WASHINGTON –(NBC): U.S. law enforcement officials said Monday they were able to recover $2.3 million in bitcoin paid to a criminal cybergroup involved in the crippling ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline.
“Today we turned the tables on DarkSide,” Lisa Monaco, Department of Justice deputy attorney general, said during a press briefing, adding that the money was seized via a court order.
Alongside Monaco, FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate explained that agents were able to identify a virtual currency wallet that the DarkSide hackers used to collect payment from Colonial Pipeline.
“Using law enforcement authority, victim funds were seized from that wallet, preventing Dark Side actors from using them,” Abbate said.
The FBI declined to say precisely how it accessed the bitcoin wallet, citing the need to protect tradecraft.
But Elvis Chan, assistant special agent in charge, told reporters that even foreign-based cybercriminals like DarkSide typically use American infrastructure at some point in the course of a crime. When they do, it gives the FBI a legal window to recover the funds.
DarkSide operates as a “ransomware as a service” business model, which means its hackers develop and market ransomware hacking tools, and sell them to other criminal “affiliates” who then carry out attacks.
It is still unclear who DarkSide’s affiliates were in the Colonial Pipeline attack.
Last month DarkSide launched a sweeping ransomware assault on Colonial Pipeline. The cyberattack forced the company to shut down approximately 5,500 miles of American fuel pipeline, leading to a disruption of nearly half of the East Coast fuel supply and causing gasoline shortages in the Southeast.
Ransomware attacks involve malware that encrypts files on a device or network that results in the system becoming inoperable. Criminals behind these types of cyberattacks typically demand a ransom in exchange for the release of data.
Colonial Pipeline paid nearly $5 million ransom to the hackers, one source familiar with the situation confirmed to CNBC. It was not immediately clear when the transaction took place.