Senators Markey and Whitehouse, Reps. Lieu and Langevin Urge Biden Administration to Address the Role of Cryptocurrency in Ransomware Attacks

In 2020 alone, FBI received reports of 2,474 ransomware attacks involving losses of more than $29.1 million, a 20% increase in reported ransomware incidents and a 225% increase in ransom amounts demanded by hackers since 2019

 

Washington (October 8, 2021) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Congressman Ted Lieu (CA-33), and Congressman Jim Langevin (RI-02) today sent letters to the Department of Justice, the Department of the Treasury, the Department of State, and the Department of Homeland Security urging the agencies to pursue all options available to protect American communities and infrastructure from the growing threat of ransomware.

 

Ransomware attacks — which occur when a criminal entity uses malicious software to lock or encrypt a victim’s computer system or files and demands a ransom payment to unlock the system or retrieve the files — are an increasingly difficult, dangerous, and expensive problem for government, private corporations, and small businesses across the country. The proliferation of cryptocurrency has facilitated an explosive growth in ransomware attacks, largely by offering easy, fast, and difficult-to-trace methods for laundering illicit gains.

 

“We believe that increasing enforcement of existing money laundering and financial crimes statutes would play an important role in deterring ransomware attacks and facilitating the recovery of cryptocurrency paid to ransomware attackers,” write the lawmakers in their letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Secretary Janet Yellen, Secretary Antony Blinken, and Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. “We also recognize the practical and technological challenges involved in efforts to seize cryptocurrency ransoms. Many ransomware attacks originate in jurisdictions outside the reach of U.S. domestic law enforcement, requiring U.S. agencies to work with foreign partners and cryptocurrency exchanges in order to seize ransomware payments or other related assets.”

 

“More to the point, many threat actors reside in nations such as Russia, China, and North Korea, countries that have actively or tacitly supported ransomware attacks against the United States and interfered with U.S. efforts to expatriate cryptocurrency ransoms,” the lawmakers continued. “To address the growing threat of ransomware attacks, U.S. agencies must pursue a comprehensive enforcement approach involving both domestic and international partners.”

 

A copy of the letter can be found HERE.

 

In order to help understand how Congress can assist the Biden administration in addressing the role of cryptocurrency in facilitating ransomware attacks, the lawmakers also asked the agencies to respond to questions that include:

 

  • In what ways has the United States worked with partners within regional organizations and international organizations to attribute ransomware attacks and hold bad actors accountable?
  • How is the United States working with its close allies to develop norms and best practices around enforcement related to illicit financial transactions that utilize cryptocurrency?
  • How have your agencies coordinated with foreign counterparts to locate and repatriate cryptocurrency assets? For attacks implicating nations that have not signed a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty with the United States, how have your agencies pursued recovering cryptocurrency ransoms?
  • In the past five years, how many attempts have been made to seize cryptocurrency assets from ransomware attackers? What obstacles have your agencies faced when attempting to recover the full amount of cryptocurrency ransoms?
  • Would DOJ need specific statutory authority to direct asset forfeiture funds back into endpoint security and other cybersecurity defenses, or to provide assistance to victims?
  • What resources or authorities, if any, do your agencies need from Congress in order to better coordinate with partner nations on illicit activity facilitated through cryptocurrency exchanges or to seize ill-gotten virtual assets?

 

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