only blackmailing case that involves bitcoin. In August this year, major cryptocurrency exchange Binance said that an unidentified individual threatened and harassed the exchange, “demanding BTC 300 in exchange for withholding 10,000 photos that bear similarity to Binance KYC data.” Meanwhile, in November, a ransomware outbreak hit a Wisconsin-based IT company Virtual Care Provider Inc. (VCPI), which provides cloud data hosting, security and access management to more than 100 nursing homes across the United States. Unknown attackers encrypted all data the company hosts and is demanding a USD 14 million ransom in bitcoin in exchange for a digital key needed to access the files.
While in October, the FBI issued a new “high-impact” warning regarding ransomware attacks claiming they are an ongoing cyber threat facing U.S. businesses and organizations.
Cryptocurrency intelligence and blockchain security company CipherTrace, in its report for the third quarter of this year, stated that 76% of dark market transactions and ransomware use bitcoin for payments. However, they added that “after two years of large, high-profile exchange hacks and exit scams, Q3 2019 witnessed a significant reduction in total cryptocurrency crimes from previous quarters. In fact, Q3 witnessed the lowest quarterly thefts and scams in two years.”