Chapter 3 - Crime Areas

3.5 Criminal finances online - Future threats and developments

It is unlikely that any centralised scheme will seek to take on the mantle of Liberty Reserve due to risks associated with attracting high law enforcement attention. Even without a successor, the digital underground will continue to use and abuse legitimate schemes as long as it proves safe and profitable for them to do so.

As cryptocurrencies continue to evolve, it is likely that more niche currencies will develop, tailored towards illicit activity and providing greater security and true anonymity. Several Russian language underground forums have created their own private currencies. Schemes such as MUSD, the United Payment System and UAPS have been developed to cater specifically for these markets [87]. Proliferation of these schemes will permit an entire criminal economy to flourish with little possibility of law enforcement intervention.

Cryptocurrencies operate using asymmetric encryption. Should sufficient processing power come under criminal control, it is conceivable that it could be turned to brute forcing the private keys of some of the wealthiest Bitcoin addresses. 20% of all Bitcoins, representing over USD 1.4billion, are currently held in only 100 Bitcoin addresses [88]. With today’s current processing power however this is not possible, but with developments in powerful quantum computers it may become more than hypothetical.

A number of malware variants on both PCs and mobiles include e-wallets in the data they harvest from infected devices. Other variants turn their hosts into cryptocurrency miners, using the devices’ processing power to generate freshly mined coins for the attackers. We expect this to become more commonplace.