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By Christopher Bing and Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON, Oct 6 (Reuters) - U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco on Wednesday unveiled two new Justice Department enforcement initiatives aimed at targeting cryptocurrencies and government contractors who fail to report cyber breaches.
Monaco announced on Wednesday, during a virtual speech at the Aspen Cyber Summit, the launch of the National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team, whose goal will be to "strengthen" the Justice Department's ability to disable financial markets that allow cybercriminals to "flourish."
The group will include a mix of anti-money laundering and cybersecurity experts.
"Cryptocurrency exchanges want to be the banks of the future, well we need to make sure that folks can have confidence when they're using these systems and we need to be poised to root out abuse," Monaco said. "The point is to protect consumers."
Cybercriminals that attack U.S. companies with ransomware, a type of malware that encrypts systems and demands payment, are typically paid in cryptocurrency. The hackers often use a mix of different cryptocurrency services to accept and transfer these payments, helping hide them from law enforcement.
Monaco also announced the creation of a civil cyber fraud initiative, which will "use civil enforcement tools to pursue companies, those who are government contractors, who receive federal funds, when they fail to follow recommended cybersecurity standards."
"For too long, companies have chosen silence under the mistaken belief that its less risky to hide a breach than to bring it forward and report it. That changes today," Monaco said.
The announcements come after several high profile cyberattacks earlier this year against U.S. companies and government agencies.
Cybercriminals attacked a major U.S. pipeline operator, causing localized gas shortages along the U.S. East Coast in May. The incident led to new cybersecurity rules for pipeline owners in July.
(Reporting by Chris Bing; Writing by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Mark Porter, Kirsten Donovan)