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The United States Justice Department has seized more than $6 million in digital currency funds that were allegedly garnered through ransomware attacks.
The Justice Department Is Moving Fast
The move comes after the Justice Department recently issued new sanctions against both countries and various global exchanges that had potentially been part of collecting ransomware funds and laundering the money. Several arrests of alleged hackers have also taken place as the Justice Department is eager to crack down on illicit financial behavior involving digital currencies like bitcoin.
While open to interpretation, the string of new laws and actions designed to limit the amount of crypto crime occurring in the monetary space likely stems from the attack on the Colonial Pipeline that occurred earlier in the year. The Pipeline’s data was encrypted by cyberthieves who ultimately demanded a bitcoin ransom in exchange for the information.
While money was sent to the hackers, a good portion of the bitcoin funds were later recovered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Since then, it has become clear that the United States is not willing to give hackers any more leeway. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco put out the following message at a recent conference:
If you target victims here, we will target you.
One of the most recent sanctions issued by the U.S. government comes from the Treasury Department. The sanctions were placed on Chatex, a digital exchange that was allegedly involved in processing ransomware payments. It is the second exchange to receive such a distinction after SUEX OTC in Russia.
Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyamo explained in an interview:
This means that effective immediately, all assets of these entities that are subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked. All transactions are prohibited for U.S. persons, and all domestic [cryptocurrency] exchanges are prohibited from processing transactions with this exchange.
According to the Treasury, more than half of the transactions to have occurred through the Chatex exchange involved funds garnered through ransomware payments. The parties involved in the transactions were dark net markets and illicit trading platforms. Chatex is believed to have offices in the European country of Estonia and in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean.
The Treasury Department is telling all companies out there being subjected to ransomware demands to get in touch with regulators and inform them as to what’s happening. This will allow department members to take necessary action against illicit actors and open the portals to investigating criminal exchanges.
The Treasury has also put out a general message to illicit trading platforms warning them that if they choose to be involved in processing ransomware, they could face heavy fines and penalties.
Hackers’ Windows Are Beginning to Close
FBI director Christopher Wray said in a statement:
The long arm of the law reaches a lot further than [hackers] think.