Can the White House stop cryptocurrencies being used for cybercrime?

There were 304 million ransomware attacks globally last year, according to Statistica. (Reuters)
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Updated 09 October 2021

Can the White House stop cryptocurrencies being used for cybercrime?

  • Cryptocurrency transactions can be traced on public blockchains, but the identity of the owner is not always clear

LONDON: The White House is considering how it can regulate cryptocurrencies so they are not used to facilitate ransomware attacks and other cybercrime.

The National Security Council and the National Economic Council, forums through which the president consults and makes policy decisions, are working with other agencies to “ensure that cryptocurrency and other digital assets are not used to prop up bad actors,” a White House spokeswoman said on Saturday.

The oversight could include an executive order, Bloomberg News reported on Thursday, although that was not confirmed by the spokeswoman.

Cyber criminals often demand that ransoms are paid in cryptocurrencies, so they are harder to trace. There were an estimated 304 million ransomware attacks globally in 2020, with 68.5 percent of companies the subject of an attack, according to data from Statistica.

The FBI was informed of almost 2,500 ransomware attacks last year, which cost the victims about $29.1 million, up more than 200 percent from the previous year.

It is not the first rumblings of firmer action from the US. In September, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned a crypto exchange in a first as part of its response to a spate of ransomware attacks.

However, there are limits to what the White House, or anyone else, can do to stop cryptocurrencies being used for cybercrime.

Despite rumors to the contrary, cryptocurrencies are more traceable than cash. Every transaction involving a crypto asset is stored on a public blockchain. However, the identity of those carrying out the transactions is not always clear.

Scammers tend to move bitcoins or their crypto of choice through hundreds or thousands of transactions and may control dozens of wallets, making it a huge job for law enforcement to track. They even use software called a “mixer” to break it up into many smaller transactions and complicate tracing it even further.

So, if there is a really large ransom that the FBI, or another national law enforcement agency, wants to track down, they may be able to do it after investing a lot of time and expertise, but smaller amounts will usually fall between the cracks.

What the White House may be able to do is improve know-your-customer rules for exchanges and wallets that are allowed to operate in their jurisdiction. Banks have to do this kind of thing before taking on new customers; if cryptocurrency intermediaries were forced to do the same, it would make it harder for cyber criminals to hide their ill-gotten gains. But not impossible.

Amid decades-high inflation, Pakistan slashes petrol price by Rs8 per liter

Updated 31 May 2023

Amid decades-high inflation, Pakistan slashes petrol price by Rs8 per liter

  • After revision in prices, petrol will now be sold for Rs262 per liter, says finance minister
  • Pakistan slashes prices of high speed diesel, light diesel oil by Rs5 per liter respectively

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Finance Minister Ishaq Dar announced the government’s decision to slash the price of petrol by Rs8 per liter on Wednesday, as Pakistan attempts to provide relief to the masses amid decades-high inflation. 

Inflation increased to a historic high of 36.4 percent in Pakistan in April 2023, the highest since 1964, after the South Asian country hiked fuel and energy prices to revive a $6.5 billion loan program with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). 

To reduce the burden of inflation from the masses, Pakistan slashed the price of petrol by Rs 12 per liter two weeks ago. The South Asian country revises prices of petroleum products fortnightly. 

In a brief video message on Wednesday, the finance minister said that prices of petroleum products had not reduced drastically over the past 15 days nor had the value of the rupee significantly improved against the US dollar. 

“The maximum that we could reduce the petrol price [a fortnight ago] was Rs12 per liter,” Dar said. “Today, by reducing an additional Rs8 per liter, the price of petrol will reduce by Rs20 per liter in total. So, its price will reduce from Rs270 per liter to Rs262 from June 1,” he added. 

Dar also announced a reduction in the price of high speed diesel by Rs5 per liter and light diesel oil by Rs5 per liter. The price of kerosene oil will remain unchanged, he added.  

The finance minister said after the latest price reduction, high speed diesel, kerosene, and light diesel oil would cost Rs253, Rs164.07, and Rs147.68 per liter respectively.

Pakistan also slashed its oil imports by almost half last month, reducing it by 48 percent to 1.07 million tons during April 2023 as compared to 2.05 million tons during April 2022, a research report by Pakistan’s largest securities brokerage company, Arif Habib Limited, said. 

Where are the jobs? India's world-beating growth falls short

Updated 31 May 2023

Where are the jobs? India's world-beating growth falls short

  • Fewer full-time jobs remain in India since unemployment soared to 20.9% in April-June 2020
  • Without jobs, tens of millions of young people are becoming a drag on the economy, say experts

MUMBAI: On a hot summer afternoon, 23-year old Nizamudin Abdul Rahim Khan is playing cricket on a muddy, unpaved road in the Rafiq Nagar slum in India's financial capital, Mumbai.

