The US Treasury Department announced Tuesday it imposed sanctions on the SUEX cryptocurrency exchange for its alleged role in laundering ransomware attacks.
The Treasury Department said the move is a first against a virtual currency exchange for complicit financial services, adding that the department’s actions are focused on disrupting criminal networks and virtual currency exchanges responsible for laundering ransoms.
“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.
“As cyber criminals use increasingly sophisticated methods and technology, we are committed to using the full range of measures, to include sanctions and regulatory tools, to disrupt, deter, and prevent ransomware attacks,” she added.
The agency said that ransomware attacks are growing in scale, sophistication and frequency, victimizing governments, individuals and private companies around the world.
It noted that ransomware payments reached more than $400 million last year – more than four times than in 2019.
“The US government estimates that these payments represent just a fraction of the economic harm caused by cyber-attacks, but they underscore the objectives of those who seek to weaponize technology for personal gain,” the statement said.
“In addition to the millions of dollars paid in ransoms and recovery, the disruption to critical sectors, including financial services, healthcare, and energy, as well as the exposure of confidential information, can cause severe damage,” it added.
Ransomware is a cyberattack in which actors gain access and shut down key programs of the victims, obtaining personal data and then demand payment in return, mostly in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, to unlock them.