FBI forms Virtual Asset Exploitation unit to pursue cyber criminals

In a significant development the U.S. Justice Department announced, it has selected an experienced computer crimes prosecutor to lead its new national cryptocurrency enforcement team and said the FBI is launching a unit for blockchain analysis and virtual asset seizure.

The announcement which sees the creation of FBI’s “virtual asset exploitation” unit, comes in the wake of the Justice Department’s largest-ever financial seizure earlier this month wherein it charged a married couple from New York with allegedly laundering bitcoins, now valued at more than $4.5 billion, which were stolen in a 2016 hack of the digital currency exchange Bitfinex.

Under US President Joe Biden US regulators have ratcheted up their scrutiny of the crypto industry in the wake of a series of high-profile cyberattacks in 2021 which saw ransomware groups making ransom demands in bitcoin.

In quite a few of those cases, the FBI has been able to track down and even recover some of the ransom amounts paid.

During a speech at the Munich Cyber Security Conference in Germany, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco stated, Eun Young Choi, a prosecutor who led the case against a Russian hacker who helped steal information worth more than 80 million from customers of JPMorgan & Chase Co, will lead the department’s cryptocurrency enforcement team.

According to Choi’s LinkedIn profile, she has served as Monaco’s senior counsel, and has worked for nearly a decade as a cybercrime coordinator and assistant U.S. attorney in New York.

“We are issuing a clear warning to criminals who use cryptocurrency to fuel their schemes,” said Monaco. “We also call on all companies dealing with cryptocurrency – we need you to root out cryptocurrency abuses. To those who do not, we will hold you accountable where we can.”

Monaco also announced the creation of a new international virtual currency initiative saying the FBI will aggressively pursue cyber security threats, even at the risk of tipping off cybercriminals and jeopardizing potential charges. “Moving forward, prosecutors, agents, and analysts will now assess – at each stage of a cyber investigation – whether to use disruptive actions against cyber threats, even if they might otherwise tip the cybercriminals off and jeopardize the potential for charges and apprehension,” she said.

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