AUSTRAC releases first guides to thwart crypto crime, ransomware

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AUSTRAC releases first guides to thwart crypto crime, ransomware

Australia's financial crime watchdog AUSTRAC is working to address the increasing impact of cybercrime on businesses and consumers with the release of two new guides to help businesses stop ransomware attack payments and the criminal abuse of digital currencies.

AUSTRAC boss Nicole Rose said businesses needed to know how to distinguish between criminal activity and when customers used digital currencies for legitimate purposes, and that reporting suspicious activity to AUSTRAC was important.

“Financial service providers need to be alert to the signs of criminal use of digital currencies, including their use in ransomware attacks.”

Industry body Blockchain Australia’s boss Steve Vallas said "the use of digital currencies for criminal purposes has no place in our sector.”

“Open dialogue, proactive guidance and strong relationships between government and industry are necessary to ensure businesses can identify and report behaviour that puts Australians at risk of harm.”

“The development of resources, such as this guide, help ensure greater awareness of the risks associated with the sector are not an impediment to innovation and economic opportunity presented by this technology.”

The initiative was prompted by an increase in ransomware attacks and the appreciation of cryptocurrencies, the agency said in a statement today.  

“Digital currencies are increasing in value and acceptance…as the digital currency market continues to grow globally, criminals are increasingly using digital currencies to commit a range of serious crimes.”

“According to the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC), 500 ransomware attacks were reported in the 2020-21 financial year, an increase of nearly 15 percent from the previous year.”

Detecting and stopping ransomware payments has practical information and indicators to help businesses identify and report suspicious activity where someone could be the target of a ransomware payment. 

Preventing the criminal abuse of digital currencies has information to help businesses, including digital currency exchange providers, recognise and report digital currency-related crimes, such as money laundering, scams, or terrorism financing. 

AUSTRAC’s release of the guides comes on the back of several government initiatives to protect industries against ransomware, such as the Critical Infrastructure Bill. 

The bill gained royal assent at the beginning of the month, compelling companies across a broad range of industries, such as transport, data storage, and sewerage, to report attacks to the Australian Signals Directorate and empowering the spy agency to install a piece of software on a company’s system to help defend it. 

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