Here, there is scant evidence of India's fast-growing economy. Bordering what was once Asia largest garbage dumping ground, Rafiq Nagar and surrounding areas are home to an estimated 800,000 people, most living in tiny rooms across narrow, dark alleys.

The young men and women in the area struggle to find jobs or work, and they mostly dawdle the day away, said Naseem Jafar Ali, who works with an NGO in the area.

India's urban unemployment soared during the COVID-19 pandemic, reaching a high of 20.9% in the April-June 2020 quarter, while wages fell. While the unemployment rate has fallen since, fewer full-time jobs are available.

Economists say more and more job-seekers, especially the young, are looking for low-paid casual work or falling back on unreliable self-employment, even though the broader Indian economy is seen growing at a world-beating 6.5% in the financial year ending in March 2024.

In 2022/23, the Indian economy grew a stronger-than-expected 7.2%, boosted by the government's capital investments. But private consumption, which forms 60% of India's GDP, grew between 2-3% in the second half of the year, as pent-up spending and base effects faded.


India is overtaking China to become the world's most populous nation with more than 1.4 billion people. Nearly 53% are under 30, its much-touted demographic dividend, but without jobs, tens of millions of young people are becoming a drag on the economy.

"Unemployment is only the tip of the iceberg. What remains hidden beneath is the serious crisis of underemployment and disguised unemployment," said Radhicka Kapoor, fellow at economic research agency ICRIER.

Khan, for instance, offers himself as casual labour for home repairs or construction, earning just about 10,000 Indian rupees ($122) a month to help support his father and his four sisters. "If I get a permanent job, then there will be no problem," he says.

The risk for India is a vicious cycle for the economy. Falling employment and earnings undermine India’s chances to fuel the economic growth needed to create jobs for its young and growing population.

Economist Jayati Ghosh calls the country's demographic dividend "a ticking time-bomb."

"The fact that we have so many people who have been educated, have spent a lot of their own or family's money but are not being able to find the jobs they need, that's horrifying," she said.

"It's not just the question of potential loss to the economy ... it is a lost generation."


Unemployment is far more acute in India's cities, where the cost of living is high and there is no back-up in the form of a jobs guarantee programme which the government offers in rural areas. Still, many in the army of rural unemployed flock to the cities to find jobs.

While urban unemployment was at 6.8% in the January-March quarter, the share of urban workers with full-time jobs has declined to 48.9% as of December 2022 from an already low 50.5% just before the start of the pandemic, government data show.

This means that of the estimated urban workforce of about 150 million, only 73 million have full-time jobs.

For people in urban areas with full-time jobs, average monthly wages, adjusted for inflation, stood at 17,507 rupees ($212) in the April-June 2022 quarter - the latest period for which government data is available.

This was a modest 1.2% higher than the October-December 2019 period, before the start of the pandemic.

But for the self-employed, incomes fell to 14,762 ($178.67) rupees in the April-June 2022 quarter, according to research by Ghosh and C.P. Chandrashekhar, both at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The figure was at 15,247 rupees in the October-December 2019 quarter.

"The big thing that has happened is the collapse of small businesses, which were the backbone of employment," said Ghosh.

Since the Indian government's decision to demonetise 86% of the country's currency in circulation in 2016, there have seen continuous attacks on the viability of small business, with the pandemic being the latest, she said.

Over 10,000 micro, small and medium enterprises shut in 2022-23 (April-March) alone, the government said in parliament in February. In the previous year, more than 6,000 such units had shut. The government did not specify whether any new enterprises were set up in those periods.


Many families in Khan's neighbourhood, typical of the urban sprawl in the city of 21 million, have been hit by job losses and lower incomes in recent years. Young workers are particularly vulnerable.

Arshad Ali Ansari, a 22-year-old student, said he saw his brother and sister lose their jobs soon after the start of the pandemic.

Sitting in a single room with a kitchen attached, where his family of eight lives, Ansari said they survive on his 60-year old father's earnings of about 20,000 rupees a month.

His brother, who was a graduate and had worked in a bank, lost his job during the pandemic and had to join their father in painting houses.

"My brother had education, he had experience," Ansari said.

His sister, once a social worker, also lost her job and has given up hope of finding another.

India will need to create 70 million new jobs over the next 10 years, wrote Pranjul Bhandari, chief India economist at HSBC, in a note earlier this month. But only 24 million will likely be created, leaving behind "46 million missing jobs."

"From that lens, a growth rate of 6.5% will solve a third of India’s jobs problem," Bhandari wrote.

Pakistan’s digital footprint gains momentum with rising e-banking, PoS transactions — central bank

Updated 29 May 2023

Pakistan’s digital footprint gains momentum with rising e-banking, PoS transactions — central bank

  • During Q3 FY23, e-banking transactions increased by 4.3% in volume, 11.2% in value
  • Around 81% of all debit card holders in Pakistan are male while only 19.2% are female

KARACHI: The volume and value of digital transactions in Pakistan continue to grow, with the South Asian country witnessing an expanding digital footprint as it pushes for the digitalization of its payment systems, the central bank said on Monday.

