The U.S. Treasury Department on Tuesday took the unprecedented step of sanctioning a cryptocurrency exchange, alleging Suex OTX helped launder money for ransomware attackers.
According to Treasury, Suex facilitated transactions involving illicit proceeds from at least eight ransomware variants and more than 40% of its transaction history is associated with illicit actors.
Under an Obama administration executive order, the government can sanction “entities determined to be responsible for or complicit in malicious cyber-enabled activities.” The sanctions against Suex are the first against a virtual currency exchange.
“Virtual currency exchanges such as Suex are critical to the profitability of ransomware attacks, which help fund additional cybercriminal activity. Treasury will continue to disrupt and hold accountable these entities to reduce the incentive for cybercriminals to continue to conduct these attacks,” the department said.
“Some virtual currency exchanges are exploited by malicious actors, but others, as is the case with Suex, facilitate illicit activities for their own illicit gains,” it added.
Under the sanctions, Suex will be barred from access to all U.S. property, and crypto exchanges must ensure they do not facilitate or engage in transactions with Suex or risk censure from the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.
The Biden administration also announced Tuesday that it plans a fresh campaign against ransomware attacks and urged companies to report extortion attempts and better protect themselves from them.
“The actions amount to another foray by the administration after ransomware attacks earlier this year disabled the meat giant JBS SA, which eventually paid an $11 million ransom, paralyzed Colonial Pipeline Co.’s flow of gasoline on the U.S. East Coast, and imperiled health care providers in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic,” Fortune reported.
Suex, which is incorporated in the Czech Republic and advertises its services to Russian users, offers trading in bitcoin, ethereum, tether, and other crypto-assets.
“By imposing sanctions on a crypto-asset exchange business for facilitating money laundering for ransomware attackers, the U.S. government is also sending a powerful signal: it will not tolerate crypto-asset exchanges becoming conduits for the financial flows of ransomware attackers,” the blockchain analytics firm Elliptic said in a blog post.