FBI says recovered USD 2.3mn from ransom paid to colonial pipeline hackers

Washington: US law enforcement agencies seized a stash of bitcoins worth about USD 2.3 million believed to be the majority of the ransom proceeds from the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack, the FBI announced.

“FBI San Francisco led a US government operation to seize USD 2.3 million in cryptocurrency paid to the ransomware extortionists Darkside, which had targeted Colonial Pipeline resulting in critical infrastructure being taken out of operation,” the agency said via Twitter on Monday.

The US Justice Department confirmed the seizure of 63.7 bitcoins currently valued at approximately USD 2.3 million. The ransom payment amounted to 75 bitcoins currently worth USD 4.3 million, according to the seizure warrant released on Monday.

US Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said the sum found and recaptured represents “the majority of the ransom Colonial paid to the Darkside network in the wake of the last month’s ransomware attack.”

Colonial Pipeline CEO Joseph Blount admitted earlier – prior to the bitcoin depreciation – that the company paid USD 4.4 million in a cryptocurrency to hackers allegedly based in Russia. The ransomware attack caused a brief shutdown of the key pipeline transporting fuel to the US East Coast.

Monaco hailed the recovery as the first operational success of the Justice Department’s recently established Ransomware and Digital Extortion Task Force.

“Darkside and its affiliates have been digitally stalking US companies for the better part of last year and indiscriminately attacking victims that include key players in our nation’s critical infrastructure,” she said.

“Today we turned the tables on Darkside by going after the entire ecosystem that fuels ransomware and digital extortion attacks including criminal proceeds in a form of digital currency. We will continue to use all of our tools and all of our resources to increase the costs and the consequences of ransomware attacks and other cyber-enabled attacks,” Monaco added.

The Justice Department said its operatives were able to identify approximately 63.7 bitcoins as the proceeds of the victim’s ransom payment and trace their transfer to a specific address, for which the FBI had the “private key,” the rough equivalent of a long password needed to access the bitcoin digital wallet.