Increasing collaboration between banks and fintech companies has provided efficient, accessible and user-friendly digital payments platform for customers, allowing a greater number of customers to use digital channels to make payments, the State Bank of Pakistan said in its third quarterly review of Payment Systems for Fiscal Year 2022-23, which covers the January-March 2023 period.

Pakistan’s central bank expects migration to electronic means will boost Pakistan’s GDP by 7%, create four million jobs, and result in new deposits of $263 billion and represent a potential market of $36 billion by 2025.

“Adoption and acceptance of digital instruments has been increasing steadily,” the central bank report, released on Monday, said.  

During the third quarter of fiscal year 2023, overall e-banking transactions increased by 4.3% in terms of volume and 11.2% in terms of value. Internet and mobile phone banking transactions also grew in volume by 9.9% from 200.7 million to 220.5 million and in value by 19.1% from Rs9,167.6 billion to Rs10,922.3 billion, the State Bank of Pakistan reported.  

At the end of March 2023, there were 9.3 million internet banking, 15.3 million mobile phone banking and 48.4 million branchless banking app users. In addition to this, holders of e-wallets reached 1.6 million.

Customers using Raast, Pakistan’s first instant payment system, for online Person-to-Person (P2P) funds transfers increased to 29.2 million users from 25.8 million. P2P value and volume of transactions processed through Raast during the third quarter grew by 92.3% and 55.6% respectively, with 41.2 million transactions amounting to Rs872.8 billion respectively.

With increasing number of digital platforms and online shopping avenues, transactions through Point-of-Sale (PoS) have also witnessed growth, with volume of transactions increasing by 6.8% and value by 10.1%.  

However, ATMs transactions remained similar to the previous quarter in terms of volume but increased 6% in value, according to the SBP report.  

The average ticket size of transactions through PoS was Rs5,463 per transaction while for ATM based transactions, it was Rs15,429 per transaction, according to the report.  

The value of e-commerce transactions processed by banks increased by 7.1% to reach Rs36.6 billion by the end of the third quarter of FY23.
There were 112,302 PoS machines installed across the country by the end of Q3 FY23, increasing from 96,975 PoS machines in the same quarter last year.

The volume of paper-based transactions declined from 95.5 million in Q2 FY23 to 94.3 million in Q3 FY23. However, its value increased by 3% to Rs1,646.6 billion during the quarter.

“As of quarter-end Mar-23, total payment cards issued in Pakistan stood at 48.4 million of which, 46.0 million are issued by Banks/ Micro Finance Banks (MFBs) while the remaining 2.4 million are issued by EMIs,” the report said.

Payment cards in Pakistan can be categorized into four categories, debit, credit, pre-paid and social welfare cards. Out of total cards in circulation, there are 37.1 million debit cards capturing 76.7% share of total cards followed by 9.2 million social welfare cards that make up 19.1%, 1.9 million credit cards, which is 4%, and 0.2% prepaid cards.  

However, the gap between male and female debt and credit card holders remains large in Pakistan.  

“Around 81% of all debit card holders are male, 19.2% female,” the report said.  

Pakistan says to share budget details with IMF to unlock funds 

Updated 29 May 2023

Pakistan says to share budget details with IMF to unlock funds 

  • The IMF funding is crucial for the $350 billion South Asian economy, which faces acute balance of payments crisis 
  • Finance Minister Ishaq Dar says he will like the IMF to clear its 9th review before the budget, due in early June

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will share its upcoming budget details with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in order to unlock stalled funds, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said on Sunday. 

Hopes for a resumption of an IMF deal are diminishing, analysts say, with a bailout programme agreed in 2019 due to expire on June 30 at the end of the 2022-23 fiscal year. 

Dar said he would like the IMF to clear its 9th review before the budget, which is due to be presented in early June, as all the conditions for that had already been met. 

The IMF funding is crucial for the $350 billion South Asian country, which faces an acute balance of payments crisis. This has raised concerns of a sovereign default, something which the minister dismissed. 

The central bank's foreign reserves have fallen as low as to cover barely a month of controlled imports. Pakistan's economy has slowed, with an estimated 0.29% GDP growth for 2022-2023. 

"They have asked for some more things again, we are ready to give that too, they say that give us budget details, we will give it to them," Dar said in an interview with local Geo TV. 

He said it would not work for Pakistan if the IMF combined the 9th and 10th review of the bailout, adding, "We will not do it, (we) see this is (as) unfair." The IMF's $1.1 billion funding to Pakistan, which is part of the $6.5 billion Extended Fund Facility agreed in 2019, has been held up since November. 

