CloudFlare: ‘Armada’ copycat DDoS extortionists made $100k without one attack

Security firm CloudFlare has drawn attention to online hustlers who have made more than $100,000 by threatening to flood websites with traffic, but have never followed through on the threat.

It’s not unheard for distributed denial of service (DDoS) attackers to cripple a website for not paying a ransom. But one group that hasn’t lived up to its threats is the “Armada Collective”, a copycat of another DDoS extortion group known as DD4BC that also called itself the Armada Collective.

According to CloudFlare CEO Matthew Prince, the copycat group has convinced frightened businesses to pay more than US$100,000 to several Bitcoin addresses.

The original Armada Collective was behind a large DDoS attack against Swiss-based encrypted email provider ProtonMail last November. The Swiss Governmental Computer Emergency Response Team had previously issued warnings over the group’s blackmail attempts, which often preceded a demo attack to show the threat was credible.

It appears to be this reputation that the new attackers are relying on to hustle targets. Unlike the original Armada Collective/DD4BC, the copycat group does not threaten a demo attack but it has doubled the size of its claimed firepower to 1 Tbps.

As Prince notes, even the original group was only capable of 60Gbps compared to the claimed 500 Gbps.

A sign the copycat group’s threats are empty are examples where it has threatened multiple victims at the same time and asked them to send the same amount to the same Bitcoin address. Since Bitcoin payments are anonymous there’s no way for the extortionists to tell who actually paid. Of course, victims wouldn't know at the time that they're only one of several recipients.

“Given that the attackers can't tell who has paid the extortion fee and who has not, it is perhaps not surprising to learn that they appear to treat all victims the same: attacking none of them,” wrote Prince.

Still, the group only needs to convince a few businesses to pay up, with the emails touting a “protection fee” of between 10 to 50 Bitcoin, which currently equates to between roughly $4,600 and $23,000.

According to Prince, more than 100 existing and prospective customers have received threats from the group.

Prince notes the sums being requested also suggest the attackers are not studying which targets could afford to pay up.

Alleged members of the original Armada Collective/DDBC4 were arrested in January as part of a Europol operation.

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