UK and US Agree to Focus on Illicit Use of Crypto

According to the announcement by the US Department of Justice, the UK and the US governments have committed to increase their focus on the illicit use of ransomware and crypto. The FBI disclosed that high prices of cryptocurrencies had made ransomware extremely lucrative for the criminal element. On Friday, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that Lisa Monaco, the Deputy Attorney General, and its Criminal Division and National Security Division’s officials had a meeting in Washington with Priti Patel, the UK Home Secretary. The DOJ said that during Thursday’s meeting, the governments had talked about their close cooperation against the various threats to the collective security of the countries.

These included combating illicit finance, cybercrime and terrorism. The DOJ said that the home minister and the deputy attorney general had agreed to increase their focus on the illicit use of ransomware and cryptocurrency and to discuss emerging threats to national security. Ransomware attacks have become a major priority for the US government. The National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team was announced by Monaco in October, which is an initiative of the DOJ to take action against the criminal use of cryptocurrencies, including money laundering, tumbling and mixing services and criminal activities by virtual currency exchanges.

US President Joe Biden announced in the same month that they would bring together 30 countries for stopping the illicit use of digital currencies. Last week, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform conducted a hearing and FBI’s Cyber Division’s assistant director, Bryan Vorndran noted that ransomware actors and criminal networks have become more active due to high crypto prices. The hearing was part of an investigation by the congress into the multi-million dollar ransomware attacks that have been conducted this year on major US companies, including the JBS Foods’ US division and Colonial Pipeline Co. 

Vorndran said that there hadn’t been a decline in the frequency of ransomware attacks in the last six months. He added that this was because it was incredibly lucrative for criminals because of the valuation of cryptocurrencies and also because their infrastructure and systems are vulnerable. The US government has become proactive against some ransomware actors recently. For the first time, a crypto exchange was sanctioned by the US Department of the Treasury in September for countering ransomware attacks. Another crypto exchange, named Chatex, was also sanctioned earlier this month. Two ransomware operators were also sanctioned, including Russian Yevgeniy Polyanin and Ukrainian Yaroslav Vasinskyi. 

The Department of Justice also seized $6.1 million from the Russian. Last week, the National Cyber Director said that Polyanin’s arrest had occurred due to a collaboration between countries. Inglis said that cyberspace is borderless and they would reach out to cybercriminals in the same way and with allies, they would be able to do so easily. Two ‘prolific’ ransomware operators had also been arrested in October, thanks to a coordinated strike that involved the FBI, Interpol and Europol. These operators had allegedly been responsible for demands of ransom worth 70 million euros. They had seized cryptocurrencies that were worth $1.3 million. 

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