Islamabad hosted the IMF mission in February to negotiate a series of fiscal policy measures to clear the 9th review. 

Pakistan had to complete a series of prior actions demanded by the IMF, which included reversing subsidies, a hike in energy and fuel prices, jacking up its key policy rate, a market-based exchange rate, arranging for external financing and raising over 170 billion rupees ($613 million) in new taxation. 

The fiscal adjustments have already fuelled Pakistan's highest ever inflation, which hit 36.5% year-on-year in April. 

Russia eyes opportunities at trade show in Riyadh

Updated 28 May 2023

Russia eyes opportunities at trade show in Riyadh

  • Exhibition to showcase industrial technologies to help boost KSA’s development

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and Russia’s bilateral economic ties are set to get a new boost as the Kingdom is hosting the Made in Russia +Innoprom business mission in Riyadh on May 29 and 30. 

In an interview with Arab News, Anton Atrashkin, program director of the Innoprom International Trade Show, said that more than 100 Russian companies would be a part of the event to be held in Riyadh. 

The delegation will be led by Russia’s Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Alexei Gruzdev. 

Innoprom is the largest Russian industrial exhibition that has been held for the last 14 years in Yekaterinburg. 

The event aims to showcase advanced technologies developed in Russia that are ready to be used in the industrial sector. 

“All of us are very excited to see the reaction and attitude of the Saudi business community toward what we have to offer. We are really making our very first steps in the blessed land of the KSA. For many Russian delegates, it will be their first trip to the country. I would say that our business mission is opening a new page of bilateral economic relations,” said Atrashkin. 

Russian Helicopters, Transmashholding, Rostselmash Agricultural machines, Power Machines, and Kaspersky are some of the key companies participating in the industry event. 

Atrashkin also said that Russian agricultural products are getting popular in the Saudi market, and the event seeks to introduce Russian industrial technologies in the Kingdom. 

Gruzdev said the Russian-Saudi ties are based on a strong foundation, which will contribute to the development goals of both countries. 

Our business mission to Riyadh aims to strengthen economic ties between Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Alexei Gruzdev, Russia’s deputy minister of industry and trade

“Our business mission to Riyadh aims to strengthen economic ties between Russia and Saudi Arabia, discover new business opportunities, exchange ideas, and establish long-term partnerships,” said the deputy trade minister. 

He added: “We are particularly grateful to the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce for hosting us as well as to our Saudi partners from the Ministry of Industry and Mineral Resources and Ministry of Investment.” 

Atrashkin said that the infrastructure development currently underway in Saudi Arabia, including the giga-project NEOM, presents an opportunity for Russian companies to showcase their potential to become part of the success story of the Kingdom. 

“The whole world sees this project (NEOM) as the highest point of mankind’s ambitions. Many companies from Europe, the US, and Asia want to get a stake in this No. 1 project of the 21st century. Russian companies definitely have many competitive technologies in unmanned systems, construction, engineering, and software products,” added Atrashkin. 

He said that some business leaders visiting Saudi Arabia as part of this event are “prepared to discuss deep localization, being aware of the opportunities (available in) 36 industrial cities managed by the Saudi Authority for Industrial Cities and Technology Zones.” 

The Saudi Authority for Industrial Cities and Technology Zones, also known as MODON, has been undertaking the development and supervision of industrial lands and integrated infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, and it oversees 36 existing and under-development industrial cities across the Kingdom, in addition to private industrial facilities. 

According to Atrashkin, some areas where Saudi businesses can use Russian technologies include IT, engineering technologies for construction industries, unmanned systems for industrial and agricultural projects, and cybersecurity, to name a few. 

During the interview, Atrashkin also lauded the reformatory measures introduced by the Saudi government, which now allows foreign investors to operate in the Kingdom. He further noted that Russian-Arab relations have always been cordial and deep. 

I would say that our business mission is opening a new page of bilateral economic relations.

Anton Atrashkin, Program director, Innoprom International Trade Show

“When I witness the negotiations between the Russian and Arabic businessmen, I always note very warm attitudes toward each other. A genuine deep respect for your partner is a common feature of our business culture. It works well and helps to avoid many mistakes,” said Atrashkin. 

He further said: “I would also mention great support from the Saudi government to make the economy open — not only to the Russians but to all the partners of the KSA. The ambition of the Saudi government is to have the best infrastructure in the world. This means millions of opportunities for the manufacturers.” 

A recent press statement from Innoprom said that Saudi Arabia is currently witnessing a real industrial revolution, offering tremendous opportunities for foreign investors. 

“Many experts call the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia one of the most promising partners. Today, a real industrial revolution is taking place in Saudi Arabia; dozens of industrial cities are springing up with special regimes for foreign investors. The Russian industrial technology developers are looking for ways to get contracts worth multimillion dollars from the Kingdom,” it said in a press statement.