The United States is changing tactics in its efforts to thwart ransomware attacks. President Joe Biden’s administration is going after cryptocurrency exchanges.
These systems allow ransomware attackers to receive their money, usually bitcoin. The Treasury Department is preparing sanctions on financial exchanges that process illegal payments.
US Will Penalize Crypto Exchange Systems That Facilitate Payment to Ransomware Attackers
Ransomware attacks involve criminal groups hacking a company’s IT system. It then locks the system via data encrypting malware. This prevents anybody except hackers from accessing the entire company’s data files.
In order to recover the file, owners will need to pay the hackers large sums. The fees usually get paid in cryptocurrency such as bitcoin in order to preserve anonymity. They range between several thousand dollars to tens of millions of dollars.
Experts conservatively placed the total ransom payments paid to cyber attackers at around $412 last year. The lucrative nature led to increased ransomware attacks in the United States.
As a result, the US will announce its new sanctions on cryptocurrency exchanges. They will do so as early as next week. The sanctions will form part of the Biden administration’s move to prevent further ransomware attacks.
Closing The Loopholes in Cryptocurrency Payments
An unnamed US official said that Treasury officials are slowly closing the avenues where hackers can get their money. “There is a concerted effort to identify tools that can disrupt the flow of money to ransomware operators. This is a continuation of our effort to go after criminal enterprises and their money,” the official said. Sanctions are one such tool.
Former Justice Department prosecutor Brandon van Grack hailed the breakthrough efforts. In a tweet, he called it the administration’s “first major proactive step” to stem ransomware attacks. “The sanctions could significantly impair the ability to make payments and further complicate the decision-making calculus for companies,” he tweeted.
Russian Hacker Groups Behind Major Ransomware Attacks
Federal officials see ransomware as both a criminal menace and national security threat. They said that Russian hacker groups made ransomware attacks on US companies with lax cybersecurity measures.
Earlier this year, a ransomware attack shut down a major fuel pipeline for many days. Later, a major international meat company also fell victim to a Russian hacker group.
The situation with Russian hackers became so bad that President Biden warned President Vladimir Putin last June. Biden said he expected Moscow to crack down on activity emanating from Russia. He said that the United States would take “any necessary action” to defend critical infrastructure against cyberattacks.
New Ransomware Attack in Iowa
Meanwhile, the timing of the reforms couldn’t be more urgent. Earlier this week, Russian hackers yet again hacked an Iowa farming cooperative.
They managed to lock the computer networks used to manage the food supply chain and feeding schedules of millions of chickens, pigs, and cattle. The group demanded a $5.9 million ransom in exchange for a return of access.
New Cooperative, a Fort Dodge-based group of corn and soy farmers, was the victim of the ransomware attack. However, the company managed to secure the system breach in their network.
The company’s IT team developed a workaround against the ransomware lock. For now, the workaround allows them to continue accepting grain deliveries and distributing animal feed.
However, many processes had to revert to manual means while the system remained offline. The attacker, calling themselves BlackMatter, threatened to release a terabyte’s worth of cooperative data.
This includes invoices, research, and development documents, including its source code for its soil-mapping technology. New Cooperative has until September 25 to pay the $5.9 million ransom.
Watch the CoinDesk video reporting that the US Treasury Department is clamping down on ransomware attacks:
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