The U.S. Treasury announced on Tuesday that it will impose sanctions against the Russian cryptocurrency exchange SUEX for its alleged role in laundering ransoms for cyberattacks — the first such action against a virtual currency exchange, and one that was executed with the help of the FBI.
SUEX is based in the Czech Republic but operates out of Russia, according to a blog post by TRM Labs.
Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo told reporters that the sanctions would be imposed, adding that SUEX had “facilitated transactions involving illicit proceeds for at least eight ransomware variants,” Fortune reported.
SUEX is a bit of a mystery, tweeted Journalist Eamon Javers, senior Washington correspondent for CNBC. “It has no known physical presence in the Czech Republic, where it is legally registered ‘and instead operates out of branch offices in Moscow and St. Petersburg, as well as other locales in and around Russia and in the Middle East.’”
“Exchanges like SUEX are critical to attackers’ ability to extract profits,” he added, pointing out that this was the first such action by the U. S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control against a virtual currency exchange.
The sanctions come at a time when President Joe Biden announced he wants to ban crypto for ransomware payments, CNBC reported.
The decision by U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen was prompted by a string of cyberattacks that crippled several industries and even threatened U.S. government agencies. The Treasury said ransomware payments totaled more than $400 million in 2020 alone, more than four times that of 2019.
Ransomware is a type of cyberattack that often shuts down access to key programs and demands payment, usually in a cryptocurrency, to unlock them, CNBC reported.
Most recently, HBCU Howard University was the victim of a ransomware attack and was forced to cancel classes as a result.
Howard reported on Sept. 6, that it was the target of a ransomware cyberattack on Sept. 3. Earlier this year, ransom software disabled the meat giant JBS SA. The company ultimately paid an $11 million ransom. Colonial Pipeline Co.’s gasoline flow was shut off on the U.S. East Coast due to a ransomware attack on May 7 that caused mass gas shortages until Colonial paid $5 million to the hackers.
The Treasury Department said that SUEX helped facilitate illegal activity “for their own illicit gains.”
Since its launch in 2018 as a venue for transferring digital currency and turning it into cash, SUEX has moved hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit digital coins, including more than $160 million in Bitcoin, according to crypto surveillance firm Chainalysis, Fortune reported.
“This exchange sounds like it was set up for the express purpose of laundering coins” D.R. Cameron @wonderfunk99 tweeted.
The U.S. Treasury Department alleged that SUEX “has facilitated transactions involving illicit proceeds from at least eight ransomware variants.” It also said that more than 40 percent of the company’s known transaction history is “associated with illicit actors.”
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