On Thursday, dozens of businesses, schools, government buildings, and even hospitals across the US, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia received bomb threats, mostly via email. Many demanded bitcoin as a ransom.
Per a report by USA Today, an employee working at the Wayne County Treasury in Detroit, Michigan, received a phone call in which someone claimed they would detonate explosives located in the building if a bitcoin ransom was not paid. This caused the building to be evacuated and business to be disrupted. NBC News reported that another bomb threat was made against Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, which surely brought back some of the terror felt there in 1999 when two students killed 13 people.
Upon receiving notice of these and similar threats, the FBI tweeted that it was aware of the situation and it was working in collaboration with law enforcement partners.
The US National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center warned citizens not to respond to the bomb threats, as did the Australian Cyber Security Centre (though the latter notice has since been taken down). And, in nearby New Zealand, authorities were aware of multiple threats demanding a bitcoin ransom.
Dan Leahy, a senior systems administrator in Colorado, told NBC News that many of the emails were able to slip through because they came from "clean" email addresses or addresses that may have been hacked. He also said that the emails came from "verified domains of non-malicious websites, like law firms and construction companies."
However, cybersecurity company AppRiver claimed that the messages appeared to be coming from Moscow. AppRiver also stated that although it has seen similar types of threats over the years, "none have come to pass so we can say with a high degree of certainty that these are based in fiction and are merely a desperate money grab."
In May of last year, ETHNews reported that the perpetrators of a massive cyberattack called WannaCry, which affected Microsoft Windows, demanded between $300 and $1,200 in bitcoin before they would allow users' systems to be recovered. More recently, this year, two small Alaska towns fell victim to cyberattacks, during which they were unable to use their servers unless they paid a ransom.
This brazen attempt to extort money, however, is a new wrinkle to a growing trend of cyber criminals demanding digital currency ransoms. Many police departments, along with the New York City Counterterrorism Bureau, tweeted that the threats were "not considered credible."