U.S. law enforcement officials said that they were able to recover $2.3 million in Bitcoin paid to the criminal cyber hackers, “Darkside,” who were responsible for the crippling ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline last month.
Lisa Monaco, Deputy Attorney General at the U.S. Justice Department stated, “Today we turned the tables on “DarkSide.” The Attorney General also added that the government seized the money by court order.
The Justice Department is expected to announce details of the operation led by the FBI with the cooperation of the Colonial Pipeline operator. The ransom recovery is a rare outcome for a company that has fallen victim to a debilitating cyberattack in the booming criminal business of ransomware.
Last month, the criminal cybergroup known as DarkSide launched a ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline. The cyberattack forced the company to shut down approximately 5,500 miles of American fuel pipeline, leading to the interruption of fuel supply to nearly half of the East Coast and causing major gas shortages.
Joseph Blount, CEO of Colonial Pipeline Co. told The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) in an interview last month that the company complied with the $4.4 million ransom demand because officials didn’t know the extent of the intrusion by hackers and how long it would take to restore operations. Although, behind the scenes, the company had taken early steps to notify the FBI and followed instructions that helped investigators track the payment to a cryptocurrency wallet used by the hackers, believed to be based in Russia.
What you need to know
Ransomware attacks involve a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid. The FBI has previously warned victims of ransomware attacks that paying a ransom could encourage further malicious activity.
After the attack by DarkSide, President Joe Biden told reporters that the U.S. did not currently have intelligence linking the group’s ransomware attack to the Russian government. Although, the assault is believed to have originated from a criminal organization in Russia. President Joe Biden said on May 10, “So far there is no evidence from our intelligence people that Russia is involved although there is evidence that the actor’s ransomware is in Russia, they have some responsibility to deal with this,”
He added that he would discuss the situation with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two leaders are slated to meet in Geneva on June 16. But so far, The Kremlin has denied claims that it has launched cyberattacks against the United States.
The Biden administration is putting pressure on the private sector to shore up its defences against ransomware. Anne Neuberger, deputy national security advisor for cyber and emerging technology, said in a memo on June 2, “All organizations must recognize that no company is safe from being targeted by ransomware, regardless of size or location.”
She also added, “To understand your risk, business executives should immediately convene their leadership teams to discuss the ransomware threat and review corporate security posture and business continuity plans to ensure you have the ability to continue or quickly restore operations.”
The Biden administration has zeroed in on the less regulated architecture of cryptocurrency payments which allows for greater anonymity as it beefs up its efforts to disrupt the growing and increasingly destructive ransomware attacks. Anne Neuberger stated in an interview with CNN that, “The misuse of cryptocurrency is a massive enabler here. That’s the way folks get the money out of it. On the rise of anonymity and enhancing cryptocurrencies, the rise of mixer services that essentially launder funds.”
Alex Stamos, former Facebook chief security officer and co-founder of Krebs Stamos Group, suggested that the country may need to make cryptocurrencies illegal in the U.S. He stated, “In the Bitcoin era, laundering money is something that any nerd can do. You don’t need a big organized crime apparatus anymore. The only way we’re going to be able to strike back against that as an entire society is by making it illegal … I do think we have to outlaw payments.”