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US Treasury Targets Crypto Exchanges in Whole-of-Government Effort to Counter Ransomware

The U.S. Department of the Treasury has taken actions targeting cryptocurrency exchanges “responsible for laundering ransoms” as part of the whole-of-government effort to counter ransomware. One cryptocurrency exchange has already been sanctioned along with related crypto addresses. “We will continue to crack down on malicious actors,” said Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

US Government Targets Crypto Exchanges in Ransomware Fight

The U.S. Treasury Department announced a set of actions to counter ransomware Tuesday, which include the publication of an updated advisory on ransomware and the addition of entities to the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)’s list of Specially Designated Nationals.

The Department of the Treasury declared:

As part of the whole-of-government effort to counter ransomware, the U.S. Department of the Treasury today announced a set of actions focused on disrupting criminal networks and virtual currency exchanges responsible for laundering ransoms.

The actions also aim to improve cyber security across the private sector and increase ransomware payment reporting to U.S. government agencies, including both Treasury and law enforcement. The announcement further notes that ransomware payments surpassed $400 million in 2020, more than four times their level in 2019.

“Some virtual currency exchanges are a critical element of this ecosystem, as virtual currency is the principal means of facilitating ransomware payments and associated money laundering activities,” the Treasury stated, elaborating:

While most virtual currency activity is licit, virtual currencies can be used for illicit activity through peer-to-peer exchangers, mixers, and exchanges. This includes the facilitation of sanctions evasion, ransomware schemes, and other cybercrimes.

Among the actions taken was the sanctioning of cryptocurrency exchange Suex for facilitating “financial transactions for ransomware actors.” According to the Treasury, this was the first crypto exchange targeted “for laundering cyber ransoms.” All property and interests in property of the exchange “that are subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them,” the announcement details.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen commented: “Ransomware and cyber-attacks are victimizing businesses large and small across America and are a direct threat to our economy. We will continue to crack down on malicious actors.” She added:

As cyber criminals use increasingly sophisticated methods and technology, we are committed to using the full range of measures, to include sanctions and regulatory tools, to disrupt, deter, and prevent ransomware attacks.

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