Democrats urge federal agencies to address use of cryptocurrencies for ransomware payments | #malware | #ransomware

A group of Democrats on Friday urged the Biden administration to do more to confront the growing use of cryptocurrency markets in ransomware attacks, which have become an increasing national security threat over the past year. 

Sens. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyOvernight Energy & Environment — Biden set to restore national monuments rolled back by Trump Lawmakers introduce bill to limit data collection at border crossings Markey: Senate must pass reconciliation package before global climate summit MORE (D-Mass.), Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseTaxing new plastic is the cheapest way to address its environmental impact The Supreme Court isn’t political — and reversing Roe v. Wade wouldn’t make it so Manchin opens door to deal in range of .9T to .2T MORE (D-R.I.), and Reps. Jim LangevinJames (Jim) R. LangevinHillicon Valley — Presented by Ericsson — Facebook faces critics on kids’ safety House approves legislation to protect K-12 schools against cyberattacks Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon officials get grilling from House MORE (D-R.I.) and Ted LieuTed W. LieuLawmakers introduce bill to limit data collection at border crossings Bass receives endorsement from EMILY’s List Congress comes to the aid of Libyan people, passing bill ordering probe into war crimes and torture MORE (D-Calif.) sent a letter to the leaders of the Homeland Security, Justice, State, and Treasury departments on Friday asking them to pursue “stronger coordination” between the agencies on the issue of cryptocurrency. 

They pointed to a massive increase in ransomware attacks, with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center receiving reports of almost 2,500 ransomware attacks with losses over almost $30 million in 2020 alone. 

“The proliferation of cryptocurrency has facilitated this explosive growth in ransomware attacks, largely by offering easy, fast, and difficult to trace methods for laundering illicit gains,” the lawmakers wrote. “We believe that increasing enforcement of existing money laundering and financial crimes statutes would play an important role in deterring ransomware attacks and facilitating the recovery of cryptocurrency paid to ransomware attackers.”

They asked that the agencies respond to a series of questions by the end of the month around how cryptocurrency exchanges are involved in ransomware attacks, and underlined the threat of zeroing in on this issue. 

“The rapid rise in ransomware attacks not only financially impacts local governments and businesses, but also threatens U.S. national security because ransomware can disrupt critical infrastructure and capture sensitive data,” the lawmakers wrote. 

The Hill reached out to the agencies the letter was sent to for comment. DHS declined to comment. 

They are not the first lawmakers to raise concerns on this issue. Sen. Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanSenate poised to stave off debt crisis Does Virginia race hold much deeper problems for Democrats? Republican candidates tack toward right on abortion MORE (D-N.H.) sent letters to multiple federal agencies in September asking them to crack down on the use of cryptocurrency exchanges for criminal practices. 

Concerns over cryptocurrency exchanges have grown in recent months following a string of major ransomware attacks in which the hackers utilized cryptocurrency exchanges for victim payment in order to make it more difficult for authorities to trace the funds. 

These attacks included those on Colonial Pipeline and meat producer JBS USA, with both choosing to pay the ransoms in bitcoin. Following the attack, however, the Justice Department was able to recover the majority of the $4.4 million in bitcoin paid by Colonial. 

Several of the agencies have already taken action to confront hackers’ use of cryptocurrency as part of ransomware attacks, including the Treasury Department, which last month sanctioned Suex OTC for allegedly facilitating ransomware payments, its first sanctions against a virtual currency exchange. 

The Justice Department is also making moves in the space. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco announced earlier this week that the agency is establishing a National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team in an effort to “dismantle” cryptocurrency exchanges used to facilitate ransomware payments by victims.

“Cryptocurrency exchanges want to be the banks of the future, well, we need to make sure that folks have confidence when they are using these systems, and we need to make sure we are poised to root out abuse that can take hold on them,” Monaco said when she announced the group at the virtual Aspen Institute Cyber Summit.

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