On Tuesday, September 21, the United States Department of Treasury announced a set of actions to address the ever-growing number of ransomware attacks.
These actions advance the US Government’s broader counter-ransomware strategy. It emphasizes “the need for a collaborative approach to counter ransomware attacks, including partnership between the public and private sector and close relationships with international partners.”
The announced actions aim to:
- Disrupt criminal networks and virtual currency exchanges responsible for laundering ransoms,
- Encourage improved cyber security across the private sector, and
- Increase incident and ransomware payment reporting to U.S. government agencies.
Ransomware Payments Reached Over $400 Million in 2020
The US Treasury press release highlighted the Department’s intent to crack down on malicious actors. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said the Department is “committed to using the full range of measures, to include sanctions and regulatory tools, to disrupt, deter, and prevent ransomware attacks.”
The press release adds that ransomware attacks are “increasing in scale, sophistication, and frequency, victimizing governments, individuals, and private companies around the world.”
Last year, ransomware payments exceeded $400 million, over four times the amount paid in 2019. Furthermore, the U.S. government says that these payments represent “just a fraction of the economic harm caused by cyber-attacks.”
Apart from the payments, disruptions in critical sectors and leakage of confidential information can cause serious harm. The US government is on high alert after ransomware attacks on critical sectors such as healthcare and education.
US President Joseph “Joe” Biden then directed two key government agencies to investigate the hack and coordinate outreach to victims.
Crackdown on Virtual Currency Exchanges
The US Treasury highlighted the role played by virtual currency exchanges in facilitating “sanctions evasion, ransomware schemes, and other cybercrimes.”
It notes that, while most activity is lawful, virtual currencies can be used for illegal activities through peer-to-peer transactions, mixers, and exchanges. It adds that while some exchanges are exploited by criminals, others may knowingly facilitate malicious activity.
The virtual currency industry plays a crucial role in enforcing anti-money laundering rules and countering financial terrorism. It also helps implement appropriate sanction controls that prevent malicious actors and other criminals from undermining US foreign policy and national security interests.
“Treasury will continue to use its authorities against malicious cyber actors in concert with other U.S. departments and agencies, as well as our foreign partners, to disrupt financial nodes tied to ransomware payments and cyber-attacks,” the Department added.
If you’re interested in learning more about ransomware attacks and what you can do to protect yourself, check out our resource here.