$590 million in ransomware-related payments were reported to US authorities in the first half of 2021 alone, more than the total reported over the entire past decade as cyber extortion has spread.
The US Treasury report said the figure is also 42% higher than the amount disclosed by financial institutions for the whole of 2020, and there are strong indications that the true cost could be in the billions.
“If current trends continue, the value of ransomware[reports]submitted in 2021 is expected to be higher than (…) that submitted in the previous 10 years combined,” the Treasury Financial Crime Enforcement Network said.
Extortion occurs by breaking into the network of a company or organization, encrypting its data, and then demanding a ransom, usually paid in cryptocurrency, in exchange for a digital key to restart the network.
Washington has sought to crack down on a sharp rise in attacks, including imposing the first sanctions against an online exchange where illegal operators swapped cryptocurrency for cash.
The Treasury said investigators found more than 150 online cryptocurrency wallets and, through their analysis, discovered approximately $5.2 billion in transactions potentially linked to ransom payments.
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