FBI to Form New Digital Assets Unit with Focus on Cryptocurrency

On Thursday, the U.S. Justice Department appointed a veteran computer crimes prosecutor to lead its new national cryptocurrency enforcement team. The DOJ also announced the formation of a new FBI cryptocurrency unit that will focus on virtual asset seizure and blockchain analysis.

U.S. regulators have been ratcheting up their scrutiny of the crypto industry, citing a series of high-profile ransomware attacks in recent years. The department made note of a series of high-profile cyberattacks last year on the largest U.S. fuel pipeline network, which caused meat processing plants to temporarily shut down. JBS, the largest beef supplier in the world, ultimately paid the ransomware hackers who breached its computer networks about $11 million in cryptocurrency.

In a speech at the Munich Cyber Security Conference in Germany, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco announced that Eun Young Choi will be the first director of the National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team. Choi led the case against a Russian hacker who helped steal information about more than 80 million JPMorgan & Chase Co customers and most recently served as Monaco’s senior counsel. For nearly a decade before that, Choi worked as a cybercrime coordinator and assistant U.S. attorney in New York.

“The department has been at the forefront of investigating and prosecuting crimes involving digital currencies since their inception,” Choi said. “The NCET will play a pivotal role in ensuring that as the technology surrounding digital assets grows and evolves, the department, in turn, accelerates and expands its efforts to combat their illicit abuse by criminals of all kinds.”

Monaco also announced the formation of a new FBI “digital exploitations” unit consisting of experts who will provide “analysis, support, and training” to the rest of the bureau on crimes involving digital assets. The FBI cryptocurrency unit is expected to coordinate with various state, federal, and international law enforcement agencies.

“We are issuing a clear warning to criminals who use cryptocurrency to fuel their schemes,” Monaco said. “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.”

The Assistant U.S. Attorney General also announced the creation of a new international virtual currency initiative and said the department will be aggressive about disrupting cyber threats. “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,” Monaco said.

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