The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has seized $3.6 billion in stolen cryptocurrency, making this the largest financial seizure in the DOJ’s history. The cryptocurrency is directly linked to the 2016 hack of Bifinex, cryptocurrency exchange owned and operated by iFinex Inc.
In a press release, the DOJ says two individuals were arrested for allegedly conspiring to launder 119,754 bitcoin stolen after a hacker breached Bitfinex’s systems and initiated more than 2,000 unauthorized transactions.
The two individuals, Ilya Lichtenstein, 34, and his wife, Heather Morgan, 31, both of New York, New York, employed numerous sophisticated laundering techniques, including using fictitious identities to set up online accounts; utilizing computer programs to automate transactions, a laundering technique that allows for many transactions to take place in a short period of time; depositing the stolen funds into accounts at a variety of virtual currency exchanges and darknet markets and then withdrawing the funds, which obfuscates the trail of the transaction history by breaking up the fund flow; converting bitcoin to other forms of virtual currency, including anonymity-enhanced virtual currency (AEC), in a practice known as “chain hopping”; and using U.S.-based business accounts to legitimize their banking activity.
Commenting on the news, Tom Kellermann, Head of Cybersecurity Strategy, VMware, says that it’s going to take an offensive mindset when it comes to combating cybercrime cartels. “This seizure highlights the Department’s move away from indictments, which are difficult in cyberspace, to the active disruption of the economies of scale in the Dark Web. The next priority should be to redeploy these funds to protect critical infrastructure from future cyberattacks. It’s not a matter of if, but when these attacks will occur, and we must put better cybersecurity structures into place.”
The investigation was led by IRS-CI Washington, D.C. Field Office’s Cyber Crimes Unit, the FBI’s Chicago Field Office, and HSI-New York. The Ansbach Police Department in Germany assisted in this investigation. “Criminals always leave tracks, and today’s case is a reminder that the FBI has the tools to follow the digital trail, wherever it may lead,” says Paul M. Abbate, FBI Deputy Director, and a recipient of Security’s Most Influential People in Security award. “Thanks to the persistent and dedicated work of our FBI Investigative teams and law enforcement partners, we’re able to uncover the source of even the most sophisticated schemes and bring justice to those who try to exploit the security of our financial infrastructure.”