Four New Jersey Online Casinos the Target of a Cyber-Attack and Ransom Demand
New Jersey and federal authorities are investigating a cyber-attack launched against four Atlantic City online casinos. Officials say the sites were targeted by a hacker who promised another attack, if a bitcoin ransom was not paid.
The officials in question did not say they had taken the proper measures to stop a follow-up cyber-attack. In fact, New Jersey’s top gaming regulator said that a future attack might harm more than just the licensed online casinos, because Atlantic City’s Internet capacity is hosted on the same servers. He did suggest that the federal and state authorities had an idea of the figure behind the attack.
Rebuck Gives Details of the Attack
David Rebuck, the Director of the Division of Gaming Enforcement, said that the attack happened on Thursday of last week, though it continued throughout the Fourth of July weekend. Rebuck told NJ.com, “At least four casinos were impacted and experienced downtime. We’re continuing to monitor.”
The DGE director would not reveal the name of the four casinos which were hacked. He did say that the authorities are not certain who launched the cyber-attack, but that they believe they know the person, because he is a serial cyber-attacker. Rebuck said of the hacker, “He’s a known actor. He’s done this before.”
Distributed Denial of Service
The hacker used “distributed denial of service”, an attack which floods a casino’s network with information. Such an attack makes the network inoperable, in this case for about 30 minutes at a time. The Thursday through Sunday attacks are thought to have been warnings to set up a ransom demand. The attacker told the administrators of the four sites in question that a far more damaging attack was set “to be initiated 24 hours later unless a Bitcoin ransom was paid.”
David Rebuck did not say how much money was demanded by the hacker. He did say that another cyber-attack could affect more than the four online casinos, because other Atlantic City businesses have their servers on the same network.
Las Vegas Sands Cyber-Attack
This is not the first time that gambling enterprises have had their Internet resources attacked. In 2014, the Las Vegas Sands Corp website had been attacked by hackers. The cyber-attack was targeted at the player database, potentially getting into personal details and even credit card information of the company’s many customers. Quickly enough, it was determined that the motive in the Las Vegas Sands Corp cyber-attack was not economic in nature, but politically-motivated.
In June 2015, Frank Cilluffo, who serves as the director of the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University, said that the LV Sands cyber-attack was launched by the Iranian government. Las Vegas Sands is controlled by Sheldon Adelson, the high-powered billionaire donor to the Republican Party.
Adelson also owns Israeli media firms and is personal friends with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister and head of the Likud Party (Israeli conservatives). Sheldon Adelson had publicly called for Israel to bomb Iranian nuclear development assets, which Mr. Cilluffo and FBI investigators believed were the motivation for the Iranian cyber-attack.
Past Hackers and Ransom Demands
This also is not the first time an online casino has faced a cyber-attack followed by a ransom demand. David Schwartz, who works as the director of the Center for Gaming Research at UNLV, said that ransom demands are fairly common in the international online gambling industry.
Speaking about the gaming sites hosted on servers outside of the United States (often in the Caribbean), Schwartz said, “It happens quite a bit offshore. Often there is a ransom demand attached.”
Why Pay in Bitcoin?
When those ransom demands are made, they usually are made with bitcoin as the recommended payment method. Bitcoin is an anonymous online cryptocurrency, meaning it is not backed by any national government or banking institution. Because of the high level of privacy it allows, bitcoin is a favorite method of payment for black market and illegal operators. Bitcoin is not an illegal currency itself, but it confers a level of anonymity on its users which makes it hard for authorities to track.
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