WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Justice Department has tapped a seasoned computer crimes prosecutor to lead its new national cryptocurrency enforcement team and announced on Thursday that the FBI is launching a unit for blockchain analysis and virtual asset seizure.
The creation of the FBI's "virtual asset exploitation" unit comes after the Justice Department's largest-ever financial seizure earlier this month. It charged a married New York couple with allegedly laundering bitcoins now valued at over $4.5 billion that were stolen in the 2016 hack of the digital currency exchange Bitfinex.
U.S. regulators under President Joe Biden have been ratcheting up their scrutiny of the crypto industry in the wake of a series of high-profile cyberattacks last year on the largest U.S. fuel pipeline network and the world's largest beef supplier. Ransomware groups often demand their fees in bitcoin.
In some of those cases, the FBI has been able to track down and recover some of the ransom.
Cryptocurrencies rely on blockchain technology, a database shared across a network of computers, in which records are difficult to change once added.
In a speech at the Munich Cyber Security Conference in Germany, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco announced that Eun Young Choi, a prosecutor who led the case against a Russian hacker who helped steal information about more than 80 million JPMorgan & Chase Co customers, will lead the department's cryptocurrency enforcement team.
Choi, who most recently served as Monaco's senior counsel, worked for nearly a decade as a cybercrime coordinator and assistant U.S. attorney in New York, according to her LinkedIn profile. the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York.
"We are issuing a clear warning to criminals who use cryptocurrency to fuel their schemes," Monaco said.
"We also call on all companies dealing with cryptocurrency - we need you to root out cryptocurrency abuses. To those who do not, we will hold you accountable where we can."
Monaco also announced the creation of a new international virtual currency initiative, and said the department will be aggressive about disrupting cyber threats, even at the risk of tipping off cybercriminals and jeopardizing potential charges.
"Moving forward, prosecutors, agents, and analysts will now assess - at each stage of a cyber investigation - whether to use disruptive actions against cyber threats, even if they might otherwise tip the cybercriminals off and jeopardize the potential for charges and apprehension," she said.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Chris Prentice in Washington; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Richard Chang)