U.S. amps up crypto crime unit to focus on ransomware attacks
- Senior DoJ official termed ransomware as a major threat to national security.
- After a reprieve in 2022, ransomware attacks reared their ugly heads again in 2023.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) has announced the expansion of the unit it created in 2021 to look into the criminal misuses of cryptocurrencies.
Senior Justice Department official Nicole M. Argentieri stated in a speech that the National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team (NCET) will be merged with the department’s cyber-crime team, Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS). The move will effectively double the number of prosecutors available to work on criminal cryptocurrency cases.
Focus on ransomware
The primary focus of the merged unit will be to tackle ransomware-related crimes. Argentieri termed it as a major threat to national security, public safety, and economic prosperity.
The DoJ official added that the combined expertise will be utilized to track criminals through their ransomware payments. Criminals will be apprehend before they flee to ransomware hotspots like Russia.
The move comes as governments around the world wake up to the growing dangers of ransomware crimes.
Ransomware attacks jump in 2023
After a reprieve in 2022, ransomware attacks reared their ugly heads again in 2023, as per a recent report by Chainalysis. Attackers extorted $449 million from victims in the first six months of June. This was roughly 60% higher than the first half of 2022.
Ransomware is a type of malware attack in which the attacker locks and encrypts the victim’s data, important files and then demands a ransom to unlock and decrypt the data.
Ransomware attacks defied the general downward trend in crypto crimes as it was the only category which has seen a jump so far in 2o23. The report mentioned that at the prevailing rate, 2023 was on track to become the second-worst year for this category of crypto crimes, trailing only the disastrous 2021.
Russia’s threat as highlighted in the speech was not unfounded. Russia leads the world in ransomware attacks. Conti, believed to be based in Russia, was the biggest ransomware strain by revenue in 2021. Conti extorted at least $180 million from victims.
Hacking the hackers
The U.S. government has been actively fighting the threat of ransomware crimes. Earlier in the year, the DoJ divulged about its disruption campaign against the Russian ransomware group Hive.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) hackers breached Hive’s computer networks, and seized its decryption keys, thus saving victims from having to pay the $130 million ransom demanded.