The US Treasury issued its first-ever sanctions against a crypto exchange for aiding ransomware attacks

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen speaks during an event at the US Department of the Treasury on September 15, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen

  • The US Treasury Department will sanction Suex for its role in laundering financial transactions for ransomware actors.
  • This marks the first time the agency has ever blacklisted a cryptocurrency exchange.
  • Analysis of transactions of Suex showed that over 40% was associated with illicit actors, the department said.
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The US Department of the Treasury on Tuesday revealed it will sanction Russian-owned Suex for its role in laundering financial transactions for ransomware actors, marking the first time the agency has ever blacklisted a cryptocurrency exchange.

An analysis of transactions of Suex showed that over 40% were associated with illicit actors, according to a department announcement, adding that the crypto exchange also facilitated illicit funds from at least eight ransomware variants.

Tuesday’s designation would generally ban all US citizens from engaging in transactions with Suex, a private company based in the Czech Republic.

The agency’s Office of Foreign Assets Control warned players in the space that it “has imposed, and will continue to impose, sanctions on these actors and others who materially assist, sponsor, or provide financial, material, or technological support for these activities.”

The move came after a series of cyberattacks paralyzed several US businesses such as Colonial Pipeline and major meat processor JBS earlier this year, prompting the Biden Administration to ramp up its efforts to prevent future incidents.

“Demand for ransomware payments has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic as cyber actors target online systems that US persons rely on to continue conducting business,” Treasury said. “The US government strongly discourages all private companies and citizens from paying ransom or extortion demands and recommends focusing on strengthening defensive and resilience measures.”

Ransomware payments reached over $400 million in 2020 – more than four times their level compared to the previous year, Deputy National Security Adviser for Cyber and Emerging Technology Anne Neuberger said.

Data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation show a 21% increase in reported ransomware cases from 2019 to 2020.

Ransomware is a specific type of attack in which hackers block access to a computer system or data until their demands are met. Typically, these are payments are requested in cryptocurrencies, due to their perceived anonymity.

“Ransomware and cyber-attacks are victimizing businesses large and small across America and are a direct threat to our economy. We will continue to crack down on malicious actors,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement Tuesday.

Yellen, a former Federal Reserve chair, has been known to crack down against cryptocurrencies, citing how their use in laundering the profits of online drug traffickers and financing terrorism.