US and UK Agree to ‘Heighten the Focus on Illicit Use of Cryptocurrency’ US and UK Agree to 'Heighten the Focus on Illicit Use of Cryptocurrency'

The U.S. and U.K. governments have “committed and agreed to heighten the focus on illicit use of cryptocurrency and ransomware,” the U.S. Department of Justice announced. According to the FBI, high crypto prices have partially made ransomware “incredibly lucrative for the criminals.”

Governments Collaborate to Focus on Illicit Use of Crypto

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Friday that Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco and officials from its National Security Division and Criminal Division met with U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

“In their meeting, both governments discussed their close cooperation against numerous threats to their countries’ collective security, including with respect to combating terrorism, cybercrime, and illicit finance,” the DOJ detailed, adding:

Both the deputy attorney general and the home secretary committed and agreed to heighten the focus on illicit use of cryptocurrency and ransomware, as well as to continue the dialogue about emerging threats to national security.

The U.S. government has been trying to combat ransomware attacks. In October, Monaco announced the launch of the National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team, a DOJ initiative to tackle and prosecute “criminal misuses of cryptocurrency, particularly crimes committed by virtual currency exchanges, mixing and tumbling services, and money laundering.”

In the same month, President Joe Biden said that the U.S. will bring together 30 countries to stop “the illicit use of cryptocurrency.”

FBI Says Ransomware Lucrative Due to ‘Valuation of Virtual Currency’

In a hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform last week, Bryan Vorndran, assistant director of the FBI’s Cyber Division, noted that high crypto prices are fueling criminal networks and ransomware actors.

The hearing was part of a congressional investigation into multimillion-dollar ransomware attacks on major U.S. companies this year, including Colonial Pipeline Co. and the U.S. division of JBS Foods.

“In the last six months, we have not seen a decrease in the amount of frequency of reporting of ransomware attacks,” Vorndran said, adding:

We attribute that to the simple fact that it’s incredibly lucrative for the criminals. That’s partially due to the valuation of virtual currency, but it’s partially due to the vulnerability of our systems and in our infrastructure.

Global Efforts Lead to Arrests and Seizures

The U.S. government has recently taken action against some ransomware actors. In September, the U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned a cryptocurrency exchange for the first time as part of the whole-of-government effort to counter ransomware. Suex was allegedly “responsible for laundering ransoms.”

Early this month, another crypto exchange was sanctioned. Chatex allegedly facilitated “financial transactions for ransomware actors.” In addition, two alleged ransomware operators — Ukrainian Yaroslav Vasinskyi and Russian Yevgeniy Polyanin — were sanctioned “for their part in perpetuating Sodinokibi/Revil ransomware incidents against the United States.” The DOJ also seized $6.1 million from Polyanin.

National Cyber Director Inglis said last week that Polyanin’s arrest resulted from a collaboration between countries since the arrest occurred when he crossed the border into Poland. “Cyberspace is a borderless terrain, and therefore, as much as they can reach us we can reach them,” he opined, elaborating:

If we bring allies to bear, we can use jurisdiction in places like Poland and Romania to apprehend these criminals and bring them to justice using the courts of law that exists in the West.

In October, a coordinated strike involving Europol, Interpol, and the FBI led to the arrest of two “prolific” ransomware operators allegedly responsible for ransom demands of up to 70 million euros. Cryptocurrencies worth $1.3 million were seized.

What do you think about the U.S. working with other countries to combat the illicit use of cryptocurrency? Let us know in the comments section below.

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