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.

Oil rebounds above $76 on speculation virus fear overrated

Updated 30 November 2021

Oil rebounds above $76 on speculation virus fear overrated

LONDON: Oil rebounded by more than 5 percent on Monday to above $76 a barrel as some investors viewed Friday’s slump in oil and financial markets as overdone while the world awaits more data on the omicron coronavirus variant.

Brent crude was up $3.66, or 5 percent, at $76.38 a barrel by 1444 GMT, having slid by $9.50 on Friday. US West Texas Intermediate crude was up $4.36, or 6.4%, at $72.51, having tumbled by $10.24 in the previous session.

“We saw some correction as Friday’s plunge in oil prices has been overdone,” said Tatsufumi Okoshi, a senior economist at Nomura Securities.

Friday’s slide, the biggest one-day drop since April 2020, reflected fears that travel bans would hammer demand. The plunge was exacerbated by low liquidity owing to a US holiday and the expected demand hit does not justify such a fall, analysts said.

“The fear factor had its grip on financial markets on Friday,” said Norbert Ruecker of Swiss bank Julius Baer. “Fundamentally, the announced and enacted international air travel constraints cannot explain such a sharp slump.”

A semblance of calm also returned to wider markets on Monday as investors awaited more information about the new variant. European and Wall Street shares rose while safe haven bonds lost ground.

“I can’t help but feel that Friday’s lows were probably the bargain of the year if you were an oil buyer, speculative or physical,” said Jeffrey Halley of brokerage OANDA.


Startup of the Week: Wafeer — helping Saudis spend wisely and save money

Updated 28 November 2021

Startup of the Week: Wafeer — helping Saudis spend wisely and save money

JEDDAH: Personal finance app Wafeer is the only service in Saudi Arabia that automatically tracks user’s spending patterns in a bid to help them stick to budgets.
The fintech company was founded by Salah Al-Bassam, Ahmad Ramadan and Abdulaziz Al-Jasser in 2019.
Each founder brings their own skills to the firm — Al-Bassam is an investment professional, Ramadan specialized in tech, while Al-Jasser is an engineer.
“We believe this was the formula that made Wafeer what it is right now, the broad and diverse experience that each founder brings to the table and of course our value add investors,” Al-Bassam told Arab News.
In March, Wafeer raised an undisclosed amount in a pre-seed funding round led by Nama Ventures, with participation from RAI group, WomenSpark, and several angel investors.
At the time, Nama Venture’s general partner Mohammed Alzubi said: “We first met the Wafeer team in August of 2020. The first thing that stood out for us was how complementary was the skillsets of the team, with real role clarity from the get go.”
Al-Bassam explains that its software automatically updates expenses that are paid through the app, rather than needing manual entry.
“Beyond tracking user’s expenses, Wafeer offers personalized advice using artificial intelligence helping users get notified before overspending and gives them recommendations that help cut spending or create wiggle room,” Al-Bassam said.
He added the Saudi Vision 2030 growth initiative highlights the importance of creating more awareness of spending, savings and investment through its Financial Sector Development Program.
Al-Bassam said: “It is one of the Vision's realization programs. This program has several goals, the most important of which are achieving financial diversity, stability, and promoting the culture of saving.
“Our goal at Wafeer is to play a role in achieving these objectives with the aim of answering this ongoing question that arises at the end of each month: What did I spend my salary on?”
Wafeer has 82,000 active users in its platform, who have notched up almost 1 million transactions.
The startup has partnered up with big companies in the region, such as online marketplace Noon and Saudi fast food app Hungerstation to provide special offers to customers.
Al-Bassam said: “We are proud of our partnerships, we have signed a number of strategic partnerships, most recently with Noon and Hungerstation to provide Wafeer users with exclusive discounts and offers that match their spending behavior.”
Wafeer currently only operates in the Kingdom, but has plans to extend its services to other Middle Eastern and North African countries.

Anghami to complete US merger ‘soon,’ CEO says

Updated 26 November 2021

Anghami to complete US merger ‘soon,’ CEO says

  • Maroun said the company’s priority is growth not profitability as it seeks to increase its market share from 6 percent

RIYADH: Lebanon’s Anghami, known as the Spotify of the Arab world, will not postpone its merger with the blank-check company Vistas Media in a potential $90 million deal, according to the firm’s CEO.

Eddie Maroun said the agreement had suffered a delay due to the procedures of the Securities and Exchange Commission in the US, but the deal will still go ahead.

The process is currently in its final stages, and the implementation will be announced very soon, he told Al-Arabiya on Thursday.

Maroun said the company’s priority is growth not profitability as it seeks to increase its market share from 6 percent.

He expects Anghami to achieve profitability within three years, he added.

Subscriptions represent 80 percent of the company’s revenue with the rest coming from advertising, Maround said.

Founded in 2012 in Lebanon, Anghami is the first legal music streaming platform in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Dubai real estate sector deals back to pre-pandemic level: Land department

Updated 26 November 2021

Dubai real estate sector deals back to pre-pandemic level: Land department

  • The number of deals in October was at the highest level since June 2019

RIYADH: Dubai’s real estate market has seen the highest value of deals since March 2019, according to data from the Dubai Land Department.

Figures show that in October, 5,352 transactions worth 13.12 billion UAE dirhams ($3.57 billion) were recorded.

The number of deals was at the highest level since June 2019.

The value of real estate sales transactions in the first 10 months of 2021 are more than the whole of 2020 and the highest since 2015, according to the data.


Oman’s Bank Nizwa welcomes merger proposal from Sohar International

Updated 26 November 2021

Oman’s Bank Nizwa welcomes merger proposal from Sohar International

RIYADH: Oman-based Sohar International Bank and Bank Nizwa are considering a merger, according to Al-Arabiya.

Bank Nizwa’s board welcomed the proposal from Sohar International on Nov. 25 to study the idea of merging the two banks, it was reported.

Bank Nizwa recorded profit growth of 14 percent in the third quarter to 3 million Omani riyals ($7.7 million).

Profit growth of Bank Nizwa increased by 6 percent in the first nine months of 2021 to 9 million riyals.

Bank Nizwa is Oman’s first dedicated Islamic bank, launching in January 2013, with fully Shariah-compliant products and services.