New SEC Cyber Unit to Police ICOs and Other DLT 'Violations'

The SEC is making cryptocurrencies and distributed ledger tech a focus of a new cybercrime task force, announced today.

Sep 26, 2017 at 2:05 a.m. UTC
Updated Sep 13, 2021 at 6:58 a.m. UTC

The SEC will target violations involving distributed ledger technology and initial coin offerings (ICOs) as part of a new effort to fight cybercrime.

Announced late Monday, the unit will go after "misconduct perpetrated using the dark web," where bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are used to pay for illicit goods, the SEC said. The team, led by Robert A. Cohen, a former co-chief of the regulator’s market abuse unit, will also focus on two forms of crime that are often associated with, though hardly unique to, the crypto space: market manipulation and the theft of sensitive information.

The news comes less than a week after the SEC disclosed that its own database of corporate filings had been hacked. However, the agency said Monday that the new cyber unit "has been in the planning stages for months."

Perhaps supporting that claim, the announcement was issued exactly two months after the SEC’s shot across the bow of the ICO market – a July 25 investor bulletin that said U.S. securities law may apply to digital token sales.

Still, that bulletin has done little to cool the white-hot market for token sales. More than $600 million in ICOs have been completed since, according to CoinDesk's ICO Tracker.

Separate from the cyber unit, the SEC said Monday, it has also created a retail strategy task force that will "develop proactive, targeted initiatives to identify misconduct impacting retail investors." While this task force’s mission was not described as being specifically aimed at the crypto space, the SEC said this new team will "apply the lessons learned from [past securities fraud] cases and leverage data analytics and technology to identify large-scale misconduct affecting retail investors."

Those words may come as welcome news to ICO skeptics who claim that many of these sales have preyed on unsophisticated consumers.

SEC logo via Shutterstock

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