No-one knows who TheDarkOverlord is. No-one even knows if he or she is one lone hacker, or a group of hackers. But one thing is certain, TheDarkOverlord must be giving some companies sleepless nights as they struggle to work out the best way to respond.
You see, TheDarkOverlord has embraced the next era of online extortion.
We’re all familiar with ransomware encrypting company’s data and demanding a payment for its decryption. And we’ve all heard about online criminals launching DDoS attacks against websites, making them inaccessible, and demanding a ransom be paid for the denial-of-service to be halted.
But this year we’re seeing increasing evidence of online extortion stepping up a gear – where attackers steal your company’s data, and rather than sell it on for a small profit to other criminals on the computer underground, they instead threaten to publish it online to damage your reputation.
Not convinced that the hackers will follow through with their threats? Well, there are plenty of journalists out there covering the security beat who would be only too happy to download a few sample stolen files that the hackers claim to have pilfered from your network.
And if that’s not enough to stir you into paying the extortionists, you might feel differently when day-by-day the hackers begin to anonymously release different documents, with the risk that your company’s name might make regular appearances in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
TheDarkOverlord first came to prominence in late June, as hundreds of thousands of medical records and around nine million patient insurance details from healthcare organisations were listed on a dark web market.
Whoever the hacker was, they were demanding a high price for the stolen data – over US $480,000.
At the time, TheDarkOverlord made a stark pronouncement:
“Next time an adversary comes to you and offers you an opportunity to cover this up and make it go away for a small fee to prevent the leak, take the offer. There is a lot more to come.”
True to their word, this week has seen TheDarkOverlord strike again.
TheDarkOverlord’s victim this time is WestPark Capital, a Los Angeles-based investment bank. TheDarkLord claims to have stolen internal documents from the firm and published them online, in an attempt to extort money.
A statement, apparently posted by TheDarkOverlord on Pastebin, makes clear that the hackers are angry that their “handsome business proposal” was rejected by WestPark Capital.
To continue the statements made earlier and as an additional move by us today, we are releasing a select few documents belonging to WestPark Capital located in the Los Angeles, California, United States area. WestPark Capital is a “full service investment banking and securities brokerage firm” whose CEO, Richard Rappaport, spat in our face after making our signature and quite frankly, handsome, business proposal and so our hand has been forced.
Unlike a ransomware extortion attack (where a business can simply restore from a secure backup if they have lost access to their data) the type of extortion attacks perpetrated by TheDarkOverlord is particularly unpleasant.
The damage that can be done by extortionists like TheDarkOverlord is done to your company’s reputation. If a client discovers that their personal information has been put at risk, or their private communications fallen into the hands of hackers, they may be less than sympathetic.
And if your company makes the pragmatic choice to pay the blackmailer, all you have done is reveal that you might be prepared to pay further ransom demands in future.
Once again it’s clear that the best protection is to be preventative. Have layered defences in place to prevent your sensitive data from falling into the hands of criminals in the first place, and keep applications and operating systems patched. Because once the hackers have your data, you lose control of the situation and might find yourself with a real dilemma.