Cryptocurrency prices have plunged across the board after the FBI said it had seized most of millions of dollars of the Bitcoin sent to an affiliate of the “DarkSide” hacker group behind a major US oil pipeline hack last month.

The FBI said it had seized 63.7 BTC – worth about A$2.8 million – that were paid by Colonial Pipeline to the group to regain control over its systems after the ransomware attack, which led to huge queues for petrol across the eastern United States following panic-buying.

The FBI made the announcement around 6am AEST and crypto prices dropped across the board about 45 minutes later.

Bitcoin fell from around US$35,500 to under US$34,000, while Ethereum fell from over US$2,700 to under $US2,600.

At lunchtime BTC was trading for US$33,789, down 8.1 per cent from 24 hours ago, while ETH was changing hands for US$2,594, down 6.9 per cent.

Every top 100 crypto other than Theta Fuel (no. 41) – which was up 9.0 per cent – and the stablecoin Tether was in the red at 12.28pm AEST.


That the FBI could seize the ransomware payment in a sense undermines a central argument for cryptocurrencies, that they are free from government censorship.

The FBI said it had the “private key” — the rough equivalent of a password — for the wallet containing the 63.7 Bitcoins, but didn’t say how it had obtained it.

There was some speculation that the hackers might have used a “non-custodial” wallet where the private key is stored on a private company’s server, making it vulnerable to an FBI warrant.

If so that would be quite a security lapse for a group engaged in illegal activity, but the hackers are not thought to be particularly sophisticated.

Most security-minded Bitcoiners use a hardware wallet — a small device about the size of a USB drive — to store their private keys.

Colonial Pipeline paid 75 BTC in the ransomware attack. Apparently 15 per cent of the BTC went to the DarkSide hackers and the rest to the affiliate group. DarkSide, a Russian-speaking group, operates a “ransomware as a service” operation and apparently takes a 15 per cent cut.