by Margaret Young Levi and Kathie McDonald-McClure
Cyber attacks using ransomware have been on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ransomware, whether it encrypts computer files or locks an entire hard drive, can block access to an organization’s essential operating data, unless the organization can obtain a decryption key. In many if not most cases, a decryption key is only available by paying a ransom to the cybercriminal.
On October 1, 2020, the U.S. Department of the Treasury Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence announced the issuance of two advisories aimed at fighting ransomware scams and attacks. In making the announcement, Deputy Secretary Justin G. Muzinich said:
Cybercriminals have deployed ransomware attacks against our schools, hospitals, and businesses of all sizes. Treasury will continue to use its powerful tools to counter these malicious cyber actors and their facilitators.
The advisories also warned that those who facilitate ransomware payments may be sanctioned for violating Treasury law and regulations. However, Treasury’s efforts to crack down on ransomware in this way places its victims in the crossfire. Ransomware victims may feel they have no choice but to pay the ransom if this is the only way to regain access to essential data, which is often the case when the most recent data back-up is also attacked and a decryption key is not available by other means. Moreover, paying the ransom may be a matter of public safety. For example, ransomware that locks healthcare providers out of patient electronic medical records, attacks computers that support life-saving medical devices, or that shuts down computers connected to automobiles and other consumer devices, could pose a risk of injury or even death.
Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued an advisory, entitled “Advisory on Ransomware and the Use of the Financial System to Facilitate Ransom Payments” (Treasury Advisory). The Treasury Advisory is intended to educate financial institutions and others involved in cyber incident response measures about ransomware trends and indicators of ransomware as well as related money laundering activities. More specifically, the Treasury Advisory addresses the following areas of concern:CONTINUE READING