Ransomware Payments Become an Even Riskier Choice Amidst the Ever-Growing Sanctions List

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In February 2022, Executive Order 14024 highlighted that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine threatened not only Ukraine but also the national security and foreign policy of the United States. Pursuant to this executive order, and in the face of national security concerns, the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has instituted extensive sanctions, including both economic and trade sanctions. Also, in response to the national security concerns, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued a Shields Up notice, urging companies to bolster their cybersecurity to protect themselves against the threat of a cyberattack.

As the conflict between Russia and Ukraine continues, the threat of a cyberattack, specifically ransomware and NotPetya-style attacks, remains top of mind. However, as entities continue to bolster their cybersecurity and protect themselves against these attacks, they should be cognizant of the implications that OFAC sanctions may have in connection with such an attack.

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OFAC Issues Sanctions Compliance Guidance for Virtual Currencies

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In October, the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) published new guidance for the virtual currency industry focusing on compliance with the financial industry’s obligations related to U.S. economic sanctions.

OFAC administers and enforces economic sanctions against targeted and/or sanctioned foreign countries, geographic regions, entities, and individuals to further U.S. foreign policy and national security goals.

As noted in the new guidance, virtual currencies now playing an increasingly prominent role in the global economy. The growing relevance of virtual currency, both as an investment and as a payment method, brings greater exposure to sanctions risks. Specifically, there is an increased risk that a sanctioned entity or an entity in a jurisdiction subject to sanctions might use virtual currency as an alternative to fiat currency in an effort to avoid U.S. sanctions. As such, the OFAC guidance specifically targets technology companies, virtual currency exchanges, virtual currency administrators, virtual miners, digital currency wallet providers, and users.

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