Latest ransomware twist: A demand for $250,000

Following last week's NotPetya outbreak, a new ransom note demands bitcoin in exchange for a security key that decrypts locked files.

Michelle Meyers
Michelle Meyers wrote and edited CNET News stories from 2005 to 2020 and is now a contributor to CNET.
Michelle Meyers
2 min read

The latest chapter in the NotPetya saga: A ransom note.

James Martin/CNET

A hacking group linked to last week's ransomware attack that locked up devices at multibillion-dollar companies has reportedly made its first public statement, demanding about $250,000 in exchange for a private encryption key used in the attack.

In ransom note published on the dark web Tuesday and first spotted by Motherboard, the group ostensibly behind the NotPetya malware, also referred to as GoldenEye, demanded a payment of 100 bitcoin in exchange for a key that it says could decrypt any file locked by the malware.

The NotPetya malware swarmed computers one week ago after starting with a cyberattack in Kiev, Ukraine. From there, it spread to the country's electrical grid, airport and government offices, and it also locked up files around the globe at companies including FedEx, Merck, Cadbury and AP Moller-Maersk.

Combined, these four companies are worth about $130 billion -- big targets with fat wallets. So it was surprising when the hackers initially asked for just $300 per hijacked computer.

But despite Tuesday's significantly higher demand price, experts believe nation-state attackers are using ransomware as a screen, tempting victims to blame faceless hackers instead of the countries allegedly behind the attacks. The real goal presumably was to get at and destroy data.

The fix -- which has been proven to work by Forbes -- cannot decrypt your entire hard drive, only certain files. That means even if you pay the ransom, you could still be locked out of your devices.

It's still not clear whether anyone took the group up on its offer. But it doesn't appear there have been any bitcoin transactions of that size, according to reports.

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