The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Tuesday announced plans to nearly double the number of employees assigned to its Cyber Unit, which has had its name changed to emphasize the agency’s pursuit of crypto asset-related investigations.
The newly renamed Crypto Assets and Cyber Unit, part of the Division of Enforcement, will grow to 50 dedicated positions, the agency stated in a press release. Among incoming recruits will be new supervisors, investigative staff attorneys, trial counsels, and fraud analysts in the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., as well as several regional offices.
“By nearly doubling the size of this key unit, the SEC will be better equipped to police wrongdoing in the crypto markets while continuing to identify disclosure and controls issues with respect to cybersecurity,” SEC Chair Gary Gensler said in the release.
The new unit will expand its reach into investigating securities law violations and protecting investors in the crypto asset space, including crypto asset offerings, crypto asset exchanges, crypto asset lending and staking practices, decentralized finance (DeFi) platforms, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and stablecoins.
The expansion of the unit’s remit should come as no surprise to anyone watching the SEC under Gensler. In February, the agency joined with more than 30 states to fine BlockFi $100 million and declare one of its lending products a security that should be registered with the SEC. The agency also signaled its intent to impose tighter regulation on crypto asset lending products when it filed a Wells Notice in September against Coinbase’s crypto asset lending product, Lend. Coinbase would eventually reverse course and fold its rollout of Lend.
Meanwhile, the crypto assets industry is keeping close tabs on a case the SEC launched against Ripple Labs and its cryptocurrency, XRP, before Gensler became SEC chair. In that case, the SEC accused Ripple of illegally raising $1.3 billion by selling 14.6 billion units of XRP since 2013 without registering the cryptocurrency as a security, as required by the agency.
The Ripple case is still ongoing and might not be resolved until 2023, according to a recent story on Investing.com.
Since its creation in 2017, the SEC’s Cyber Unit has brought more than 80 enforcement actions against fraudulent and unregistered crypto asset offerings and platforms, the agency said, resulting in monetary relief to investors worth more than $2 billion. The unit has also “brought numerous actions against SEC registrants and public companies for failing to maintain adequate cybersecurity controls and for failing to appropriately disclose cyber-related risks and incidents,” the release said.
“Crypto markets have exploded in recent years, with retail investors bearing the brunt of abuses in this space. Meanwhile, cyber-related threats continue to pose existential risks to our financial markets and participants,” said Gurbir Grewal, director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, in the release. “The bolstered Crypto Assets and Cyber Unit will be at the forefront of protecting investors and ensuring fair and orderly markets in the face of these critical challenges.”