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Brand.com blackmail, cyber attack shines light on cybercrime

Written By | Mar 6, 2014

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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