WASHINGTON — The Justice Division mentioned on Monday that it had seized a lot of the ransom {that a} main U.S. pipeline operator had paid final month to a Russian hacking collective, turning the tables on the hackers by reaching right into a digital pockets to grab again tens of millions of {dollars} in cryptocurrency.

Investigators in current weeks traced 75 Bitcoins price greater than $4 million that Colonial Pipeline had paid to the hackers because the assault shut down its pc techniques, prompting gasoline shortages, a spike in gasoline prices and chaos at airways.

Federal investigators tracked the ransom because it moved by way of a maze of at the least 23 completely different digital accounts belonging to DarkSide, the hacking group, earlier than touchdown in a single {that a} federal choose allowed them to interrupt into, in accordance with regulation enforcement officers and court documents.

The Justice Division mentioned it seized 63.7 Bitcoins, valued at about $2.3 million. (The worth of a Bitcoin has dropped over the previous month.)

“The subtle use of know-how to carry companies and even entire cities hostage for revenue is decidedly a Twenty first-century problem, however the outdated adage ‘observe the cash’ nonetheless applies,” Lisa O. Monaco, the deputy legal professional basic, mentioned on the information convention on the Justice Division.

Regulation enforcement officers highlighted the seizure in an effort to warn cybercriminals that the US deliberate to take goal at their income, which are sometimes gained by way of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. It was additionally meant to encourage victims of ransomware assaults — which happen every eight minutes, on common — to inform the authorities to assist get well ransoms.

For years, victims have opted to quietly pay cybercriminals, calculating that the fee could be cheaper than rebuilding information and companies. Although the F.B.I. discourages ransom funds, they’re authorized and even tax deductible. However the funds — which collectively complete billions of {dollars} — have funded and emboldened ransomware teams.

Justice Division officers mentioned that Colonial’s willingness to shortly loop within the F.B.I. helped recoup the ransom portion, they usually credited the corporate for its position in a first-of-its-kind effort by a brand new ransomware job drive within the division to hijack a cybercrime group’s income.

“We should proceed to take cyberthreats severely and make investments accordingly to harden our defenses,” Joseph Blount, the chief government of Colonial, mentioned in a press release. Mr. Blount mentioned that after his firm contacted the F.B.I. and the Justice Division to inform them of the assault, investigators helped Colonial perceive the hackers and their ways.

The Justice Division’s announcement additionally got here earlier than President Biden’s scheduled assembly with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia subsequent week in Geneva, the place Mr. Biden is predicted to handle what American officers see because the Kremlin’s willingness to supply safety for hackers. Russia sometimes doesn’t arrest or extradite suspects in ransomware assaults.

The New York Times reported final month that Colonial Pipeline’s ransom payout had moved out of DarkSide’s Bitcoin pockets, although it was not clear who had orchestrated the transfer.

On Monday, the federal government crammed in a few of the blanks. DarkSide operates by offering ransomware to associates. In trade, DarkSide reaps a reduce of their income.

Officers mentioned they’d recognized a digital foreign money account, also known as a pockets, that DarkSide used to gather fee from a ransomware sufferer — recognized in court docket papers solely as Sufferer X, however whose hacking particulars match Colonial’s. The officers mentioned {that a} Justice of the Peace choose within the Northern District of California had accredited a warrant on Monday to grab funds from the pockets.

The F.B.I. started investigating DarkSide final 12 months and recognized greater than 90 victims throughout a number of sectors of the financial system, together with manufacturing, regulation, insurance coverage, well being care and power, Paul M. Abbate, the deputy director of the F.B.I., mentioned on the information convention.

DarkSide first surfaced in August and is believed to have began as an affiliate of one other Russian hacking group, referred to as REvil, earlier than opening its personal operation final 12 months.

Weeks after DarkSide attacked Colonial, REvil used ransomware to attempt to extort money from JBS, one of many world’s largest meat processors. The assault pressured the corporate to shutter 9 beef crops in the US, disrupted poultry and pork crops, and had important results on grocery shops and eating places, which have needed to cost extra or take away meat merchandise from their menus.

In current weeks, ransomware has additionally crippled the hospital that serves the Villages in Florida, the most important retirement group in the US; tv networks; N.B.A. and minor league baseball groups; and even ferries to Nantucket and Martha’s Winery in Massachusetts.

The episodes have elevated digital vulnerabilities into the nationwide consciousness. White Home officers mentioned final week that they had been working to handle points with cryptocurrency, which has enabled ransomware assaults for years.

Final week, Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, likened the threat of ransomware attacks to the problem of worldwide terrorism within the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, assaults.

“There are lots of parallels, there’s lots of significance, and lots of focus by us on disruption and prevention,” he mentioned. “There’s a shared duty, not simply throughout authorities companies, however throughout the personal sector and even the common American.”

Mr. Wray added that the F.B.I. was investigating 100 software program variants utilized in ransomware assaults, demonstrating the size of the issue.

Although U.S. officers have been cautious to not instantly tie the ransomware assaults to Russia, Mr. Biden, Mr. Wray and others have mentioned that the nation protects cybercriminals.

In lots of circumstances, Russia treats them as nationwide property. In a 2014 breach of Yahoo, for instance, Russian intelligence officers labored facet by facet with cybercriminals, permitting them to revenue off stolen information, whereas instructing them to cross e mail accounts to the F.S.B., the successor company to the Soviet-era Ok.G.B.

Mr. Putin has likened hackers to “artists who get up within the morning in temper and begin portray.” The truth, U.S. officers say, is that they provide Mr. Putin and Russian intelligence companies a layer of believable deniability.

Not solely is Mr. Biden anticipated to handle the difficulty with Mr. Putin, however the State Division can also be in talks with some two dozen different nations on methods to mutually stress Russia to handle cybercrime.

“If the Russian authorities needs to point out that it’s severe about this challenge, there’s lots of room for them to show some actual progress that we’re not seeing,” Mr. Wray mentioned final week.

Anne Neuberger, the deputy nationwide safety adviser for cyber and rising applied sciences, warned American businesses final week that ransomware had taken a darkish flip, noting a current shift “from stealing information to disrupting operations.”

The hackers took direct goal at Colonial’s billing techniques. With these frozen, executives discovered they’d no strategy to cost prospects and pre-emptively shut down operations. A confidential government assessment decided that if the pipeline had been shuttered for even two extra days, the assault may have introduced mass transit and chemical refineries, which depend on Colonial to move diesel, to their knees.

The White Home held emergency conferences to handle the assault. The Biden administration introduced that it might require pipeline corporations to report significant cyberattacks and that the federal government would create 24-hour emergency facilities to deal with severe hackings.

Cybersecurity consultants welcomed the Justice Division’s transfer.

“It has change into clear that we have to use a number of instruments to stem the tide” of ransomware, mentioned John Hultquist, a vp on the cybersecurity agency FireEye. “A stronger give attention to disruption could disincentivize this conduct, which is rising in a vicious cycle.”

David E. Sanger contributed reporting.