Europol has announced findings that three to four billion pounds in criminal money is being laundered using cryptocurrency in Europe.
This news is likely to intensify the focus on the debate surrounding the regulation of cryptocurrencies, as major governments around the world look to clamp down on them.
The unchecked and uncontrolled state of cryptocurrencies provides criminals with a haven to store and process stolen money, a problem that Europol believes is growing.
Speaking to the BBC’s Panorama, Rob Wainwright, Director, Europol, said: “It’s growing quite quickly and we’re quite concerned. They’re not banks and governed by a central authority so the police cannot monitor those transactions. And if they do identify them as criminal they have no way to freeze the assets unlike in the regular banking system.”
As reported by the BBC, the process involves the purchase of Bitcoin, for example, which is then split into smaller amounts and distributed, erasing any trail that the criminal money might ordinary leave behind. Contrary to the knowledge of some, Bitcoin is divisible to the eighth decimal, with the smallest unit called a Satoshi.
Aware of the problems associated with cryptocurrency, the British government has expressed a will to bring greater controls to the lucrative and volatile world. Prime Minister Theresa May, and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond, both called for action to be taken to review cryptocurrency capabilities.
Fabian Libeau, VP of RiskIQ, said: “We are seeing threat actors around the world exploiting what is already a hostile currency in a lawless digital world. Threat actors hack vulnerable sites or spin up fake, illegitimate websites to siphon money off of major brands, often with typosquatting domains and fraudulent branding.”
“By leveraging domains or subdomains that appear to belong to major brands, these actors trick people into visiting their sites running cryptocurrency mining scripts to monetise their content. When we looked at domains running the cryptocurrency mining script Coinhive, we found many examples of typosquatting and domain infringement,” Libeau said.
Bitcoin in particular has faced a steep collapse in value since the beginning of the new year, having climbed to a value of almost $20,000 per unit in late 2017. Today the price stands at $8,782, having recently fallen back down to in the region of $6,000.
Lacking regulation and the associated risks are driving down the price, but its volatility in general is causing a loss of high-profile support. Stripe, a major payments processing company recently dropped its support for the currency based on its lack of use as a transaction vehicle.