The Department of Treasury in the United States have shifted their focus towards crypto exchanges and are taking actions against those that are responsible for laundering ransoms. This is part of the government’s efforts to counter the ransomware attacks that appear to be becoming the norm. They have already sanctioned one cryptocurrency exchange, along with some of its crypto addresses that were used for this purpose. Janet Yellen, the Treasury Secretary said that they would continue their crackdown against any malicious actors. On Tuesday, a set of actions were announced by the Treasury Department, and these include an updated advisory that was published on ransomware.
In addition, they have also made some additions to the list of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked People (SDN) of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The Department of Treasury noted that it was part of the government’s effort counter the ransomware attacks. Therefore, a set of actions has been outlined, which is aimed at disrupting criminal networks and also target any virtual currency exchanges that seem to be responsible for laundering the ransoms that are collected in these ransomware attacks. The actions are also meant to enhance cybersecurity in the private sector.
Furthermore, they also want to encourage reporting of ransomware payment to US government agencies, which include law enforcement, as well as the Treasury. It was further noted in the announcement that in 2020 the ransom payments made in these attacks had surpassed $400 million, which puts them at a value that’s four times what it had been in 2019. The Treasury said that there were some virtual currency exchanges that were a vital part of this entire ecosystem. This is because cryptocurrency has become the primary means of facilitating these ransom payments in the attacks and the associated money laundering activities.
The Department of Treasury said that while most of the activity of virtual currency exchanges was legal, it is a fact that these digital currencies can be used for illegal activities via peer-to-peer exchanges and mixers. This includes facilitation of ransomware schemes, sanction evasions and other cybercrimes. As far as the actions taken are concerned, they include the sanctions that were imposed against the Suex crypto exchange, which is based in Russia, for facilitation of financial transactions on behalf of ransomware actors. The Treasury elaborated that this was the first crypto exchange that had been targeted for laundering the ransoms collected in the attacks.
All interests and property of the exchange pertaining to US jurisdiction were blocked and the announcement said that people and companies in the US are now prohibited from engaging in transactions with said exchange. Janet Yellen said that these cyber and ransomware attacks are victimizing small and large businesses across America and can be a direct threat to the economy. She added that they would continue to take action against them. She said that cybercriminals were using sophisticated technology and methods, so they were prepared to use all measures, including regulatory tools and sanctions, for deterring, disrupting and preventing ransomware attacks.