Hackers hit traders in Old Delhi, demand Bitcoins as ransom

At least three traders in Old Delhi were hit by hackers who encrypted files on their computers and demanded ransom in Bitcoins to release documents critical to their businesses, police officers and victims said. Delhi Police’s crime branch has registered three FIRs so far, including one on January 5, but traders say the number could be much more as several ransoms paid in Bitcoins were not reported to authorities. Police said the traders were given links to buy Bitcoins, with a warning that not complying with their demand would lead to the permanent loss of data.

“Some traders paid in Bitcoins and got their data back. Some deposited the money from abroad. When my data was hacked, I spoke to fellow traders and learnt that there were other such cases. I wrote to the hackers and they agreed to decrypt the files for $1,750 (around Rs 1.11 lakh),” said Mohan Goyal, one of the victims who is joint secretary of the Delhi Steel Tools and Hardware Traders Association.

Though rare in India, ransomware attacks are a prevalent online fraud in several countries. A police officer, who asked not to be named, said the IP address in one case was traced to a system in Germany. The traders were given the option of getting five files decrypted for free, and the rest after the ransom was paid. A police officer said the free option was to demonstrate to the traders that the hackers had control.

The message displayed on the victims’ computers was that there was a “security problem” on the system. The traders were given case numbers and email addresses for communication. Police have sent the hard disks of the complainants for forensic tests. Deputy Commissioner of Police (Crime) Bhishma Singh confirmed the hackings but declined to give further details.

“We suspect there are syndicates in Nigeria or Pakistan. They identify vulnerable computer systems and use ransomware to target their files. Getting money in Bitcoin works for them because it is difficult to trace the money,”  said Jiten Jain, the director of cyber-security firm Voyager Infosec. Bitcoins are gaining in popularity as a digital payment mode but are not legal tender in India. The Union finance ministry recently cautioned investors trading in the cryptocurrency and compared it with ponzi schemes.