When the hackers behind the global ransomware attacks conducted with the WannaCry malware cashed out their ill-gotten gains yesterday, they got a nice bonus: an extra 20% or so on top of the $140,000 worth of bitcoin they had extorted.
The WannaCry hackers were beneficiaries of bitcoin’s split, which has created two cryptocurrencies, bitcoin and bitcoin cash. Everyone who held bitcoin before the split receives the same amount in bitcoin cash. The hackers had collected 50 bitcoins, which means they now also possessed 50 units of bitcoin cash.
Bitcoin is trading around $2,700, which means the hackers would get around $140,000 if they liquidated those coins immediately. If they liquidated their 50 units of bitcoin cash for US dollars, they would get an extra $25,000 as bitcoin cash was trading at around $500 when they cashed out. Those 50 units of bitcoin cash could also be traded for bitcoin, if the hackers prefer to hold the cryptocurrency instead of dollars, in which case they would have received an extra 10 bitcoins.
In reality, the WannaCry hackers will have a tough time liquidating any of their holdings. It has become far more difficult for hackers to cash out because a major bitcoin exchange called btc-e, which allegedly is responsible for laundering 95% of ransomware funds, has gone offline. Authorities say the mastermind behind it is a Russian man named Alexander Vinnik, who was arrested in Greece last week on money laundering and other charges.