White House ransomware summit calls for virtual asset crackdown, without mentioning cryptocurrency

Inconsistent regulation means crooks can sneak cryptos through cracks – pretty much everyone wants them filled


The 30-nation gabfest convened under the auspices of the US National Security Council’s Counter-Ransomware Initiative has ended with agreement that increased regulation of virtual assets is required to curb the digital coins' allure to criminals.

A joint statement issued after the event's conclusion opens with anodyne observations about the need for good infosec, international collaboration, and the benefits of private sector engagement.

The first mention of concrete action comes in a section of the statement entitled "Countering Illicit Finance" – and while the document never mentions cryptocurrencies, it's plain they're a target.

"Taking action to disrupt the ransomware business model requires concerted efforts to address illicit finance risks posed by all value transfer systems, including virtual assets, the primary instrument criminals use for ransomware payments and subsequent money laundering."

As incident after incident of ransomware infection requires payments in cryptocurrency, there is little reason to doubt this is a crytpocurrency crackdown.

The statement lays plenty of the blame for the ransomware/cryptocurrency nexus at the feet of nations that haven't followed standards set down by the Financial Action Task Force – the global money-laundering and terrorist-financing watchdog.

Spotty implementation of the Task Force's rules "creates an environment permissive to jurisdictional arbitrage by malicious actors seeking platforms to move illicit proceeds without being subject to appropriate anti-money laundering (AML) and other obligations," the statement reads, pulling few punches albeit diplomatically.

The summit attendees emerged "dedicated to enhancing our efforts to disrupt the ransomware business model and associated money-laundering activities, including through ensuring our national AML frameworks effectively identify and mitigate risks associated with virtual asset service providers and related activities.

"We will enhance the capacity of our national authorities, to include regulators, financial intelligence units, and law enforcement to regulate, supervise, investigate, and take action against virtual asset exploitation with appropriate protections for privacy, and recognizing that specific actions may vary based on domestic contexts."

Such actions are already under way: ahead of the summit Australia announced a ransomware policy under which the nation promised to amend its criminal statutes to "strengthen law enforcement's ability to intercept cybercriminals' financial transactions in cryptocurrency, including the ability to obtain information on, and monitor, digital wallets."

Other initiatives promised in the statement include diplomatic efforts to build capacity that helps to disrupt ransomware operations, and work "to eliminate safe havens for the operators who conduct such disruptive and destabilizing operations". ®

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