Threat Management, Threat Management

DoJ announces new cyber initiatives, including new cryptocurrency unit

U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, right, speaks during a news conference with Attorney General Merrick Garland and other law enforcement officials at the Robert F. Kennedy Main Justice Building on Nov. 8, 2021, in Washington. A civil settlement could boost DoJ efforts to sue or fine contractors for cybersecurity violations, but experts say ...

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco announced a series of new Department of Justice cybercrime initiatives Thursday at the Munich Cyber Security Conference, including a new, centralized FBI unit to combat cryptocurrency-dependent crime.

Monaco announced a new Virtual Asset Exploitation Unit – a "nerve center" to offer "equipment, blockchain analysis, virtual assets, seizure and training to the rest of the FBI." Monaco went on to announce the first director of the DoJ unit the FBI team would work closest with – the DoJ's recently created National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team (NCET).

Eun Yong Choi, a long-time cybercrimes prosecutor will take hold of the NCET team already staffed with a dozen prosecutors. Monaco said the NCET unit contributed to last week's arrest of two alleged cryptocurrency launderers and seizure of $3.5 billion in assets. That success, said Monaco, should serve as a warning to cybercriminals and an invitation to potential victims.

"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," said Monaco.

In a statement the DoJ released in concert with Monaco's talk, Choi accepted the role and responsibility.

"I am excited to lead the NCET’s incredible and talented team of attorneys, and to get to work on this important priority for the department," said Choi.

Monaco said the DoJ would change some of its procedures to emphasize preventing cybercrime, even at the cost of jeopardizing criminal cases. For example, the department would prioritize notifying a victim to thwart a crime in process over keeping a low profile to avoid alerting the criminals they had been found out.

Monaco made two additional, international cybercrime announcements at the Munich conference. The first was an international virtual currency abuse initiative to coordinate the international investigation of cryptocurrency-related crime. The second was a cyber operations liaison to be embedded in Europe to "up the tempo of international operations against top tier cyber actors."

She further called for companies involved in the cryptocurrency market to better police themselves.

"We need you to root out cryptocurrency abuses." She said. "To those who do not, we will hold you accountable where we can."

Joe Uchill

Joe is a senior reporter at SC Weekly, focused on policy issues. He previously covered cybersecurity for Axios, The Hill and the Christian Science Monitor’s short-lived Passcode website.

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