US links $5.2 billion in Bitcoin transactions to ransomware

A new report from the Treasury ties the cryptocurrency to ransomware payments over a ten year period

The US Treasury has identified approximately $5.2 billion in outgoing Bitcoin transactions likely to be tied to the top 10 most commonly reported ransomware payments over a ten year period.

The Treasury’s Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) identified and analysed 177 convertible virtual currency (CVC) wallet addresses used for ransomware-related payments by analysing 2,184 Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) filed between 1 January 2011 and 30 June 2021, it said in a report.

Based on blockchain analysis of transactions with the 177 CVC wallet addresses, FinCEN identified around $5.2 billion in outgoing Bitcoin transactions that may have been tied to ransomware payments.

Linking the transactions to this year, FinCen found that between 1 January and 30 June 2021, the number of ransomware-related SARs filed monthly has grown rapidly, with 635 SARs filed and 458 transactions reported during the first half of the year. This is a 30% increase from the total 487 SARs filed for the entire 2020 year. For the first six months of this year, the total value of suspicious activity reported was $590 million, exceeding the $416 million reported the previous year. 

“FinCEN analysis of ransomware-related SARs filed during the first half of 2021 indicates that ransomware is an increasing threat to the US financial sector, businesses, and the public,” said the report.

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Although Bitcoin was the most common ransomware-related payment method in reported transactions, FinCEN found the mean average total monthly suspicious amount of ransomware transactions was $66.4 million and the median average was $45 million.

It identified 68 ransomware variants reported in SAR data for transactions, with the most commonly reported being REvil/Sodinokibi, Conti, DarkSide, Avaddon, and Phobos. It also found a number of money laundering typologies common among the variants, including threat actors requesting money in Anonymity-enhanced Cryptocurrencies (AECs) and avoiding reusing wallet addresses, “chain hopping” and cashing out at centralised exchanges, and using mixing services and decentralised exchanges to convert proceeds.

This comes after the US Department of the Treasury imposed sanctions on a virtual currency exchange in September over its alleged role in facilitating financial transactions for ransomware actors. Suex, the exchange, had allegedly facilitated transactions involving proceeds from at least eight ransomware variants.

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