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Ransomware Payments: Know Whom You’re Paying!

In a recent Cafe Insider-Cyber Space podcast interview, “Why you should be paying attention to ransomware cyber attacks,” John Carlin, former U.S. Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division, interviewed veteran New York Times cyber reporter David Sanger.

They discussed this specific issue and shed even more light on how dicey the problem is.

The payment of a ransom to OFAC listed cybercrime groups could subject the victim/paying company to be sanctioned by the U.S. government.

See the following October 1, 2020, U.S. Treasury advisory:

Advisory on Potential Sanctions Risks for Facilitating Ransomware Payments

In my last post, Cyber Attacks for Ransom: Exponentially Growing Problem (Post 3 of 3), I raised the potential complication of paying a ransom to an individual or entity that is on the U.S. Treasury Department’s – Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) list of cybercrime individuals, groups, or nation-states.

A few of the intriguing points made in the interview is that a company who pays the ransom falls under strict-liability (meaning the victim need not know they are paying an individual or group on the OFAC list to be held civilly liable. It does not require intent.) Except, the victim/company may not have any way of determining if the hacker is on that criminal-groups list unless they notify law enforcement.


For several legitimate reasons, many companies do not want to notify law enforcement and make the payment privately.

On the other hand, government is forced to confront a problem that is getting exponentially worse and feel compelled to do what it can to change behavior.

The interview has a runtime of 1 hour, 4 minutes.

The ransomware segment begins at 29:45.

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Ron Alvarez is an IP investigations and protection consultant and writer in New York City. He is a former NYPD lieutenant where he investigated robbery, narcotics, internal affairs, and fine art theft cases. Ron has since coordinated the private investigation of international fraud and money laundering cases, as well as IP-related investigations and research involving the four pillars of IP: copyright, patents, trademarks, and trade secrets. Ron is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and earned a B.A. in Government and Public Administration from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. He has written a number of articles for various investigative publications, as well as published "The World of Intellectual Property (IP) Protection and Investigations" in November 2021.

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