Brand.com blackmail, cyber attack shines light on cybercrime

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Brand.com offices.

In December, Brand.com president Mike Zammuto was the subject of a cyber attack. “One or more people sent us email demanding $500,000 in Bitcoin,” said Zammuto. “They said that if we did not pay then that they would attack Brand.com and myself online and cause us to lose business.”

Soon after, two defamatory posts targeting Mike Zammuto and Brand.com were posted on RipoffReport.com, a site that accepts anonymous posts critical of businesses. Google almost immediately ranked those posts for Mike Zammuto’s name.

Is Bitcoin aiding in new cybercrimes?

Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox recently collapsed. The CEO of another Bitcoin exchange was found dead in her Singapore home. There have been plenty of links between the virtual currency and criminal activity. Bitcoin was the encrypted currency used in the Silk Road, what Winston Ross called “the eBay of illicit substances from MDMA to LSD.”


Despite the negatives, Bitcoin still has potential as a virtual currency. The Department of Justice and the Securities Exchange Commission said the virtual currency is “a legitimate financial instrument, which like any other online-payment system, offers benefits and presents risks.” It is unclear if recent events will change that stance.

Forbes, in an article last year, warned not to buy Bitcoins.

While people are excited and looking for a digital currency, there are certainly risks and unintended uses. It allows criminals to hide behind encryption to transfer money anonymously for a variety of illegal activities. Like in Mike Zammuto’s case, it allows for a new form of cyber blackmail.

Brand.com published content to outrank the anonymous attacks. A few weeks ago, they were able to suppress them completely on Google SERPs.

“The result is my online presence is cleaned of these things and stronger than before. Brand is cooperating with law enforcement and we are optimistic there will be arrests soon. There is a very big and important story here. We have multiple, proprietary processes working in concert to de-index listings,” said Mike Zammuto.

Current content models leave many companies and individuals open to cyber attacks. “Revenge sites and other online sites are shielded by CDA from taking responsibility for what is published on them,” said Zammuto. “This same protection is what allows most of the internet to run. Social media, forums, Q&A sites all benefit from users supplying free content and traffic. User generated content and contributor sites are among the most popular on the internet, but all great tools can be used as a weapon.”

The laws and the basic business model of advertising-driven, user-generated content sites discourage and essentially prevent sites from protecting people. Ad rates are down and so user-generated content sites with ad-driven models either cannot afford or simply are not held responsible to police the accusations on their sites.

Both the encrypted protection of Bitcoin and user generated content models have many benefits. However, like with almost anything, there are opportunities for criminal activity.

“Thankfully we found a way to combat blackmail. This is going to make us stronger in protecting the reputations of our clients,” said Mike Zammuto.

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  • Jpileggi

    Bitcoin certainly is the currency of choice for shady Internet transactions.

    • Maybe there will be ‘black hat’ BitCoin vs ‘white hat’ BitCoin soon.

      • Bitcoin is like real money. You can use it for good and bad purposes equally.

    • Ben Badilla

      I agree 100%!

  • dillonryoung

    Bitcoin bitcoin bitcoin. What’s $500k in Bitcoins, like 3?

    • The last I checked it’s $30 = 1 Bitcoin. But, of course, that’s constantly fluctuating.

      • Adi Rao

        Actually, 1 Bitcoin is currently worth 666 dollars – not even kidding!

        • Be wary of the three sixes, for the end is nigh!

          Anyway, damn. I hear all sorts of different values. I’m not even sure which is right anymore.

  • Ann Johnson

    I can’t believe the levels some criminals with stoop to!

    • Ian Sharkey

      I can. People are outrageous!

  • Joe Burton

    interesting thoughts on bitcoin. no doubt a terrible side effect of this company

  • Bianca Doran

    With technology growing rapidly its interesting to see the development of cyber laws and to hopefully stop these cases from happening

  • Genevieve Moser

    The internet is a scary place when in the hands of the wrong people.

  • Yes… the Silk Road. Of course.

  • Guest

    How low can you go?

  • Paul

    The internet is like the wild west. Though the De-Indexing program should help to marshall some of the most heinous abuse and abusers.

  • Chanel Ali

    Man. I kind of want some Bitcoins but then stories like this scare me

  • Justin DeLisi

    I agree with Chanel, I am scared of Bitcoins right now. I just don’t trust them.

    • GregCHolt

      Well their CEO was just found dead. So I guess a lot of people feel the same way you do…

  • That is a shame. If the CDA seriously considered making third-party sites that host this libelous information responsible for what they post online, we would see a much cleaner internet.

