WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Gary Peters, Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, announced he is conducting an investigation into the role cryptocurrencies continue to play in emboldening and incentivizing cybercriminals to commit ransomware attacks that pose an increasing threat to United States national security.
“The increased use of cryptocurrencies as the preferred method of payment in ransomware attacks shows that cybercriminals believe they can commit attacks without being held accountable. These attacks can have a devastating effect on Americans’ lives and livelihoods, and we must do everything we can to deter them – including understanding what additional regulations, actions and reforms are needed to adequately tackle complicated cybersecurity threats,” said Senator Peters. “My investigation will help us better understand how cryptocurrency can embolden cybercriminals, and identify possible policy changes that would help disrupt the incentive cryptocurrencies provide for criminal organizations and foreign adversaries to target critical public and private sector systems.”
Cryptocurrencies have enabled cybercriminals to launch ransomware attacks demanding ransom payments, which are difficult for law enforcement to trace. Ransomware attacks in 2020 increased 150% over the previous year, and more than $412 million was paid to cybercriminals in ransom through cryptocurrencies during that same time period, according to experts. This year, digital currencies have allowed criminal organizations to collect ransom on everything from attacks on a major oil pipeline to meatpacking centers across the nation. This month, a ransomware attack paralyzed the networks of nearly 200 companies and hackers demanded nearly $70 million in cryptocurrency to unscramble the affected networks.
Peters’ investigation will examine the rise in ransomware attacks, how cryptocurrency emboldens cybercriminals and how federal regulators and lawmakers can work to disrupt the incentive to commit crimes in exchange for cryptocurrencies. The investigation will also look into current oversight efforts and regulations related to virtual currencies, as well as make recommendations into how lawmakers and federal agencies can work to ensure all Americans can safely benefit from access to cryptocurrencies while ensuring they are not providing an incentive for criminal organizations and foreign adversaries to continue assaulting American networks and communities across the nation.
As Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Peters has led efforts to bolster our nation’s cybersecurity defenses. Peters convened a hearing with the Chief Executive Officer of Colonial Pipeline to examine a recent ransomware attack against the company. A provision authored by Peters to increase our government’s ability to quickly respond to cyber-attacks passed the Senate as part of a larger package to boost American competitiveness on the global stage. As a part of the American Rescue Plan Act, Peters helped secure nearly $2 billion to modernize and secure information systems critical to the federal pandemic response. In April, the Senate also passed his provision to help protect our nation’s public water infrastructure technology systems, following recent cyber-attacks on water utilities. Two pieces of legislation authored by Peters to enhance cybersecurity guidance for K-12 educational institutions across the country and secure federal information technology supply chains against cybersecurity threats and other vulnerabilities have advanced in the Senate.