The US Federal Bureau of Investigation is launching a new unit dedicated to tracking cryptocurrency crimes and ransomware profits.
Assistant United States Attorney General Lisa Monaco announced the formation of the Virtual Assets Exploitation Team (VAXU) during a speech at the Munich Cybersecurity Conference this week, saying the unit will help the U.S. government keep pace with “threat actors who exploit innovations as quickly as the market produces them.
This includes “the explosion of ransomware and the abuse of cryptocurrency,” Monaco added, noting that the FBI is currently tracking more than 100 different variants of ransomware. Chainalysis reports that scammers erased more than $7.7 billion in cryptocurrency from victims globally in 2021, an 80% increase from the previous year.
The FBI’s VAXU unit will combine cryptocurrency experts, blockchain analysis, and virtual asset seizure in one place to conduct investigations and provide training to the rest of the FBI. The specialized unit will be part of the National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team (NCET), a division of the US Department of Justice created in late 2021 to investigate the criminal use of digital assets, with a particular focus on virtual cryptocurrency exchanges. and other technologies that enable the misuse of cryptocurrency or facilitate criminal activity.
“Ransomware and digital extortion, like many other cryptocurrency-fueled crimes, only work if the bad guys get paid, which means we need to break their business model,” Monaco said. “Currency may be virtual, but the message to businesses is real: if you let us know, we can track the money and not only help you, but hopefully prevent the next victim.”
Monaco also announced this week that Eun Young Choi, a federal prosecutor experienced in the prosecution of cybercriminals, has been appointed as the first director of NCET.
“The NCET will play a central role in ensuring that as the technology surrounding digital assets develops and evolves, the department in turn accelerates and expands its efforts to combat their illicit misuse by criminals of all kinds,” said said Choi.
The announcement comes just weeks after the DOJ seized more than 94,000 bitcoins, currently valued at $3.6 billion, believed to have been stolen in the 2016 hack of crypto exchange Bitfinex, marking the “highest major financial seizure ever made” by the department.