Biden administration targets crypto pipelines in fight against ransomware attacks


The Biden administration is planning a new campaign against ransomware attacks through sanctions to cut off criminals’ cryptocurrency pipelines, and it has urged companies to report and protect themselves from extortion attempts.

Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo told reporters the sanctions would be imposed on Suex, a cryptocurrency transfer service registered in the Czech Republic. He said Suex had “facilitated transactions involving illicit products for at least eight ransomware variants.”

He said that “exchanges like Suex are critical to the ability of attackers to extract profit,” noting that this was the first such action by the Office of Foreign Assets Control against a virtual currency exchange. .

Adeyemo and Deputy National Security Advisor Anne Neuberger, who also briefed reporters on a conference call Monday evening, stressed the importance of ransomware victims coming forward and vulnerable businesses and organizations taking action to strengthen their security.

Adeyemo announced new Treasury Department guidelines that make “an express statement that the US government strongly discourages the payment of cyber ransoms or extortion demands.”

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Neuberger compared companies that protect themselves against cybercrime to motorists and homeowners who buy insurance.

Read more: US goes on the offensive to tackle growing threat of cyberattacks

“It makes us drive more carefully,” she said. “You get a number of movement violations, your insurance increases. Make accidents, it goes up. Likewise, when you look at our home insurance, in order to purchase home insurance you must have a smoke detector or an alarm system.

“When we look at cybersecurity, we are faced with what appears to be the lack of incentives for companies to invest in modernizing their defenses to deal with this threat,” Neuberger said.

The actions represent a further foray of the administration after ransomware attacks earlier this year deactivated meat giant JBS SA, which ultimately paid an $ 11 million ransom, crippled Colonial’s gasoline flow Pipeline Co. on the east coast of the United States and endangered health care providers. in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic.

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Since its inception in 2018 as a location for digital currency transfer and transformation into cash, Suex has moved hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit digital coins, including more than $ 160 million in Bitcoin alone, according to the report. cryptocurrency research firm, Chainalysis.

The addition of Suex to the list of Specially Designated Nationals and Treasury Stranded Persons prohibits Americans from doing business with her.

Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts a victim’s data. Cybercriminals also often steal data. The hackers then demand payment to unlock the files and promise not to disclose the stolen data. In recent years, hackers have targeted victims with cyber insurance policies and huge volumes of sensitive consumer data that make them more likely to pay a ransom, according to cybersecurity experts.

A task force created by the Institute for Security and Technology said cyberattacks became a $ 350 million criminal industry in 2020, a 311% increase from 2019. The task force recommended 48 actions that the Biden administration and the private sector could take to mitigate such attacks, including better regulation of the digital currency market used to make ransom payments.

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The Biden administration has determined that ransomware is no longer confined to independent cartels simply seeking to profit from extortion. Instead, nation states can use attacks as a tool to disrupt government or private operations.

For example, in April, the Treasury Department sanctioned Russian entities for helping facilitate cyber attacks and linked a Russian intelligence agency to a ransomware group known as Evil Corp. Then, in July, Western intelligence services accused China’s State Security Ministry of conspiring with hackers to carry out a series of malicious ransomware, data theft and cyber-espionage attacks against public entities. and private, including the sprawling Microsoft Exchange hack earlier this year.


Copyright 2021 Bloomberg.

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