Ransomware: US financial institutions report substantial increases in payments to cybercriminals

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The Treasury Department’s Financial Crime Enforcement Network’s report stated that these data “show that ransomware poses an increasing threat to the U.S. financial sector, businesses, and the public”.

At the time of the report, the Biden administration was looking for ways to cut off the revenue sources of Russian-language ransomware organizations that had extorted millions of dollars from major U.S. companies. President Joe Biden asked Russian President Vladimir Putin in June to crack down on cybercriminals operating in Russia; US officials are watching whether Moscow will take any substantive action.

The Ministry of Finance data includes so-called “suspicious activity reports,” which require financial institutions to submit within 30 days of discovering suspected money laundering or fraud cases. They cover suspicious ransomware-related payments that banks and other businesses know of involving themselves or their customers.

The report states: “If current trends continue, it is expected that the value of SAR and ransomware-related transactions submitted in 2021 will be higher than the sum of SAR submitted in the past 10 years.”

The United States calls on Russia to take more measures to combat ransomware organizations, and the White House presides over a meeting with allies

The total value of suspicious activity reports related to ransomware submitted in the first six months of 2021 was US$590 million (some of which occurred in 2020), while the amount reported in 2020 was US$416 million. The reported increase in payments may be due to reports that ransomware attacks and the organization’s higher awareness of threats and detection tools.

Amy Chang, head of risk and response at online insurance company Resilience, told CNN that the Treasury Department’s report “emphasizes the prevalence of ransomware and how it affects all aspects of the US economy.”

She added that the report “provides valuable insights for cybersecurity practitioners, from threat hunting to data modeling to ransom payment considerations.”

After a series of ransomware attacks on critical U.S. infrastructure in recent months, the issue has become the top economic and national security priority of the Biden administration.

The White House convened virtual summits in 30 countries this week to try to find more effective ways to track and prosecute ransomware groups. Russia is clearly absent. The United States tried to pressure Moscow during bilateral talks to curb ransomware attacks.

The governor of Missouri threatened to take legal action against journalists who discovered the flaws in their social security numbers

At the same time, US agencies have been looking for other ways to slow down the speed of ransomware organizations. The Treasury Department imposed sanctions on a cryptocurrency exchange last month, and US officials accused the exchange of having business dealings with hackers behind eight types of ransomware.

U.S. officials discourage companies from paying ransoms because it may trigger more hacking attacks. But some companies say they have no choice to repay the scammers who held their systems hostage.

Treasury officials also issued updated guidelines to U.S. companies on how to avoid violating U.S. sanctions when paying ransoms.

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