The US Treasury has announced that it will sanction cryptocurrency exchange Chatex and its support network for allegedly facilitating transactions for ransomware operators.
In a press release on Monday, the Treasury added Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Chatex, as well as Izibits OU, Chatextech SIA and Hightrade Finance to its list of entities subject to US government sanctions. The ministry said Shatx has “direct relations” with the Czech and Russian company Suex OTC, which were sanctioned in September.
According to OFAC, Chatex has helped simplify transactions for ransomware groups, with more than half of the exchange’s transactions “involving illegal or high-risk activities such as darknet markets, high-risk exchanges, and ransomware.” The addition of the exchange to the sanctions list means that the authorities of Latvia and Estonia are suspending Chatextech’s activities and revoking the license of Izibits OU, respectively.
“Unprecedented virtual currency exchanges such as Chatex are essential to the profitability of ransomware operations, particularly through money laundering and the confiscation of proceeds of crime,” the department said. “The Department of the Treasury will continue to use all available powers to counter malicious cyber attacks, prevent criminal exploits, and deter further actions against the American people.”
In the same statement, OFAC alleged that Ukrainian national Yaroslav Vasinsky and Russian national Yevgeny Polyanin were involved in ransomware attacks against several US authorities, as well as many in the private sector. As part of Treasury actions, US residents are prohibited from doing business with Vasinsky, Polyanin, Chatex, or any of their affiliates, or else they may face enforcement or penalties.
The State Department has announced that it will offer a $10 million reward for information leading to the appointment of someone to a “key leadership position” in the Sodinokibi/REvil ransomware group. In addition, he will offer a $5 million reward that leads to the arrest or conviction of anyone attempting a massive ransomware attack.
About it: The Bitcoin Ledger as a Secret Weapon in the War on Ransomware
During a press conference on Monday, US Attorney Merrick Garland said the Justice Department in August indicted Vasinsky for his alleged role in hacking personal computers, as well as conspiracy to launder money, and demanding payment for ransomware attacks. According to the prosecutor, Polish authorities arrested Wassinski in October and is awaiting extradition to the United States. In addition, the Department of Justice announced a similar indictment against Polyanin after the seizure of $6.1 million in cryptocurrency in the 3,000 ransom attacks he was allegedly responsible for.
“For the second time in five months, we have announced the stripping of digital profits from ransomware spread by a transnational criminal group,” Garland said. “It won’t be the last time – the US government will continue to aggressively pursue the entire ransomware ecosystem and make the country more resilient to cyber threats.”
Under President Joe Biden, combating ransomware attacks on critical infrastructure of the United States has been a major challenge. In June, government officials seized more than $2 million in cryptocurrency used to pay ransoms following an attack on the Colonial pipeline system.