In a defensive move against cyber extortionists, many celebrities and brands have started purchasing domain names such as .porn, .sucks, .naked and more, reported LA Times. The maneuver is a direct result of the long list of online blackmail that was witnessed in 2014– the highest annual frequency ever recorded, naming it the year of mainstream extortion. The buying of common domains has resulted in a blank page display when things like beyonce.naked or gameofthrones.porn are typed into the url search. However, there is a greater need for security improvement if famous people, businesses or even common people want to eliminate the risk of virtual intimidation.
Throughout the past year, countless icons like Paris Hilton and Iggy Azalea have experienced the wrath of cyber extortion through web pages, videos, pictures and posts, which all target them specifically. Many individuals and businesses began to rampantly receive a document titled “Notice of Extortion” from anonymous Internet users, according to the FBI’s annual statistical report 2014. This notice was basically a threat issued against the respective person, brand or business to vandalize their respective images and perception among audiences, if a particular ransom was not transferred to a certain unspecified Bitcoin web account. Bitcoin is an online open-source, peer-to-peer payment system in which users can transact without an intermediary. It was published in 2009 by Satoshi Nakamoto: an alias whose real identity is loosely suspected and therefore largely unknown. The Bitcoin system allows for the users to set a particular real currency amount for the value of their own virtual currency, also called a bitcoin. Since users can remain anonymous and they don’t have to interact with a third party to exchange money, Bitcoin has been an ideal system for blackmailers to coerce money out of people. Clearly, there is no one better for a target than a celebrity with a lot of money, fame and room for controversy.
By understanding the tools and motive, we can surely grasp the reason why people and brands are buying off domain names to protect themselves. Nevertheless, it isn’t going to be enough to simply buy off domain names. For numerous reasons, Internet security needs to be bumped up several notches to exterminate cyber extortion.
Current firewall systems have enough loopholes for blackmailers to post harassing web pop-ups of the celebrities that they threaten for ransom. Meanwhile, we have incredibly limited ways of finding the anonymous coercer. Part of why Satoshi Nakamoto remains anonymous stems from the fact that while we can easily find and track all IP addresses, we cannot associate IP addresses to actual people without far-reaching efforts, especially when they are deliberately protected. When Notices of Extortion are delivered in the form of paper with nothing more than a barcode to the account where the demanded ransom needs to be deposited, there is nothing one can do to track the account on Bitcoin. The victim is pretty much chasing a dead trail to the extortionist. In such a situation, the resistance that we are witnessing from famous personalities and corporations seems insubstantial to the actual magnitude of the problem, which is nothing but a false reassurance.
Kamakshi Dadhwal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.