The U.S. Treasury Department will sanction cryptocurrency exchange Suex, for facilitating ransomware transactions, the department said Tuesday. The sanctions designation is a first against a virtual currency exchange.
"Ransomware and cyber-attacks are victimizing businesses large and small across America and are a direct threat to our economy," said Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. "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."
According to the department, ransomware attacks "are increasing in scale, sophistication, and frequency," and are targeting governments, businesses and individuals. Between 2019 and 2020, ransomware payments quadrupled to $400 million, the department said.
The harm of ransomware goes beyond the economic. "Those who seek to weaponize technology for personal gain" can also leak confidential information or shut down critical infrastructure at hospitals, the department said.
The Treasury views virtual currency exchanges as an underlying force enabling the facilitation of money laundering activities. While most virtual currency activity is legal, the department said, they can be used to circumvent sanctions and carry out other cybercrimes.
In the case of Suex, the department stated that the cryptocurrency exchange facilitated "illicit activities for their own illicit gains." After analysis, the Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Asset Control found that over 40% of Suex's transactions were associated with illicit actors.
The sanctions against Suex will prevent individuals or companies from engaging in transactions with the exchange. The sanctions are part of the government's larger counter-ransomware strategy, through which the Treasury plans to continue holding exchanges accountable for cybercrimes.