The United States imposed sanctions, the first of its kind, on the "Sox" cryptocurrency trading platform, as it is linked to extortion and ransom demands.
Corporate hacking and ransom attacks targeting a US oil pipeline, a meatpacking company, and Microsoft email have caused global chaos and exposed the vulnerability of US infrastructure to hackers.
“Some virtual currency trading is being exploited by malicious actors, but others in the case of SOX facilitate illicit activities for illicit gain,” a Treasury statement said, adding that these sanctions are the first of their kind against a cryptocurrency exchange.
As a result of the sanctions, any SOX assets that are subject to US jurisdiction are now banned, in addition to preventing Americans from trading on them.
Sox is registered in the Czech Republic and has subsidiaries in Russia and the Middle East.
"In Bitcoin alone, SOX (...) has received more than $160 million from ransomware parties, scammers, and darknet market operators," said experts from ChinaAys, who observed large amounts of transfers from unknown sources on the platform.
They added that the US designation is important because it represents a "big step" by Washington to combat money laundering, which is the key to digital crime.
The United States has also warned companies and individuals who pay ransoms to hackers to retrieve their files and data that they themselves may face sanctions.
About $350 million was paid to online extortionists last year, a 300 percent increase from 2019, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
US officials say many of the cyber attacks originated in Russia, but Moscow denies responsibility.