US Authorities Sanction Crypto Exchange for Allegedly Facilitating Ransomware Transactions

The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has included crypto over the counter (OTC) broker Suex, into its Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list, which consequently prohibits US people from engaging with the cryptocurrency company.

Suex Slammed With Designation Sanctions

Suex, which is registered in the Czech Republic but operates in Moscow, Russia, is alleged to have played a role in “facilitating financial transactions for ransomware actors.” According to a press release by the US Department of the Treasury, more than 40% of the company’s transaction volume is linked to addresses belonging to fraudulent operators.

Subsequently, OFAC, which manages the SDN list, designated the OTC broker, making it the first time a cryptocurrency exchange is slammed with designation sanctions. According to the Treasury Department,

“virtual currency exchanges such as SUEX are critical to the profitability of ransomware attacks, which help fund additional cybercriminal activity.”

Meanwhile, blockchain forensics firm Chainalysis, also stated that it has been investigating the OTC broker’s laundering activities for a while. In a blog post, the firm stated that Suex is a “nested service”, indicating that the crypto company used addresses from larger, well-established exchanges, to access their liquidity and trading pairs.

Chainalysis also revealed that Suex received more than $480 million worth of bitcoin since February, with $160 million received from ransomware attackers and $50 million in crypto transactions sent from addresses connected to the now-defunct illicit crypto exchange, BTC-e.

The OTC broker also serviced several ransomware operators including Ryuk, Conti, and Maze, revealing about $13 million from the malicious actors. Another $24 million came from crypto scam operators, while Suex received over $20 million majorly from Hydra Market and other dark markets. The transfers from BTC-e, however, happened after the company was shut down, with some transactions occurring in 2021.

US Government Committed to Tackling Ransomware

In addition to Suex making the SDN list, OFAC also included a list of crypto addresses, which had 14 bitcoin addresses, four ETH addresses, and seven USDT addresses. Following the designation of Suex, US institutions and persons are prohibited from engaging with the sanctioned company, to avoid sanctions or other enforcement action.

Also, the Treasury Department said that it would block all Suex properties within the country’s jurisdiction. OFAC also issued an updated advisory, which encourages companies to report ransomware attacks and cooperate with appropriate US law enforcement, while still discouraging victims from yielding to extortion demands or paying ransoms.

The US government continues to strengthen its fight against ransomware and cyberattacks, which have been a growing threat to American businesses. According to a statement from Janet Yellen, Secretary of the Treasury:

“As cybercriminals use increasingly sophisticated methods and technology, we are committed to using the full range of measures, to include sanctions and regulatory tools, to disrupt, deter, and prevent ransomware attacks.”

The Treasury Department stated that ransomware payments increased four-fold from 2019 to over $400 million in 2020. Following the attack on US companies such as Colonial Pipeline, and meat processor giant JBS, Anne Neuberger, the deputy national advisor in the Bide administration, announced the creation of a ransomware task force in July.

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