Bitcoin and cryptocurrency use by terrorists, rogue nations and other criminals has grown in recent years—with high-profile attacks drawing international attention.
The illicit use of bitcoin and cryptocurrency ranges from money laundering and tax evasion to extortion, with cyber criminals increasingly demanding bitcoin and crypto payments in ransomware attacks on computer systems.
Now, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has warned the emergence of bitcoin and similar cryptocurrencies is a growing threat to U.S. national security, with the attorney general William Barr’s Cyber-Digital Task Force calling it the “first raindrops of an oncoming storm.”
“Current terrorist use of cryptocurrency may represent the first raindrops of an oncoming storm of expanded use,” the Cyber-Digital Task Force said in a report that found bitcoin and cryptocurrencies pose an emerging challenge to law enforcement activities. “Cryptocurrency also provides bad actors and rogue nation states with the means to earn profits.”
The DOJ report, titled Cryptocurrency: An Enforcement Framework and published by the Attorney General’s Cyber-Digital Task Force last week, found bitcoin and cryptocurrencies have been used to support terrorism, purchase illicit items, conduct blackmail and extortion, cryptojacking and launder funds.
Investigators also said bitcoin and cryptocurrencies could be “detrimental to the safety and stability of the international financial system.”
The response of U.S. and international law enforcement has been held back by inconsistent regulation country-to-country. The DOJ has spent the last two years determining how best to address these issues, according to the document that “outlines the Department’s response strategies.”
“Cryptocurrency is a technology that could fundamentally transform how human beings interact, and how we organize society,” Barr said in a statement alongside the report. “Ensuring that use of this technology is safe, and does not imperil our public safety or our national security, is vitally important to America and its allies.”
The report underlines the growing seriousness the U.S. and other international powers consider bitcoin and cryptocurrency development and adoption.
Earlier this year, Pentagon documents revealed the U.S. Department of Defense has wargamed scenarios involving a Generation Z rebellion that uses bitcoin to undermine and evade “the establishment.” In the Pentagon war game, young people born between the mid-1990s and early 2010s use cyber attacks to steal money and convert it to bitcoin.
Last year, Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin, echoing U.S. president Donald Trump’s criticism of bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, warned that bitcoin will not be widely used in ten years time and that it could be considered a U.S. national security risk.