On July 20th, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the merger of the National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team (NCEP) with the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) following the White House publication of its implementation plan to the U.S. National Cybersecurity Strategy.
The plan requires the participation of various arms of the federal government.
The DOJ bears 40 percent of the responsibility to carry this strategy out.
In a joint announcement made by the outgoing and incoming heads of the DOJ Criminal Division, this consolidation creates a single highly skilled and experienced alliance to fight cybercrime and the use of cryptocurrency for illicit purposes
BACKGROUND OF CCIPS
In 1996 CCIPS was created to focus on fighting cybercrime. Over the course of almost 30 years, CCIPS has become extremely proficient and innovative in not only bringing cyber bad actors to justice but has been instrumental in infiltrating and disrupting various cyber threats. (i.e., ransomware, botnets, malware, and other intrusions.)
As Assistant Attorney General (AAG) Kenneth Polite said, “We provided victims with a way to decrypt their computers and get back in business without having to pay the ransomware actors a single cent
… we investigate hackers; we prosecute hackers; we disrupt hackers.”
The AAG alluded to the importance of private cryptocurrency investigation services, however, the reality is that law enforcement has the authority to do things private security services cannot.
Polite listed some of the tools used by law enforcement to gather intelligence on where the criminals’ servers are, how they communicate, and how their software works:
- Use of search warrants to look at data criminals store online
- Pen-trap orders to determine what computers the bad guys are in contact with
- Subpoenas to uncover how the hosting services were paid for
- Mutual legal foreign assistance to request evidence be gathered overseas
The Criminal Divisions’s Office of International Affairs (OIA) is the central U.S. authority for mutual assistance.
In furtherance of maintaining robust law enforcement relationships worldwide to execute disruption operations against threat actors the following sections within the Criminal Division also exist:
- Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development Assistance and Training (OPDAT)
- International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP)
And within CCIPS the Cyber Operations International Liaison (COIL) position was created.
BACKGROUND ON NCEP
This quote from the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) explains why the DOJ established NCET two years ago:
“The Justice Department set up NCET in 2021 amid growing concerns about the ballooning size of the digital-assets industry and the ability of criminals, terrorists, and other bad actors to use cryptocurrency to move and launder illicit funds.”
WHY MERGE NCEP INTO CCIPS?
Merging NCEP into CCIPS follows DOJ’s recognition that cyber criminals consistently use cryptocurrency.
As the incoming head of the Criminal Division, Nicole Argentieri said:
“It’s become obvious to everyone in the cybercrime field that cryptocurrency work and cyber prosecutions are intertwined, and will become even more so in the future.”
Here are a few of the structural changes and benefits highlighted with this merger:
- Criminal Division attorneys available to work on criminal cryptocurrency matters will more than double
- Equal status is established for computer crime and intellectual property work and cryptocurrency work
- It will multiply the DOJ’s ability to trace cryptocurrency, charge, and seize cryptocurrency
“Every modern prosecutor needs to be able to trace and seize cryptocurrency,” said Argentieri
This quote by Ari Redbord (a former federal prosecutor and global head of policy at TRM Labs, a blockchain analytics firm) in the WSJ article captures what drove DOJ to execute the merger and what we — as IP risk management professionals — should be thinking about:
“I think over the last couple years what DOJ has realized is that we’ve moved to a digital battlefield, where wars are fought on blockchains,” Redbord said. “The reality is if this is in fact the future, every prosecutor, every investigator, is going to need to understand these cases.”
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