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Ransomware hacks prioritized as terrorism

On Behalf of | Jun 30, 2021 | Computer Crime |

The U.S. Department of Justice is giving a second look at ransomware attacks and the spiraling effect they can have on the U.S. economy. After the recent Colonial Pipeline hack that led to a spike in oil prices, fuel shortages and panic buying across the Southeast, the DOJ plans to elevate ransomware attacks to the same priority as terrorism. This means that any information about ransomware investigations will be centrally coordinated with a newly created task forced based in Washington.

The Colonial Pipeline hack

Authorities have determined that Colonial Pipeline, one of the largest privately-owned pipeline operators in the United States that provides nearly half of the East Coast’s fuel, was hit in early May by a cyber-criminal group that operates from Russia called DarkSide. In the cyberattack, the group penetrated and locked the company’s systems, then demanded a ransom in bitcoins.

Colonial Pipeline decided to pay almost $5 million to regain access and get operations back up and running again. Because the company quickly notified the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California was able to secure a warrant that led to the recovery of much of the ransom, which was paid in bitcoins. The DOJ credited the early notification with the success of the seizure.

The growing threat of ransomware

The DOJ guidance on future investigations has been informed by the recent attack affecting Colonial as an example of the growing threat of digital extortion to the nation. The necessity of centralizing internal tracking as a way of developing a comprehensive picture of national and economic security threats will allow the DOJ, through a central task force, to make vital connections across national and global investigations.

Constitutional considerations in cyber-crime cases

The U.S. government has a constitutional duty to disclose evidence to the defendant that is material to guilt or punishment. The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 16, includes mandatory discovery provisions that guarantee that the defendant will have the necessary information to advise plea bargaining or strategy. In cybercrime cases, defendants may request access to online information, including online forums for government agents, which can reveal actions by agents that can later prove exculpatory.

For individuals who are facing criminal charges of computer or internet crimes, it is essential to have the knowledge and experience of a Michigan-based criminal defense lawyer to assist in building an aggressive strategy that will defend your rights and preserve your freedom.