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Tesla Ransomware attack foiled by dutiful employee

Photo of: Nathan VDH
by Nathan VDH

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has confirmed reports of a ransomware attack on the electric car company.

The hacker behind the attack, a Russian citizen, intended to demand a million-dollar ransom in Bitcoin. However, the attack was thwarted by the FBI after Tesla employees came forward. Musk, via a tweet, confirmed that an employee at the Nevada plant had been approached and offered an initial payment of $1 million in Bitcoin to facilitate the attack.

The employee was asked to install the ransomware on Tesla’s computer network, which would then infect the entire system. Instead, the employee shared the news with other Tesla staff members, who then contacted the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The FBI arrested a 27-year-old man in Los Angeles on August 22. Court documents confirmed his identity as Egor Igorevich Kriuchkov and his citizenship as Russian. He now faces a prison sentence of up to five years if convicted after being indicted by the court last week.

Elon Musk described the act as a “serious attack”. It should be noted that Elon Musk was also among the many well-known Twitter users who were victims of a Bitcoin-based hack in July.

The California-based manufacturer while being relatively new to the game has already an estimated market value of $465 billion, making it the world’s largest automaker in terms of market value. The company’s CEO is believed to have a personal fortune of more than $100 billion.

Bitcoin is, by far, the most popular crypto in the world, but not everything about this status is positive. The king of cryptocurrencies has been the preferred tool of cybercriminals to exploit their victims on the Internet. According to an FBI study, victims of malware have been forced to pay more than $140 million over the past six years using the untraceable and volatile Bitcoin.

Hackers encrypt their victims’ files and perpetually block their access to those files or sometimes the entire system. They then demand ransom, often in Bitcoin, to decrypt the files, under threat that the hacker may threaten to delete or publish the files if he doesn’t get his money.

These attacks have become even more frequent in this time of Covid-19, as cybercriminals are taking advantage of the home-based approach to work. They can more easily access protected networks as companies have to give their employees the ability to securely connect to the company’s file which allows hackers to more easily penetrate the network’s defences. Last April, Interpol reported an increase in ransomware attacks.