On October 15, the U.S. Treasury Department announced additional steps to help the virtual currency industry combat ransomware and prevent exploitation by illicit actors. The guidance builds upon recent “whole-of-government” actions focused on confronting “criminal networks and virtual currency exchanges responsible for laundering ransoms, encouraging improved cyber security across the private sector, and increasing incident and ransomware payment reporting to U.S. government agencies, including both Treasury and law enforcement.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The newest industry-specific guidance—part of the Biden administration’s efforts to counter ransomware threats—outlines sanctions compliance best practices tailored to the unique risks associated with this space. According to Treasury, there is a “need for a collaborative approach to counter ransomware attacks, including public-private partnerships and close relationships with international partners.”

The same day, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) released new data analyzing ransomware trends in Bank Secrecy Act reporting filed between January 2021 and June 2021. The report follows FinCEN’s government-wide priorities for anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism priorities released in July (covered by InfoBytes here). Issued pursuant to the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020, the report flags “ransomware as a particularly acute cybercrime concern,” and states that in the first half of 2021, FinCEN identified $590 million in ransomware-related suspicious activity reports (SARs)—an amount exceeding the entirety of the value report in 2020 ($416 million). If this trends continues, FinCEN warns that ransomware-related SARs submitted in 2021 will have a higher transaction value than similar SARs filed in the previous 10 years combined. FinCEN attributes this uptick in activity to several factors, including an increasing overall prevalence of ransomware-related incidents, improved detection and incident reporting, and an increased awareness of reporting obligations and willingness to report by financial institutions.

In conjunction with the “growing prevalence of virtual currency as a payment method,” Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued sanctions compliance guidance for companies in the virtual currency industry, including technology companies, exchangers, administrators, miners, wallet providers, and financial institutions. OFAC warned that “sanctions compliance obligations apply equally to transactions involving virtual currencies and those involving traditional fiat currencies,” and that participants “are responsible for ensuring that they do not engage, directly or indirectly, in transactions prohibited by OFAC sanctions, such as dealings with blocked persons or property, or engaging in prohibited trade- or investment-related transactions.” Among other things, the guidance will assist participants on ways to evaluate risks and build a risk-based sanctions compliance program. OFAC also updated related FAQs 559 and 646.