Email Bomb Threats Were a Hoax—and a 'Terrible Strategy'

Extortion warnings sent around the US, Canada demanded $20K in bitcoin
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 14, 2018 11:21 AM CST
Deputies from the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office investigate a reported bomb threat on Thursday in Scio Township, Mich.   (Ben Allan Smith/Ann Arbor News via AP)

(Newser) – Chaos ensued across the US, Canada, and New Zealand Thursday after schools, businesses, government buildings, media outlets, and other venues were hit with a wave of email threats that warned of bombs going off at each target if $20,000 in bitcoin wasn't paid up, USA Today reports. Police departments scrambled to find out who was behind the emails, and it was ultimately deemed a hoax, but experts say "hoax" doesn't mean "not damaging." That's because even if financial extortion wasn't the actual goal, the suspects still caused disruption. Even more worrisome, some fear it could have been a test run to gauge law enforcement's reaction—and that such disruption could be used in the future to force police to expend resources, making them vulnerable while a "secondary more potent attack" is carried out. More on what we know:

  • Read the emails: The police department in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and cybercrime expert Brian Krebs have both posted full examples of the emails that are circulating. In both messages, the sender tells the recipient to not take it personally and that "this is just a business." They also stress: "We are not terrorists."
  • Explosives and wallets: In fact, several versions are making the online rounds. The threats mainly vary in the type of explosives they mention, and there are different "wallets" to which recipients are supposed to send their cryptocurrency. The Verge notes the various wallets are a "common tactic" used in such ransomware situations, as the perps can keep tabs on who has paid and who hasn't.

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