US senators urge stricter crypto regulation after a flood of ransomware attacks

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Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) on January 30, 2020 and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) on February 3, 2020 both in taken in Washington, DC.

Two US senators called for stricter cryptocurrency regulation after a flood of ransomware attacks that plagued the country in the past months.

Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told NBC Meet the Press on Sunday that regulators need to scrutinize the cryptocurrency loopholes that help criminals carry 0ut cyberattacks.

“There was some good things coming out of distributed ledger technology, but we are seeing now some of the dark underbelly,” Warner said. “If a company is paying, if there’s not some transparency of that payment, the bad guys will simply find another way to hide it.”

The senator said while there has been some progress when it comes to bipartisan legislation, the debate about cryptocurrencies and ransomware is “just starting.”

In May, the Colonial Pipeline paid DarkSide Ransomware a $5 million ransom to restore services, Bloomberg reported. The transaction was said to be untraceable.

The following month, JBS, the largest meat supplier in the US, revealed it was hit by a cyberattack that affected some of its systems. Whether there was a payment of ransom or not remains unclear.

Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, also a member of the Intelligence Committee, said regulators need to demand more transparency when it comes to attacks like these to protect the American financial system.

“Nobody wanted to report that they had been hacked. That was a fight we’ve been having now for almost a decade,” he told NBC Meet the Press. But “the only way you can begin to get on top of this is to know how pervasive the problem is.”

He continued: “We have a lot of cash requirements in our country, but we haven’t figured out in the country or in the world how to trace cryptocurrency.”

“There ought to be more transparency if a company does pay, so we can go after the bad guys,” Warner said. “Right now what’s happening around ransomware, not only are the companies often not reporting that they are attacked, but they’re not reporting the ransomware payments.”

The Biden administration is reportedly looking at how to increase oversight of the cryptocurrency market to protect retail investors, sources told The Washington Post. The administration is also analyzing potential gaps that may be used to finance illicit activities, sources said.

US Treasury secretary Janet Yellen has been critical of cryptocurrencies in the past, calling out their misuse, which she described in February as “a growing problem.”

“I see the promise of these new technologies,” the former Federal Reserve chief said. “But I also see the reality: cryptocurrencies have been used to launder the profits of online drug traffickers; they’ve been a tool to finance terrorism.”

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GOP Sen. Roy Blunt says the US should ‘treat Russia like it’s virtually a criminal enterprise’ amid cyberattacks

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Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri)

  • GOP Sen. Roy Blunt on Sunday said the US should treat Russia as a “criminal enterprise.”
  • “They harbor criminals, they don’t appreciate the rule of law or any kind of level of personal freedom,” he said.
  • His comments follow recent cyberattacks in the US.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Sen. Roy Blunt said Sunday that the United States should treat Russia as a “criminal enterprise” following recent cyberattacks in the US.

Blunt, a Republican from Missouri, made the comments during an appearance on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” when asked by moderator Chuck Todd about how the US should respond to Russian aggression.

“Remember, 2016, as late as early 2017, we had cyber defense capabilities, but we didn’t have the authority – the president had never given the authority – for cyber offense,” he said. “And so when we did push back, we pushed back pretty hard. In 2018, it stopped.

“I think to some extent, Chuck, you really have to treat Russia like it’s virtually a criminal enterprise,” Blunt, who earlier this year announced his intent to retire from the Senate at the end of his term, added. “You know, they harbor criminals, they, they don’t appreciate the rule of law or any kind of level of personal freedom. And I do think we have to push back. When there’s no, no penalty, there’s no sanctions – hard to find who’s doing it.”

The White House last week said it believed that Russian criminals were likely responsible for a cyberattack on the world’s largest meat producer, JBS.

The Russian government has denied being linked to recent cyberattacks in the US, including the May attack on Colonial Pipeline by ransom group DarkSide, which caused gasoline shortages and price hikes on the East Coast.

Hackers also infiltrated New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority in April, The New York Times first reported, though the group behind the hack reportedly has links to the Chinese government. The hackers did little damage and did not access train controls, according to MTA officials.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, also a Republican, on Sunday made similar remarks about Russia and the recent attacks on the US cyberinfrastructure.

“Our critical infrastructure is very exposed and we need to harden it but more than anything else, we need to go on offense. You can only play defense so long,” Graham said during an appearance on “Full Court Press with Greta Van Susteren.”

“It’s time for the Russians to pay a price here because none of this would happen without their looking the other way or actively encouraging it,” he continued.

Biden will take his first foreign trip as US president this month, where he will meet with world leaders from across the globe, including a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 16.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published last week, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the agency was investigating 100 different types of ransomware and said many of them linked back to Russia.

“If the Russian government wants to show that it’s serious about this issue, there’s a lot of room for them to demonstrate some real progress that we’re not seeing right now,” Wray told the Wall Street Journal.

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