Justice Department announces 'Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team' to tackle money laundering and ransomware attacks

·2-min read
ransomware
Government employees greeted with ransomware attack notices are often unprepared, new data shows. Frank Rumpenhorst/Getty
  • The National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team was announced Wednesday.

  • The unit will operate under the supervision of Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr.

  • The White House is reportedly considering a number of actions targeting misuse of digital currencies.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

The Department of Justice has formed a new unit to combat "criminal misuses of cryptocurrency," a move that comes after hackers earlier pocketed millions of dollars in bitcoin after an attack that paralyzed the largest fuel pipeline in the United States.

Dubbed the "National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team," the new unit will investigate and prosecute crimes such as money laundering and the use of digital currencies like bitcoin in ransomware attacks. According to data from Temple University, there were nearly 400 such attacks in the US in 2020 alone, extorting millions of dollars from hospitals and local governments. In such incidents, hackers typically encrypt the victim's data and demand payment to release it.

The goal with the new unit is to "strengthen our capacity to dismantle the financial entities that enable criminal actors to flourish - and quite frankly to profit - from abusing cryptocurrency platforms," Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco said Wednesday.

The attack on Colonial Pipeline this past May was reportedly carried out by a criminal group that has made over $90 million in similar operations.

The new enforcement team will aim to deter and disrepute such attacks, "as well as to recover the illicit proceeds of those crimes whenever possible," the department said in a statement. It will also focus on the use of cryptocurrencies in the illicit drug trade and human trafficking.

In September, The Wall Street Journal reported that the White House was "preparing an array of actions, including sanctions, to make it harder for hackers to use digital currency."

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