    It would also make such sites scrutinize each and every review/ posting before allowing it to go public, and ultimately prevent a business or an individual’s reputation from being jeopardized in the first place.

  • Adam Felch

    I am really concerned with this whole Bitcoin garbage…so if i can buy LSD with Monopoly money online, wait this is insane.

    • DustenCarlson

      I was thinking the same thing. It’s not like every company has a bitcoin vault since, you know, it’s pretend money right now.

  • disqus_KFRyaBC6oB

    I’m definitely staying away from bitcoins…

    • Ben Badilla

      Agreed! They are no good!

  • David Tejeras

    I knew bitcoin’s was no good

  • Donald Snyder

    Agreed James.

  • Sean Cooper

    I agree with you Dave T.

  • Katie Scott

    I am not even near ready to jump on board with this bitcoin thing. Based on this article it is clear that so far, it is not to be trusted.

    • Jason Raser

      Agreed Katie. Bitcoin is linked to many scammers out there.

  • zscoby43

    From a financial perspective, I’m not sure I understand the benefit of having this currency. It’ll never be universal.

  • A decent amount of businesses are now accepting Bitcoins as a payment method online. It will be interesting to see what it’s like in a years time from now.

  • Kaycee

    Bitcoin doesn’t have a strong enough reputation or use base in my opinion. I would not fell comfortable using it at all. Crazy that’s what they were after.

  • Emily Thompson

    Bitcoin’s provide a way for people to hide their illegal activities. I see nothing good about them.

  • Chris Meier

    Bitcoin..the new version of the briefcase full of unmarked, non-sequentail twenty dollar bills

  • Samantha

    Bitcoins just seem very questionable.

  • Jay G

    If I can’t my finger on it, I’m not paying for it…or with it.

  • Jessica Veazey

    Bitcoin just seems too shady for me.

    • Stephanie

      super shady.

  • Courtney Rucker

    regulating sites is a very thin line and i understand why the CDA allows this because there is a thin line between freedom of speech and expression that we all partake in daily with things such as comments on blogs, using our social media channels to post opinions. There needs to be something done but not really sure what would be a good solution

  • DJPC52988

    I have yet to hear one success story regarding bitcoin, just one’s that are putting company’s in serious jeopardy.

  • Nathan Mellor

    I do not trust virtual money quite yet… the internet is too unstable

    • Katie Kunkle

      Too many faceless individuals. Not trustworthy at all.

  • Harrison Pew

    I recently just found out about Bitcoin and it seems like it has all been negative. I am staying as far away from it as I possibly can.

  • Donald Snyder

    Bitcoin.

  • Donald Snyder

    Ugh.

  • Brooks Brecker

    I was thinking about investing in Bitcoin but glad I didn’t. Too many issues.

  • Nathan Mellor

    “Current content models leave many companies and individuals open to cyber attacks.” It’s true that most companies are open to attack… it’s best to control yourself and your brand now before something bad happens.

  • Adam Felch

    Seriously! If someone asked me if I took “Bitcoin” as a form of payment, I would tell them to go back to playing The Sims…MERRRR!

  • dysofly

    Y’all are crazy, bitcoin is the future!

  • Cliff Stein

    SHADY……….I will not be using Bitcoin

  • Angel Santiago

    Bitcoin is getting worse as the days go on..

  • Jay G

    I agree with Sean agreeing.

  • Mike G

    Those girls look like they are working hard.

    • Tarek Osman

      Man those are some serious scowls!

      • Jpileggi

        They look like they’re working really hard!

  • Ron Gamble

    Man these bitcoin extrosions are so shady!

    • Jessica Veazey

      I agree, it is SUPER shady!

  • Kyle McGrath

    At what point of your life do you wake up and decide to extort people for a living? “When I grow up, I want to be an extortionist” wasn’t something I heard at career day in 5th grade.

  • Jay Steffey

    I’m not sure it is Bitcoins fault – there are always going to be people that are going to try to make money by hurting others – just another example – great to see someone starting to fight back

  • Joe Burton

    really hope the extortionist get what they deserve….

  • Paul

    It will take more than a bit for bitcoin to be accepted, especially now

  • Tim

    scary but a great turn around story

  • stephan

    men are sinners men and women i mean it does not matter if it was not the net it would be something else they are full of sin and unbelief their is nothing but darkness and evil in their hearts and they are desperate to do it .gross darkness is apon the people today because men love darkness and wont come to the light lest their deeds should be exposed and delt with , the solution acts 2 v38 it has never changed its dr st peters prescription to the problem .

  • mrbrockpeters

    I still don’t really get Bitcoin and now I’m not sure I want to find out.