Cryptocurrency: the future – or just a mirage?

5 minutes


So, what’s the deal?

From phishing scams to ransomware – cyber criminals are reshaping the financial crime landscape and presenting  financial institutions, regulators and InfoSec experts alike with a dizzying new heap of challenges. But what if the nature of this emerging strain of financial crime lies not in identity theft, insider dealing or bribery, but in the very premise of the platform itself? If you’re only just starting to gain insights into what has been transpiring in the digital currency market over the last 5 years, allow this article to fill you in on the story so far. In essence, cryptocurrencies are a digital, decentralized monetary system where transactions and issues are tokenized and tracked on a digital ledger of computer networks known as the blockchain. In theory, this sounds safe. Even preferrable. But in practice? Not so much.    

Before we delve into what exactly puts crypto in suspect territory, let us first explore some of the genuine successes and possibilities this tech platform has presented the world with. For one, the blockchain has facilitated intermediary-free transactions and made possible the seizing of large-scale financial decision-making power away from corporate and governmental entities and instead placing autonomy back into the hands of the everyday man. So how could it be that this promising and innovative technology has wreaked so much havoc on the lives and futures of people, many of whom have spent a lifetime investing responsibly, without ever suffering a hiccup?

Back to reality.

Spoiler! These promising beginnings have not translated into a consistent trend towards a progressive end. Instead, it has birthed an entirely new category of financial crime. One that has governments, market regulators and technocrats alike racing to plug the loopholes and scratching their heads simultaneously. For one, how do you regulate an industry that swells and crashes according to memes and tweets? The colossal financial losses – often suffered by unsuspecting investors, both experienced and amateur has seen an increase year on year - with a staggering $14 billion USD being lost to crypto scams in 2021 alone, a near-double leap from the previous year.  Often, these scams will center around some form of pop culture reference (SQUID coin), or an e-cult of personality (see: Mr Musk) to draw investors in. Crypto trading has morphed into an even more extreme wild-west of what was already a volatile stock trading market. But crypto-crime is one that leaves its victims recourse-less, since the market is not regulated by mainstream financial regulators. This is a conversation explored further in depth in the Crypto Crew: How criminals conned their way to billions: “The value of crypto depends on demand and hype – these are hard to predict.”

Turning the problem on its head

But how much of the nature of this crime can really be pinned on its perpetrators? Sure, the dishonesty and deception at play are obvious. But our very perception of real-world value is under question. In accepting virtual currencies hold an inherent value, we concede that our time, resources and labour can be mapped onto a virtual realm, one where they surge or lose their value completely based entirely on the “community strength of the underlying project”. This is essentially doublespeak for “how many people are also buying into the scheme” (or scam) at any given moment. Although crypto dealings fall outside the remit of the European Banking Authority (EBA), leading Big Data firms are finding innovative new ways of mitigating cryptocurrency risk. The benefit of these new strategies and technologies are likely to only protect the big corporations who can afford to retain their counsel. Most people, even those with only a rudimentary grasp on investing, understand the analogous relationship between market trading and gambling. But very few are able, or even willing, to extend this skepticism towards cryptocurrencies, as the market is set to grow even further in 2022.

Future thinking

So how can society come back from the edge? At the beating heart of this issue is the distorted framework in which we perceive, attain and retain value. For as long as we allow time, resources and real-world value to be traded for speculative, intangible ‘goods’ that are pegged against an ever increasingly bizarre set of value signifiers, we will continue to spiral down a path wherein the hopeful ordinary loses everything they’ve ever worked for.