Washington (AP) —The Biden administration announced sanctions against Russia-based cryptocurrency brokers on Tuesday targeting the financial markets of criminal ransomware gangs.
Treasury sanctions are aimed at destroying the economic infrastructure of the ransomware threat that surged last year, targeting critical enterprises and critical infrastructure, including major fuel pipelines. Ransomware payments reached more than $ 400 million in 2020. This is the most expensive year on record.
The goal of the action is to chase after the “monetary enabler” of the ransomware gang, Deputy Secretary of Finance Wally Adeyemo told reporters in a preview of the announcement.
“Today’s actions signal our intention to use these attacks to expose and destroy illegal infrastructure,” Adeyemo said.
The Treasury has previously licensed ransomware developers and distributors through the Office of Foreign Assets Control, and authorities say such designations are even more possible.
The government has chosen foreign currency exchange, known as SUEX OTC, as a sanction. The broker states that it has facilitated trading of at least eight ransomware variants.
While the majority of crypto exchanges engage in legitimate commercial transactions, a subset of so-called “nested” exchanges handle disproportionate amounts of illegal transactions, Adeemo said. .. In the case of SUEX, authorities said more than 40% of its known transaction history was related to what the government described as an offender.
SUEX is one of the most active of the small groups of illegal services that handle most money laundering of cybercriminals, cryptocurrency tracking company Chainalysis said in a blog post.
Although legally registered in the Czech Republic, SUEX is unaware of its physical existence there and instead operates at branches in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia, where users can cash their cryptocurrencies, regarding tracking. Chainalysis, which works closely with law enforcement agencies, states criminal cryptocurrency transactions.
SUEX is probably laundering money from the illegal cryptocurrency exchange BTC-e, which was closed by US authorities on behalf of administrators, associates, or former users. The BTC-e operator was sentenced to five years in prison by a French court in December.
According to Chainalysis, SUEX deposit addresses hosted on large exchanges have received more than $ 160 million from cybercriminals since the brokerage firm opened in early 2018. This includes nearly $ 13 million from ransomware operators such as Ryuk, Conti and Maze.
In addition, the Treasury says it has updated its first guidance for ransomware victims last year. This advisory strongly discourages victims from paying ransomware, reminds them that some transactions violate the law, and encourages victims to report attacks to law enforcement agencies.
“In reality, what we know about this ecosystem is how to prevent ransomware attacks and involve law enforcement as soon as possible,” Adeyemo said.
AP Technology Writer Frank Bajak contributed from Boston.
Follow Eric Tucker on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/etuckerAP.
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