Last month, Colonial Pipeline Co. paid over a ransom of $4.4mil in bitcoin to an affiliate of a Russia-linked cybercrime group, known as DarkSide. This took place after a highly publicised hack and infiltration of their systems via a leaked password. 

The hack itself forced Colonial to shut down its entire gasoline pipeline, something not done in its 57-year history of operation. The 5-day closure had a massive knock-on effect as supply dried up along the East Coast, causing long queues at stations, and gas prices to spike. 

But on Monday 8 June 2021, the United States Justice Department announced that it had seized 63.7 bitcoin, worth approximately $23mil at the time, of the ransom paid by Colonial Pipeline. 

While it remains a bit of a mystery as to how the FBI managed to obtain the private key necessary to unlock the cryptocurrency wallet address, the recovery of the funds proves - once again - how bitcoin transactions are not as anonymous and outside of the ‘long arm of the law’ as many still believe. 

Authorities have become more sophisticated in their ability to ‘follow the money’ when it comes to digital transactions, harnessing the characteristics of the public blockchain ledger and advanced tracing tools to track down criminal behaviour and transactions. 

 

Although still rare, seizures of bitcoin involved in criminal activity have happened before, leading to successful prosecutions, and it’s promising to see the developments.

With a long history of being touted as a currency of criminals, bitcoin is, in fact, the most honest form of money available today. And if leveraged, and embraced by authorities, in particular, provides society with the ability to crack down and expose crimes against humanity

Until this is realised, it’s crucial for corporations - and individuals alike - to be aware of the risks associated with our increasingly digital world and ensure they’re practising the best in security measures to keep safe online.

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