The Biden administration will unveil sanctions against a cryptocurrency exchange over its alleged role in enabling illegal payments from ransomware attacks on Tuesday.
Reuters reports that the Treasury Department accuses Suex OTC, SRO of facilitating transactions involving illicit proceeds for at least eight ransomware variants, marking 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. “Today’s 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 paid in cryptocurrency.
The Treasury said an analysis of known Suex transactions shows that over 40% of them involved illicit actors. While some exchanges are exploited by bad actors, others like Suex, “facilitate illicit activities for their own illicit gains,” the agency added in a release.
The sanctions, included in a 2015 executive order targeting cybercriminals, block Suex’s access to all US property and prohibit Americans from transacting with the company.
Suex OTC is a private company based in the Czech Republic, according to Refinitiv’s Eikon.
Year in turmoil
Attacks are increasing in scale, sophistication, and scope, the Treasury said. 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 last 12 months were ripe with major high-profile cyberattacks on network management company SolarWinds, the Colonial Pipeline’s oil network, meat processing company JBS, and software firm Kaseya. Pundits talk of a ransomware gold rush, with the number of attacks increasing over 90% in the first half of 2021 alone.
This week, a Russia-linked cyber cartel carried out an attack against a major US farm service provider New Cooperative Inc., demanding $5.9 million in ransom.
A recent IBM report shows that an average data breach costs victims $4.24 million per incident, the highest in the 17 years. For example, the average cost stood at $3.86 million per incident last year, putting recent results at a 10% increase.
The officials said the administration is also updating guidance on sanctions to encourage victims of ransomware attacks to share information with law enforcement.
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