The unit will conduct analysis to monitor funds linked to illicit activity
On Thursday, February 17, 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that the FBI is forming a new specialised team dedicated to tackling growing crypto-crimes.
The new unit within the FBI’s Cyber Division called the Virtual Asset Exploration Unit (VAXU), will include crypto security experts to conduct blockchain analysis to track, seize, and freeze digital funds associated with illicit activities. It will also develop its own crypto tools to protect itself from future cyber attacks.
DOJ Ramps up Crypto Surveillance
The creation of the units came after the Department of Justice charged a New York couple in February for laundering Bitcoin linked to a 2016 hack of Bitfinex. The U.S. Department of Justice has seized $3.6B in cryptocurrency from an online drug marketplace. The major coup was the DOJ’s first since launching its own Crypto Unit at the end of last December, comprising about a dozen AML and Cyber Crime experts.
As part of an announcement at the Munich Cyber Security Conference in Germany, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monyon Monaco announced that seasoned cybercrime prosecutor Eun Young Choi will lead the Justice Department’s NCET, effective February 17, 2022.
Monaco also said that a global virtual currency initiative would be set up to facilitate joint global law enforcment collaboration and improve techniques and capabilities in cryptocurrency investigations.
Before the formation of NCET (National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center), a government task force seized $2 million worth of digital assets used as ransom after a cyber-attack on U.S. Colonial Pipeline system that affected computers controlling the infrastructure.
Both teams will work together to investigate crimes involving cryptocurrencies, including ransomware and digital extortion. “Cryptocurrency criminals only work if they’re paid, so we need to stop them from making money,” Monaco said. “We can’t just go after the virtual currency; we have to go after the people behind the scams.”
According to blockchain analysis firm Chainalysis Inc., criminals hold $11 billion worth of illicit funds at the end of 2021. The FBI has been investigating over 100 different ransomware attacks and targeting cyber criminals who have caused victims significant losses, according to Monaco.
What Is A Crypto Crime Fighting Unit?
In addition, the FBI will use artificial intelligence to detect suspicious activity and identify potential threats.
“This is not going to be easy. But it’s our job to make sure this technology doesn’t become another tool for criminals to hide their tracks,” she added.
The FBI will also collaborate with other federal agencies such as Homeland Security Investigations, Internal Revenue Service, and the Secret Service, as well as state and local authorities, to fight crime.
Law Enforcement Agencies Will Be Able To Work Together
The FBI will also seek to create a legal framework for virtual currencies by developing policies and guidelines for how these technologies are regulated.
“It’s important that we don’t get ahead of ourselves,” Monaco warned. “There are still many unanswered questions about what regulation should look like.”
The Justice Department has already taken steps to regulate initial coin offerings (ICOs) and token sales, which raised more than $1 billion in 2017 alone. In January, the SEC issued new rules requiring ICO issuers to register their tokens under securities laws.
The agency also released guidance clarifying that certain activities related to cryptoassets constitute the offer or sale of an investment contract, which means companies offering those services must comply with registration requirements under the Securities Act of 1933.
The SEC has also recently cracked down on fraudulent ICOs, issuing subpoenas to two firms accused of selling unregistered securities.
A number of states have also passed legislation regulating ICOs.