The Biden administration is examining cryptocurrency’s role in recent hacks that have disrupted important U.S. industries including healthcare, fuel and food, exploring new ways to track victims’ payouts to foreign ransomware gangs.
White House officials this week said they are pushing to better trace ransomware payments, which hackers demand to unlock companies’ data.
The move came after a cyberattack this weekend caused meat processor JBS SA to pause production at U.S. and Australian plants. That incident followed last month’s hacks of Colonial Pipeline Co. and Scripps Health in San Diego, showing how such extortion schemes can snarl the U.S. economy and disrupt daily life.
The White House didn’t respond to requests for details on its approach to tracking the transactions or whether additional regulation is in the works.
In a letter to business leaders Wednesday, Deputy National Security Adviser Anne Neuberger said U.S. officials are working with international partners on consistent policies for when to pay ransoms and how to trace them.
Hackers ask for ransoms in cryptocurrency because it is difficult to pursue across digital wallets and national borders. U.S. officials discourage companies from paying ransoms, but many do so when losing data would cripple their businesses. Paying hackers who are affiliated with sanctioned entities, however, risks penalties from the Treasury Department.