Skill based competitions in the realm of cybersecurity are not uncommon, Capture the Flag competitions, conference calls for papers, and gamification are all part of the white hat realm in order to create new ways to combat cybercrime. But a top Russian dark web hacking forum decided to take it a step further. According to an cybersecurity intelligence report by research firm Intel471, operators of Russian dark web underground forums have started to run a competition in which the operators are asking their users to enter submissions on “how to target cryptocurrency-related technologies.”
The official announcement by the operators of the forum requested techniques for compromising cryptocurrency services. In the announcement made on April 20 20201 the forum’s administrators asked its users to submit papers that uncovered new ways to steal private keys and wallets, new cryptocurrency mining software, smart contracts, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and more.
The admins gave the members of the forum one months to submit their papers, users could submit more than one paper to the competition that would promise the winner(s) USD $100,000 in prizes. Shortly after the report on this competition was made public on the clearnet an anonymous user added USD $15,000 to the total grand prize.
It’s not the first time a competition like this has been launched on underground forums. In an earlier competition two other popular dark web forums have called for research papers on topics such as mobileOS botnets, ATM and POS cracks, and fake GPS signals. In these competitions however the prices only reached USD $10,000 which was awarded to the “best” research paper on any of these subjects. Operators of ransomware-as-a-service groups, including REvil and LockBit, have also posted various competitions.
Not long after the 100k competition launched several users already started posting their own papers for the community to read. One such paper talked about how to manipulate API’s from “popular cryptocurrency-related services” in order to obtain private keys to cryptocurrency wallets. Another paper explained, in detail, how to create a phishing website that allowed criminals to “catch” keys for cryptocurrency wallets. It’s not a surprise that some of these techniques are already being used to “phish” current large dark net markets such as White House Market and Dark0de Reborn.
These entries can prove to be valuable in the wrong hands. In the past security researchers kept a major Bitcoin Core vulnerability a secret for almost two years. The discovery could have been used to crash the entire main Bitcoin blockchain alongside Bcoin, Btcd, and similar blockchains. It was quietly patched until another research found the same vulnerability and decided to make it public. Contests such as these highlight how cryptocurrency as a virtual alternative to fiat currency can be a profitable business sometimes despite, but in this case ‘because’ of the inherent volatility of most of these coins.
Dark web forums that serve a double purpose; a marketplace and a dark web hub for hacking innovations are exceedingly more flexible than its defenders. It can usher in new revolutions that can be implemented immediately to hack or compromise entire financial systems.
The platform for attacks will continue to grow as the technology for the services being attacked also continues to grow at a fast pace as is the case with cryptocurrency. Criminals are becoming more agile in coping with defensive mechanisms that official and sometimes bureaucratic organizations put in place.