US Mulls Sanctions Use In War Against Hacker Cryptocurrency Payments

The United States is preparing a number of responses in an effort to clamp down on hackers using digital currencies for their ransomware payments.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), citing people familiar with the matter, reported that the US Treasury department plans to impose sanctions as soon as next week.

Ransomware attacks are an ongoing menace to many businesses, struggling to deal with the consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Ransomware payments

Last month for example, Bangkok Airways in Thailand revealed it has been the victim of a cyberattack, and passenger data had been exposed after it reportedly refused to pay a ransomware demand.

With ransomware threats at an all time high and rapidly becoming a national security issue, the Biden administration is seeking to disrupt digital finance infrastructure that facilitates ransomware cyber attacks.

The US Treasury is specifically seeking to cut off access for hackers who typically demand ransom payments in the form of some cryptocurrencies.

According to the WSJ, the US Treasury department will also issue a new guidance on the risks associated with facilitating such ransomware payments, including fines and other penalties.

The WSJ also reported that new anti-money laundering rules and terror finance rules, which are expected to arrive later this year, will limit the use of cryptocurrency for payments in ransomware attacks and other illicit activities.

Lucrative business

It is fair to say hackers and criminals gangs have been gathering millions of dollars from ransomware payments.

In May for example, the CEO of Colonial Pipeline publicly confirmed that the pipeline had paid the DarkSide criminal gang its ransom demand of 75 Bitcoin (worth $4.4 million at the time of payment.

At the same time security researchers at London-based Eliptic identified the Bitcoin digital wallet used by DarkSide to extract ransoms from their victims.

Elliptic also revealed DarkSide and its affiliates had bagged at least $90 million in bitcoin ransom payments in total from various ransomware victims.

Meanwhile CNA Financial, one of the largest US insurance companies, paid $40 million to free itself from a ransomware attack that occurred in March.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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