U.S. Reportedly Recovers Millions in Cryptocurrency Paid to Colonial Pipeline Hackers

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"The sophisticated use of technology to hold businesses and even whole cities hostage for profit is decidedly a 21st-century challenge, but the old adage "follow the money" still applies", Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said during a news conference. "We will continue to target the entire ransomware ecosystem to disrupt and deter these attacks".

In an aerial view, fuel holding tanks are seen at Colonial Pipeline's Dorsey Junction Station in Washington on May 13, 2021.

According to the firm, the pipeline carries 45% of the East Coast's supply of diesel, petrol and jet fuel. In an affidavit (pdf) supporting the warrant application, authorities said they reviewed bitcoin's public ledger and pinpointed the transfer of the ransom to a specific address.

The operation to recover the cryptocurrency from the Russia-based hacker group is the first undertaken by a specialized ransomware task force created by the Biden administration Justice Department, and reflects what US officials say is an increasingly aggressive approach to deal with a ransomware threat that in the last month has targeted critical industries around the world.

While the DOJ was able to recover more than 80 percent of the Bitcoin Colonial paid to DarkSide, it was only worth slightly more than half of the full ransom as of Monday. due to the fall in Bitcoin's value in recent weeks.

"We deprived a cybercriminal enterprise of the object of their activity", said FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate. "For financially motivated cybercriminals, especially those presumably located overseas, cutting off access to revenue is one of the most impactful consequences we can impose".

For years, US officials have urged companies to be more forthcoming when they are hacked, both so the government can help them recover and so federal experts can analyze the attacks and warn other potential victims. As she added, this was the first operation of a special team formed to fight online fraudsters.

He said investigators found more than 90 companies victimized by DarkSide, a Russia-linked cybercrime group blamed in the pipeline attack.

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Victims worldwide paid at least $412 million in ransom past year, according to Chainalysis, a firm that tracks cryptocurrency payments.

Putin has denied knowing about or being involved in ransomware attacks.In another episode, Brazilian-based JBS SA, the world's largest meat processor, restarted beef production last week after a ransomware attack forced it to halt operations across the globe.

Colonial told the Federal Bureau of Investigation that it paid DarkSide approximately 75 bitcoin in ransom.

It's, however, unclear how the password was obtained, Charles Carmakal, senior vice president at the cybersecurity firm Mandiant, was quoted as saying to the publication. "Law enforcement agencies need to broaden their approach beyond building cases against criminals who may be beyond the grasp of the law".

The Wall Street Journal had previously reported that USA investigators had linked the ransomware attack to a criminal enterprise known as DarkSide, believed to be based in Eastern Europe.

"The president's message will be that responsible states do not harbor ransomware criminals, and responsible countries take decisive action against these ransomware networks", White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters last week.

On Monday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the topic would be up for discussion during an upcoming G7 meeting.

The U.S. government might have seized that second amount as well but not announced it yet, Robinson said.

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