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.
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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 Hassan
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.