Why Monero was the crypto of choice for the Optus ‘hacker’

Not long after the Optus data breach, a message was posted on an online forum from someone named ‘optusdata’. Claiming to be responsible for the attack that exposed the personal information of millions of Australians, they wanted a ransom. There were two particularly interesting things about the demand. Firstly, they only wanted $US1 million – which seemed pretty low for such a massive breach. And second, they wanted it in Monero cryptocurrency. Here’s why.

Mainstream crypto isn’t as anonymous as you think

It’s a bit of a misconception that all cryptocurrency is anonymous. While it can provide some level of anonymity, it also exists on a public ledger and can be traced. In fact, there’s been many instances of authorities tracing the movement of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to solve crimes and make arrests.

Of course, there are ways to make them harder to trace. Crypto mixers are a popular choice, particularly amongst those who perhaps want to hide their crypto transactions for nefarious reasons.

Different mixers and their protocols can very, but they essentially allows a user to mix their deposited crypto from one address, mix it with other coins or tokens and then send the equivalent amount of crypto to another address. Meanwhile, it hides the connection between the sender and the recipient.

So why Monero?

Monero is a little different to popular cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum. It’s a privacy coin that was first launched in 2014 and it still works like most other cryptos. But while it still uses a blockchain (Opaque) to record and validate transactions, it boasts an added layer of security.

Monero transactions and the identity of wallet holders are anonymous on the Opaque blockchain. It does this by a variety of means, such as making it seem like the coins are going to multiple wallets as well as adding fake sources and funds into every transaction. No one other than the sender and the receiver will know how much Monero was actually exchanged in the transaction.

All of this makes it near-impossible for law enforcement to trace crime-related Monero transactions.

This has made the crypto quite popular with criminals, as well as regular privacy-conscious folks. It’s also resulted in Monero being banned in several countries, including China and India.

Here in Australia the coin isn’t illegal, but like any other privacy coin, it’s also not offered on our crypto exchanges.

So it’s not particularly surprising that the alleged Optus hacker demanded their ransom in Monero. It remains an elusive but popular coin with an average of 23,542  transactions per day.

It will interesting to see what the future holds for the coin, especially as regulators and the government continue to work out exactly what they’re going to do with crypto here in Australia.