Biden sanctions cryptocurrency exchange over ransomware attacks
The Biden administration on Tuesday unveiled sanctions against a cryptocurrency exchange over its alleged role in enabling illegal payments from ransomware attacks, officials said, part of a broader crackdown on the growing threat.
The Treasury Department accused Suex OTC, S.R.O. of facilitating transactions involving illicit proceeds for at least eight ransomware variants, its first such move against a virtual currency exchange over ransomware activity.
"Exchanges like Suex are critical to attackers' ability to extract profits from ransomware attackers," Treasury Deputy Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in a call with reporters previewing the announcement on Monday evening. The action "is a signal of our intention to expose and disrupt the illicit infrastructure using these attacks."
Hackers use ransomware to take down systems that control everything from hospital billing to manufacturing. They stop only after receiving hefty payments, typically in cryptocurrency.
This year, ransomware gangs have hit numerous important U.S. companies in large scale hacks. One such attack on pipeline operator Colonial Pipeline led to temporary fuel supply shortages on the U.S. East Coast. Hackers also targeted an Iowa-based agricultural firm, sparking fears of disruptions to grain harvesting in the Midwest.
In 2020 ransomware payments reached over $400 million, more than four times the level in 2019, Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser for cyber, told reporters on the call.
The threat has grown so prominent that U.S. President Joe Biden reportedly told Russian President Vladimir Putin during a July meeting that "critical infrastructure" companies should be off limits to ransomware gangs. Such groups often operate from Russia or Ukraine, according to cybersecurity experts and federal prosecutors.