I’ve never quite understood why cryptocurrencies are worth anything. Of course, the untraceable payments are worth a lot to ransomware hackers, cyber criminals and money launderers. But dollars, euros and yen are backed by nations’ respective treasuries. If someone invents a cryptocurrency, any value is based solely on convincing others it has value. But is it a usable means of exchange? International banking officials say cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin are speculative assets, not sustainable, usable money.
Yet the epidemic of hugely disruptive ransomware attacks in recent months — on JBS Foods, a major meat processor; on Colonial Pipelines, our critical infrastructure, causing gasoline shortages for weeks; and on 1,000 or more U.S. businesses on July 4 — highlights the enormous risks. Moreover, hundreds of small towns, hospitals, school districts and small businesses have been hit by the ransomware epidemic — all enabled by cryptocurrencies.
How should governments respond? Besieged with cyberattacks, the Biden administration has been struggling with this question of cybersecurity with few clear answers. Cyber offense still seems to beat cyber defense.