In the wake of disruptive cyberattacks that caused gas shortages and threatened meat shortages in the U.S. this year, the Treasury Department is preparing sanctions and other measures to make it more difficult for hackers to receive ransoms in the form of cryptocurrency, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Russian hacking syndicate DarkSide made off with $4.4 million in Bitcoin after shutting down the Colonial Pipeline for days, sending gas prices soaring and causing panic buying in the eastern U.S. The Justice Department recovered just over half that amount, approximately $2.3 million, but preventing cybercriminals from extracting a ransom in the first place is obviously far preferable.
Among the moves the Treasury is looking to impose is penalizing companies that pay ransoms in digital currency and offering guidance as to alternatives. The Treasury is seeking to avoid restricting the entire cryptocurrency infrastructure, instead targeting specific bad actors.
The moves come amid congressional calls for regulation of the cryptocurrency space and a rise in cyberattacks fueled by the lure of anonymous payments.
“The anonymity provided by cryptocurrency has helped facilitate its use by criminals in a myriad of ways,” New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan said in a letter to several federal agencies. “These uses include drug sales over the dark web, payments for ransomware attacks, tax evasion, financing for terrorism and organized crime, money laundering, and more.”
The city of Peterborough in Hassan’s home state lost $2.3 million in a ransomware attack. The hackers converted their ransom into cryptocurrency after receiving payment, rendering the funds unrecoverable.
Organizations large and small are on the lookout for vulnerabilities in their own systems and should be taking steps to prevent cyberattacks that can cause costly shutdowns and ransoms.
“By implementing best practices, and consistently and correctly following them, and by leveraging advanced security tools that incorporate cloud-based threat intelligence services, companies can greatly reduce the chance that they’ll ever become victims of such attacks,” Untangle CTO Timur Kovalev says.