An April 16, 2019 photo shows the Department of Justice in Washington, DC.
Department of Justice in Washington, DC.

  • The US Justice Department is launching two crypto-focused initiatives that will focus on reporting cybercrimes.
  • The move comes after the US suffered a slew of ransomware attacks earlier this year.
  • Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco also touched on cryptocurrency exchanges needing to be regulated.
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The US Justice Department is tightening its surveillance of the digital asset space by launching two cryptocurrency-focused initiatives that will cover cybercrime reporting.

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco unveiled the new efforts during a virtual speech at the Aspen Cyber Summit Wednesday.

One of the initiatives is called the “National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team,” in which anti-money laundering and cybersecurity experts will tackle cybercrime and money laundering, she said.

“We want to strengthen our capacity to dismantle the financeable ecosystem that enables these criminal actors to flourish and to profit from what they’re doing,” Monaco said. “We need to centralize and build on the expertise we already have.”

The other initiative is called the “Civil Cyber Fraud Initiative,” which involves the use of civil enforcement tools to pursue firms receiving federal funds that fail to follow the required cybersecurity standards.

“For too long, companies have chosen silence under the mistaken belief that it’s less risky to hide a breach than to bring it forward and report it,” Monaco said. “That changes today.”

The twin initiatives of the department come as cyberattacks have risen sharply in the past year, posing significant security threats and impacting critical infrastructure from military facilities to medical centers.

Cybercriminals often encrypt crucial files of businesses and hold the data for ransom until they are paid an amount in crypto. Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin have been the favored payment method of hackers to skirt law enforcement, as ownership can be difficult to trace.

These methods were on display during the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack in April, which led to gas shortages and outages up and down the East Coast. A similar attack soon followed, with JBS, the world’s largest meat producer, forced to shut down operations at major plants.

Monaco also took a stab at cryptocurrency exchanges, many of which are also under heightened scrutiny from the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

“Cryptocurrency exchanges want to be the banks of the future, well, we need to make sure that folks can have confidence when they’re using these systems and we need to be poised to root out abuse,” Monaco said. “The point is to protect consumers.”

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