Ransomware attacks in the US have been increasing since the end of 2020, especially in 2021 it is booming. This year, hackers hit numerous US companies in large-scale hacks. Such an attack on the pipeline operator Colonial Pipeline resulted in temporary bottlenecks in the fuel supply on the US east coast. Hackers also targeted an Iowa-based agricultural company, raising concerns about disruption to the Midwest’s grain harvest. Schools, insurance companies and police authorities have also suffered from these attacks.
Related reading | Questions remain as the FBI recovers colonial pipeline ransomware crypto funds
In response, the US Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), which is tasked with protecting the financial system from illegal use, published a financial trend analysis. FinCEN published the report on Friday, October 15, 2021.
The report analyzed the significant growth in ransomware payments in the first six months of 2021 and the relative difference from the previous year.
US ransomware attacks
US Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen recently stated, “Ransomware and cyber-attacks are sacrificing businesses large and small across America and are a direct threat to our economies.” According to the report, FinCEN’s analysis interprets the suspicious transaction reports filed in the first half of 2021 (SARs) indicate that this is an increasing threat to the US.
Between January 1 and June 30, 2021, 635 reports were filed and 458 transactions were reported. That was 30% more than the total of 487 reports for 2020 as a whole. The total value of suspected ransomware payments in the first half of 2021 was $ 590 million, more than the $ 416 million reported for 2020 as a whole.
Source: FinCEN Financial Trend Analysis
The U.S. Treasury Department said the average amount of reported ransomware transactions per month was $ 102.3 million in 2021. FinCEN identified Bitcoin (BTC) as the most common payment method in reported transactions. Approximately $ 5.2 billion in outbound BTC payments tied to the top 10 variants over the past three years. It found that the USD numbers cited in this analysis are based on the value of BTC at the time of the transactions.
BTC trading at over $60.7K | Source: BTCUSD on TradingView.com
If trends continue, hackers could make more of ransomware this year than they did in the last decade combined.
The US government’s answer
The US government is working to contain attacks by hackers. The Biden administration has made the government’s cybersecurity response a top priority after a series of attacks earlier this year that threatened US energy and food supplies.
Earlier this month, the Justice Department announced the creation of a national cryptocurrency enforcement team to track exchanges that accelerate criminal transactions such as ransomware requests.
Related reading | US reclaims millions of bitcoin for pipeline ransomware
In September, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Biden administration “is preparing a number of measures, including sanctions, to make it harder for hackers to use digital currencies.”
Also last month, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned the SUEX OTC, S.R.O. (SUEX) to facilitate financial transactions for ransomware actors. This action was the department’s first such move against a virtual currency exchange due to ransomware activities.
At the same time as the report was published, the Treasury Department published guidelines for virtual currencies. The guidelines state: “The virtual currency industry, including tech companies, file exchanges, administrators, miners, wallet providers and users, is playing an increasingly important role in preventing sanctioned individuals from exploiting virtual currency to evade sanctions and the US – Foreign policy and national security undermine interests. ”
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