FBI is launching team to address crypto exploitation: US Deputy Attorney General

U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco has announced that the Federal Bureau of Investigation will be increasing efforts to address enforcement in the digital asset space with the formation of a new team.

Speaking at the Munich Cyber Security Conference on Thursday, Monaco said the FBI was creating a “specialized team dedicated to cryptocurrency” called the Virtual Asset Exploitation Unit. The unit will include crypto experts and as well have the means for blockchain analysis that may eventually be used to track and seize illicit funds.

The formation of the FBI team comes more than four months after Monaco announced the launch of the Justice Department’s National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team. The two will be working together to pursue actors who “abuse cryptocurrency to commit crime.”

“Ransomware and digital extortion, like many other crimes fueled by cryptocurrency, only work if the bad guys get paid, which means we have to bust their business model,” said Monaco. “The currency might be virtual, but the message to companies is concrete: if you report to us, we can follow the money and not only help you, but hopefully prevent the next victim.”

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Lisa Monaco speaking at the Munich Cyber Security Conference on Thursday

The FBI is currently investigating 100 ransomware variants which could result in the potential seizure of cryptocurrency by U.S. authorities. In addition to beefing up efforts to combat cybercrime at home, Monaco said the Justice Department would be launching an International Virtual Currency Initiative allowing for “more joint international law enforcement operations” to track funds through the blockchain and encourage responsible regulation on digital assets.

Prior to the creation of the Justice Department’s crypto enforcement team in October, a task force seized more than $2 million in crypto used to pay for ransom following an attack on the United States’ Colonial Pipeline system. In its largest seizure to date, the team took control of $3.6 billion in Bitcoin (BTC) and ordered the arrest of two individuals connected to the 2016 hack of the Bitfinex exchange.

Related: Making sense of the Bitfinex Bitcoin billions

In addition to the new FBI crypto team, Monaco announced former her former senior counsel, Eun Young Choi, will head the National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team as its director. Choi said she aimed to have the team work to combat the illicit use of crypto by criminals as the space grows and changes.