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Former Department of Homeland Security official Christopher Krebs called for greater governmental oversight of cryptocurrency in an interview yesterday, saying that anonymous payments are a threat “the average American is concerned about.”
In an interview on Late Night with Bill Maher, Maher asked the former U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency director about his thoughts on Bitcoin.
“What’s gonna happen with Bitcoin? Where do you see that going? That’s in sort of your area, I see it bringing down civilization, but maybe I’m being anti-intellectual,” said Maher.
“Cryptocurrency is, as I see it, is one of the single enabling factors that has allowed cyber-criminals to deploy a massive amount of ransomware across our state and local agencies,” said Krebs. “It’s the anonymous payments, the ability to pay anonymously. And I think that is the cyber-threat that the average American is concerned about.”
Maher noted that 1600 schools have been hit with ransomware (citing a report from IBM), and Krebs added that there have also been attacks on “hospitals, and government agencies, I mean we had, Baltimore’s been hit twice, Atlanta, Mecklenburg county North Carolina, 23 counties in Texas, Louisiana’s been hit a couple times.”
“And they just want money. This isn’t anything sophisticated, this isn’t ideological,” Maher responded, comparing — puzzlingly — the ransomware attacks to the plot of the movie Die Hard. (Shortly after, Krebs incorrectly referred to the fictitious Nakatomi Plaza as “Nakasomi Tower”).
Krebs went on to warn of “bad guys” running wild if there are “no consequences.” He recommended “looking at” cryptocurrencies in exchange wallets, pressuring countries that cyber-criminals call home to crack down on illegal activites aimed at the U.S., and helping state and local governments improve their defenses.
Ransomware has been on the rise the last few years, likely contributing to an image problem in the cryptocurrency space. One recent poll indicates that only 43% of respondents believe cryptocurrency is a valid form of payment, and another from 2020 shows that 90% of respondents are “worried” about cryptocurrencies being used to launder money.
Krebs, who rose to prominence after being fired by former president Donald Trump because of Krebs’ vocal dismissal of election fraud conspiracy theories, may be aligning his publicly stated views with popular opinion in preparation for a run for office. The former bureaucrat has also floated policy proposals such as investing in state and local cyber defense and education programs.
Stephen Harper, an economist and the former prime minister of Canada, said bitcoin could potentially see use as a reserve currency, but isn’t going to supplant the U.S. dollar’s international role.
In an interview with Cambridge House’s Jay Martin on Sunday, Harper acknowledged that the dollar had been on a downtrend, but said there were few viable international alternatives, even when looking at the euro and the yuan.
“Unless the U.S. becomes a catastrophe, it’s hard to see what the alternative is to the U.S. dollar as the world’s major reserve currency. Other than you know gold, bitcoin, … a whole basket of things, right?” said Harper. “I think you’ll see that the number of things that people use as reserves will expand, but the U.S. dollar will still be the bulk of it.”
Harper stressed he is not an expert when it comes to digital currencies, but said it is hard to see how they operate as a store of value – something “pretty critical” for a currency.
The former prime minister explained that every currency has three purposes: as a medium of exchange, a unit of account and a store of value. He said, a digital currency is certainly a medium of exchange and can be a unit of account, but it is difficult to see how bitcoin can act as a store of value.
That’s because “I, as an investor, have no idea what this investment represents,” he said.
Harper also addressed the trend for central banks to be considering the launch of their own digital currencies.
“Ultimately, if you have a digital currency and the purpose of the central bank is to control inflation and create a stable currency and price stability, then digital currency is just kind of an evolution of the marketplace,” he said. “But if it is part of a series of what I think are wild experiments as to the role of central banking, then that worries me a lot.”