The U.S. Department of Justice seized over $6 million worth of cryptocurrency in a ransomware crackdown, according to Bloomberg News on Wednesday evening.,
Cryptocurrency is legal in the United States, but it’s illegal to use cryptocurrency to commit a crime. The U.S. seized $6.1 million in cryptocurrency this week after cracking down on ransomware.
The seizure of $6.1 million in funds linked to alleged ransom payments by the Justice Department, which was announced alongside new sanctions against a cryptocurrency exchange and arrests of alleged hackers, marked an uptick in Washington’s efforts to weaken hacking groups that have disrupted U.S. businesses.
The recovery of cash demonstrates how victim firms’ assistance with law enforcement may pay off in certain cases, according to US authorities, although sanctions will raise further problems for US corporations facing ransom demands.
At a press conference, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco declared, “If you attack victims here, we will target you.”
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After Colonial Pipeline Co. paid hackers $4.4 million during a May breach that interrupted the East Coast’s major petroleum pipeline, US authorities stepped up their efforts to trace and possibly seize ransomware gangs’ cryptocurrency. According to the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, firms in the United States made a total of $590 million in such payments in the first half of this year, up from $416 million a year ago.
The Treasury Department sanctioned Chatex, a cryptocurrency exchange that has allegedly enabled ransomware payments, as well as connected companies, on Monday, announcing the seizure and arrests. Following Russian-owned SUEX OTC, Chatex became the second exchange to be banned by the US government in recent months.
“This implies that all assets of these businesses that are subject to US jurisdiction are banned effective immediately,” stated Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo. “For U.S. citizens, all transactions are forbidden. Furthermore, all domestic [cryptocurrency] exchanges are barred from transacting with this exchange.”
More than half of Chatex’s known transactions are tied to ransomware, dark net marketplaces, and other high-risk trades, according to the Treasury Department. When companies are hit by ransomware, they often hire independent cybersecurity experts to negotiate with hackers and verify whether they or the crypto infrastructure they employ have been blacklisted by the US government. Businesses have been advised to report such requests by the Treasury Department, which has warned that anyone who pay sanctioned firms like Chatex might face hefty fines.
Requests for feedback were not immediately returned by Chatex. The exchange has offices in Latvia, Estonia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, according to the Treasury Department.
The US penalties against cryptocurrencies are part of a global cybersecurity crackdown announced by US and European authorities on Monday.
Authorities in Romania and Poland have detained numerous people linked to REvil, the ransomware group responsible for assaults on software provider Kaseya Ltd. and meat processor JBS SA this year.
Yevgeniy Polyanin was accused with hacking at least two corporations and 13 government bodies, according to an indictment published Monday.
Associated Press photo/Andrew Harnik
Attorney General Merrick Garland said on Monday that a suspected hacker, Yevgeniy Polyanin, a 28-year-old Russian citizen, had made off with the equivalent of $13 million in ransom payments. According to a search warrant made public Monday, the Justice Department confiscated more than $6.1 million of those money in September.
Mr. Polyanin was accused with hacking at least two corporations and 13 government agencies in Texas over a two-week period in August 2019, according to an indictment released Monday. Mr. Polyanin is suspected to be in Russia, according to Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Christopher Wray.
Mr. Polyanin could not be contacted for comment right away.
Officials from the United States have said that hackers operate with relative freedom in Russia, a charge denied by the Kremlin, but they added on Monday that the recovered cash demonstrate how they can destroy hacking groups without local assistance. According to cybersecurity experts and blockchain researchers, investigators can track criminals’ activities if victim organizations reveal information such as the digital address to which they send money.
“The long arm of the law stretches a lot farther than [hackers] imagine,” Mr. Wray said, urging victims to report ransomware attacks to authorities.
David Uberti can be reached at [email protected]
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