June 15, 2021

The FBI’s seizing one bitcoin wallet won’t stop ransomware — but it’s a start

The FBI’s surprise announcement Monday that it had seized some of the ransom that Colonial Pipeline paid to criminal hackers came as a double shock.

On one hand, it was major news that the U.S. government had flexed its cybersecurity muscles on behalf of the owner and operator of the country’s largest fuel pipeline, taking over a bitcoin account and marking the first public recovery of funds ever from a known ransomware gang. 

On the other hand, it raised a question: Why hadn’t the U.S. done this before?

Ransomware has been a pervasive and ongoing problem for years, but one that had resulted in little action from authorities. And while recovering some of the ransom marked a new front for the U.S., it also hints at the relatively limited options to deter hackers.

Philip Reiner, the CEO of the Institute for Security and Technology, a San Francisco think tank that produced a seminal report on policies to fight ransomware, praised the FBI’s move as important, but said it’s hard to assume…

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