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October 8, 2020

08 October 2020

Office of Foreign Assets Control: Making or Facilitating Ransomware Payments May Violate U.S. Sanctions

On October 1, 2020, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) published an advisory that highlights the risk of potential U.S. sanctions law violations if U.S. individuals and businesses comply with ransomware payment demands.1

Ransomware attacks use malware, often injected through phishing schemes, to encrypt a victim’s data files or programs, followed by a ransom demand by the threat actor that offers the decryption key in exchange for payment. Payment is often demanded in bitcoin, and thus third-party services are often used to make such payments. Increasingly, ransomware attacks not only lock data up but steal data from the victim and threaten to publish sensitive files belonging to victims. According to OFAC, ransomware attacks have been increasing over the last two years and are a special risk during the COVID-19 pandemic, with cybercriminals targeting not only large corporations but also small to medium enterprises, hospitals, schools, and local government agencies.2

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