The Vostok tower, Russia’s highest building, is located in the heart of Moscow’s city center and serves as a hub for hackers, cybercriminals, and money launderers.
At least four organizations based in or operating in Vostok have been successfully linked to money laundering associated with ransomware activities, according to a report published by the Bloomberg news organization. Suex OTC, EggChange, and Buy-bitcoin.pro are the four companies in question.
Based on statistics from Chainalysis, Suex OTC has processed at least $160 million in Bitcoin from illegitimate and high-risk sources in the last three years, according to the data mentioned. Suex OTC had previously been subjected to fines for assisting ransomware gangs in the laundering of their cash.
EggChange is the subject of investigations in both the United States and Europe for potential money-laundering activities. According to reports, the Treasury Department declined to comment.
According to Chainalysis, the website Buy-bitcoin.pro has also processed thousands of dollars worth of ransomware money. A portion of these monies was used to execute transactions for Hydra, which is one of the largest darknet markets in the world—and the largest in Russia—and one of the largest in the world.
CashBank, the fourth and final of the four firms, was purportedly associated with accounts that had been identified by Binance as having “possible criminal actions,” according to media reports. For its part, Binance has spent the better part of the past year grappling with one regulatory issue following another.
Back in crypto crosshairs
In recent years, Russia has been the epicenter of a ransomware (and cryptocurrency) crisis, and this is not the first time this has happened.
Last year, it was discovered that Russian agents utilized bitcoin worth $1 million to interfere in the 2018 midterm elections in the United States. As a result, many Russian people, including a member of Ukraine’s parliament, and a suspected Russian spy were sanctioned.
The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the United States Treasury Department sanctioned 16 organizations and an additional 16 individuals for interfering in the 2020 presidential election last year.
Since 2013, one company, Secondeye Solution (SES), which provides purchasers with forged identification documents, has collected more than $2.5 million in cryptocurrency in the form of bitcoin.
U.S. foreign policy pivots to ransomware
One of the most significant foreign policy decisions made by the Biden administration has been the administration’s attention on ransomware—as well as the national security threat posed by cryptocurrencies.
Last month, the administration issued a study warning that digital assets such as cryptocurrencies might undermine the United States’ sanctions framework, which is considered a cornerstone of American foreign policy.
“These technologies offer malign actors opportunities to hold and transfer funds outside the collar-based financial system. They also empower our adversaries seeking to build new financial and payment systems intended to diminish the dollar’s global role,” the report read.
However, the administration’s concerns about cryptocurrency and ransomware go back much longer than the Treasury Department’s study. After a series of high-profile attacks on companies such as Colonial Pipeline and JBS, the administration decided to take immediate action against the criminal side of the meat processing sector.
The Justice Department declared following both attacks that ransomware will be given the same priority as terrorism in the Department’s priority ranking system. Additionally, the administration established a ransomware task force last summer that was tasked with the specific job of combatting cyberattacks and tracking down bitcoin ransom payments.
What’s more, rumours have long circulated that the government is contemplating an executive order focusing on cryptocurrency, which conjecture believes might further empower President Biden to confront what he perceives to be a significant national security danger.