The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Thursday named Eun Young Choi to serve as the first director of its National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team (NCET).
Choi, who has worked for the DOJ as a prosecutor for nearly a decade, most recently served as senior counsel to Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco.
“The NCET will serve as the focal point for the department’s efforts to tackle the growth of crime” in the areas of digital assets and distributed ledger technologies, said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division in a press release. “Eun Young is an accomplished leader on cyber and cryptocurrency issues, and I am pleased that she will continue her service as the NCET’s inaugural director, spearheading the department’s efforts in this area.”
The DOJ announced the creation of the NCET in October, saying the new team would “tackle complex investigations and prosecutions of criminal misuses of cryptocurrency.” Members of the team will be drawn from several DOJ divisions, including the Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, and Criminal Division employees drawn from U.S. attorneys’ offices across the country.
Choi’s career with the DOJ has also included time as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, where she specialized in prosecuting digital fraud and money laundering crimes.
Cryptocurrency has become the asset of choice for cybercriminals, and the NCET will focus much of its attention on pursuing investigations into “virtual currency exchanges, mixing and tumbling services, infrastructure providers, and other entities that are enabling the misuse of cryptocurrency and related technologies to commit or facilitate criminal activity,” the DOJ said.
Monaco, in a speech delivered Thursday to the annual Munich Cyber Security Conference, noted other federal agencies are also focusing on crime related to cryptocurrency. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is currently probing more than 100 ransomware variants, she said.
Last year, the DOJ launched the Ransomware and Digital Extortion Task Force to focus attention on the digital financial infrastructure supporting ransomware, while a new FBI team, the Virtual Asset Exploitation Unit (VAXU), will focus its investigatory energy on tracing and seizing ransomware payments.
“Ransomware and digital extortion—like many other crimes fueled by cryptocurrency—only work if the bad guys get paid, which means we have to bust their business model,” Monaco said.
She pointed to the DOJ’s recent seizure of more than $3.6 billion in cryptocurrency allegedly stolen in 2016 from the digital asset trading platform Bitfinex and the arrest of two suspects believed to have attempted to launder some of the proceeds of the theft.
Monaco said the moves are also being made to encourage companies that are the victims of ransomware to report the incidents to federal law enforcement.
“The currency might be virtual, but the message to companies is concrete: If you report to us, we can follow the money and not only help you but hopefully prevent the next victim,” she said.
For her part, Choi stated the NCET “will play a pivotal role in ensuring that as the technology surrounding digital assets grows and evolves, the department in turn accelerates and expands its efforts to combat their illicit abuse by criminals of all kinds.”