The rise in ransomware attacks over the past year has now forced the United States to increase its efforts in fighting these attacks. The Justice Department is now creating a new task force to crack down on hackers using digital currencies to conduct their attacks.
Ransomware Attacks using Digital Currencies
A recent publication by Bloomberg has highlighted the role of this new task force as targeting the platforms that enable hackers to demand financial rewards to restore systems that they have compromised. During ransomware attacks, hackers mainly choose cryptocurrencies as the method to be used by individuals and institutions to pay for the demanded ransom.
The US Deputy Attorney General, Lisa Monaco, has stated that cryptocurrency exchanges can help fight these attacks. “Cryptocurrency exchanges want to be the banks of the future. We need to make sure that folks can have confidence when they use these systems,” Monaco stated.
In September, the US Treasury sanctioned Suex, a cryptocurrency exchange based in the Czech Republic, for enabling ransom payments. Moreover, the Justice Department has formed a new initiative that requires government contractors to report any hacking attacks and vulnerabilities in their security systems.
Monaco added that there would be dire consequences for those who fail to report as required. “We will extract very hefty fines. This is a tool we have to ensure that taxpayer dollars are used effectively.”
Ransom Attacks on the Rise
The US has shown vigilance in fighting ransomware attacks that have skyrocketed in recent years. In 2020 alone, the US reports that more than $400 million was lost to ransomware payments. This was four times higher than the number of ransomware payments made in 2019.
The boom of cryptocurrencies has played a role in this increase. The decentralized and anonymous nature of cryptocurrencies has made them attractive to hackers who want to hide their identities. Unlike banking transactions, cryptocurrencies are difficult to flag and stop, hence making them preferable by cybercriminals.
Bitcoin is not the only cryptocurrency used in ransomware payments because recent years have also seen an influx in the use of privacy coins such as Monero. Unlike Bitcoin transactions that can be tracked to specific wallet addresses, Monero transactions are 100% anonymous.
However, these statistics do not show that crypto transactions are leading in the financial crimes charts. In fact, data shows that in 2020, crimes related to crypto transactions accounted for less than 1% of financial crimes. Out of this 1%, the majority was related to scams, and only a small portion was linked to ransomware.
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