FBI Says Crypto Ransomware Payments are a ‘Huge, Huge Challenge’

Lisa H. Shelton
FBI Says Crypto Payments Are a 'Huge Challenge' Amid Rise in Ransomware  Attacks - Decrypt

Over the past few years, ransomware has increasingly become a common form of cybercrime. Essentially, ransomware is malware that employs encryption to hold a victim’s information ransom. Because the user or organization’s critical data is encrypted, the attacker then demands a ransom to regain access. 

But that’s not the worst part. Add in crypto ransomware payments and the situation becomes incredibly complex and troublesome. According to the FBI, crypto payments are a “huge challenge” amid the rise in ransomware attacks. So much so that the assistant director of the FBI’s Cyber Division, Bryan Vorndran, referred to crypto as “the only game in town” for cybercrimnals.

“Crypt is the primary currency, the primary vehicle, to facilitate extortion payments.” He went on to add that despite “some opportunities” offered by blockchain technology, “the ability to pay crypto, script it immediately into a tumbler, whether through an extortion payment or theft, is a huge, huge challenge for us.”

What is a tumbler? A tumbler, also known as a “mixer” is a piece of technology that conceals the source of crypto, which can be used to clean any ill-gotten funds. In this case, tumblers are used to hide the source of Bitcoin in ransomware cases.

The Challenge for Law Enforcement

By design, bitcoin is highly transparent. Each and every transaction is openly viewable, allowing law enforcement and other investigating organizations to follow money easily by tracing the final destinations of funds. The challenge comes in when cybercriminals utilize cryptocurrency tumbling services. They create a much more convoluted path for investigators and law enforcement to follow.

How does it work? First, the user sends cryptocurrency to the tumbler’s address. The crypto is then mixed with other transactions and distributed across many wallets – all belonging to the tumbling service. Once complete, the clean bitcoin is sent back to the original or a new user. 

According to estimates by analytics firm Chainalysis. Conti, in pure dollar figures, ransomware attacks gathered roughly $602 million in 2021. Over recent months, the U.S. government has prioritized tracking illicit crypto activity following ransomware attacks on critical peices of American infrastructure last year. This DoJ’s announcement came shortly after the attacks on Colonial Pipeline and meat processing giant JBS.

Even though these attacks and schemes are now on law enforcement and other investigating organizations’ radar, it will be some time before these criminals feel worried. For now, it’s up to organizations themselves to be proactive and mitigate the risk of ransomware attacks.

Blair Thomas has been a music producer, bouncer, screenwriter and for over a decade has been the proud Co-Founder of eMerchantBroker, the highest rated high risk merchant account processor in the country. He has climbed in the Himalayas, survived a hurricane, and lived on a gold mine in the Yukon. He currently calls Thailand his home with a lifetime collection of his favorite books.

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