HBO’s hackers want to be paid in bitcoin; here’s why
Anonymity of digital currency makes it ideal for criminal activity.
The digital currency Bitcoin is the payment of choice for HBO’s cyberattackers. The hackers demand what they say is their “6-month salary” in bitcoin, suggesting it’s at least $6 million.
Bitcoin allows people to buy goods and services and exchange money without involving banks, credit card issuers or other third parties. Although bitcoin isn’t widely used, it has strong appeal in some circles because transactions can be made anonymously. The currency is popular with libertarians, tech enthusiasts, speculators — and criminals.
How bitcoins work
Unlike most currencies, bitcoin isn’t tied to any bank or government. Rather, the coins are created by users who “mine” them by lending computing power to verify other users’ transactions. They receive bitcoins in exchange. The coins also can be bought and sold on exchanges with U.S. dollars and other currencies.
How much is it worth?
One bitcoin recently traded for $3,385, according to Coinbase, a company that helps users exchange bitcoins. That makes it far more valuable than an ounce of gold, which trades at about $1,265. The value of bitcoins can swing sharply, though. It’s up 33 percent in the past month. A bitcoin’s value plunged by 23 percent against the dollar in just a week in January.
Is it really anonymous?
Yes, to a point. Transactions and accounts can be traced, but the account owners aren’t necessarily known. That’s why it’s a payment of choice among criminals, including the “ransomware” hackers who crippled computer networks around the world in May and June. The shuttered underground e-commerce site AlphaBay required transactions to be done in bitcoin and similar digital currencies.
Keeping bitcoins secure
The bitcoin network works by harnessing individuals’ greed for the collective good. A network of tech-savvy users called miners keep the system honest by pouring their computing power into a