U.S. Treasury Department & Israel Form Joint Venture to Combat Cyber Crime

The U.S. and Israel join forces to combat the growing threat of ransomware attacks that often leave fiscal destruction in their wake for the affected victims.

The U.S. Treasury Department is joining forces with Israel to combat the threat of ransomware. The U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary met with two Israeli officials, the Minister of Finance and the National Cyber Directorate Director-General, to formalize the joint venture launch. The venture seeks to oversee “the development of risk mitigation tools for law enforcement to enhance the efficiency of analytical and enforcement work of the public sector” and finance issues.

A virtual conference was recently held at the White House to deliberate on the globally growing threat of ransomware. The panel included representatives from Israel.

In July 2021, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Justice launched a website to counteract the threat of ransomware. The website’s name is StopRansomware.gov and is the first entity to pool the resources of all federal government agencies, including instructions on reporting and new threat alerts.

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is where a hacker encrypts user files and demands a ransom for the files to be decrypted. Sometimes, the ransomware is denominated in cryptocurrency. The role of cryptocurrencies in ransomware is a growing concern. Often, the anonymity afforded by cryptocurrencies is a driving factor for their utility in ransomware scenarios. They operate in a space that lies outside the reach of federal regulators and corrupt safe havens who turn a blind eye.  

“Bitcoin accounted for 98% of ransomware payments made in the first quarter of 2019,” according to Emsisoft, an anti-malware software provider. According to the Ransomware Task Force Report, $350M of ransomware demands was paid in cryptocurrencies in 2020.

John Davis, Vice-President of the public sector at Palo Alto Networks, believes that governments should mandate that cryptocurrency exchanges, the crypto kiosk, and the over-the-counter trading desk comply with existing anti-money laundering or financing terrorism laws.

Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies are the latest additions to previous ransom payment platforms, such as PayPal and Western Union. With Paypal and Western Union, the hackers have to liaise with a bank, which leaves digital breadcrumbs for the authorities to follow. 

According to an Emsisoft blog post, bitcoin and blockchain technologies have set the stage for easy-to-use, instant, and partially anonymous payment systems that make it challenging to tie transactions down to hackers. The flexibility in the flow of money in a cryptocurrency transaction makes it easy for hackers to cover their tracks throughout the duration of cybercriminal activity.

Even though bitcoin remains a popular choice for ransomware attacks, some gangs hide behind privacy coins like Monero. As mentioned in previous BeInCrypto articles, bitcoin’s public blockchain is a ledger that that is globally visible, where the history of all transactions is recorded, and the addresses and balances of the wallets of individuals transacting on the network are visible. Coins like Monero, Zcash, and Dash provide an additional layer of anonymity. According to the Monero white paper,  “privacy and anonymity” are core tenets of this digital currency, achieved via an elaborate signature scheme that blocks the participants in a transaction from being known. Tracking tools used against ransomware criminals demanding bitcoin are less effective when Monero is the cybercriminals’ cryptocurrency. 

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