In the world of media, “If it bleeds, it leads,” is still very much a fashionable trope. However, when it comes to Bitcoin, there’s a new trope in town: “If it misleads, it leads.”
In a recent article for The New Republic, Jacob Silverman, a highly talented writer, discusses the recent ransomware attack on JBS Foods. On Sunday, May 30, the world’s largest meat processor suffered a massive cyberattack, shutting down a number of its operations in the United States and Australia. The attackers demanded payment via cryptocurrency. The JBS attack occured shortly after Colonial Pipeline, one of the largest pipeline operators in the U.S., admitted to paying a ransom of about $4.4 million in bitcoin.
What is Silverman’s solution to the problem of ransomware attacks? The banning of bitcoin. By identifying a very real problem but offering a false solution, Silverman commits a basic error in reasoning.
Why Regulating Bitcoin Is Like Herding Cats
The irascible biologist Richard Dawkins once compared the atheist movement to the herding of cats. Atheists, he argued, “tend to think independently and will not conform to authority.” This tendency can also be applied to the world of Bitcoin. If fiat currencies represent domesticated dogs, who are relatively predictable and very much controlled by their owners (i.e. central banks), bitcoin is more like a group of wildcats roaming the hills: highly volatile, explosive in nature and beholden to no one, not even Elon Musk.
How do you herd cats? How do you go about banning bitcoin? The previous sentence may indeed be grammatically sound, but that’s about where the soundness ends. After all, for a ban to be truly effective every single one of the 195 countries in the world would need to sing from the same hymn sheet. One needn’t be a scholar of international relations to realize one simple fact: the chances of this occurring are all but non-existent. And as recent developments in El Salvador, Paraguay and Mexico show, more countries are warming up to the idea of adopting bitcoin as legal tender.
Furthermore, although the recent ransomware attacks primarily affected Americans, it’s best not to view Bitcoin through an American lens. There are tens of millions of bitcoin users worldwide, from New York to New Delhi, Bogota to Baghdad. So what would happen if the Biden administration decides to ban bitcoin?
In the United States alone, according to a new report by the Atlantic Council, 46 million Americans now own bitcoin. Also, the Satoshi Nakomoto created cryptocurrency is much more than just a coin: it is a movement, an idea, and a powerful one at that.It’s an idea that resonates around the world. You can’t ban an idea.
Calling for a ban on bitcoin is like calling for a ban on the internet. It’s neither logical nor feasible. Also, ask yourself this, even if a ban on bitcoin was instated, how would it stop ransomware attacks?
Such types of attacks are just an ever-evolving form of ransom, where a sum of money is demanded in exchange for someone or something that has been stolen. There are plenty of reasons to believe that ransomware attacks will continue to occur even if bitcoin is banned — which it won’t be. Such attacks have been occurring with increasing frequency for well over thirty years. Bitcoin may very well give an added incentive to engage in these styles of attacks but to assume that a ban will magically bring an end to ransomware attacks seems misplaced, if not downright idiotic.
As the aforementioned Atlantic Council report notes, “in 1989 a large-scale ransomware attack against scientists required them to send a cashier’s check or money order to a P.O. box in Panama. People sometimes do bad things with paper cash, including using it for ransom payments.”
With Bitcoin, there is always the danger of all-or-nothing thinking and of getting wrapped around the axil of absolutism. When this happens, nuance is lost and emotions override judgement. For those who already had an aversion to Bitcoin, the recent cyberattacks provided a perfect opportunity to point the finger, albeit in the wrong direction.
Instead of the United States opting to ban cryptocurrencies, how about doing more to protect American infrastructure from hackers? How about investing more in cybersecurity? How about training more personnel to detect and combat such attacks? When it comes to protecting businesses from further acts of cyber-crime, focusing on the real issues, like the chronic underfunding of cybersecurity, makes far more sense than targeting bitcoin.
Misinformed views on Bitcoin create more misinformed views, thus creating a never-ending loop of misinformation. This explains why so many individuals, well-intentioned or otherwise, seem all too eager to comment on something they clearly don’t understand. A ban on bitcoin will not address the real problem. In fact, it won’t address anything, because a ban on bitcoin is not really possible.
There is a reason why hackers target American businesses and American infrastructure with such alarming frequency. It’s because they are able to expose glaring weaknesses that the current administration is failing to address. The United States is busy investing in machinery that was used in the wars of yesteryear. But times have changed, and considerably so.
In this new age of war, the battlefields of tomorrow will be found not in the rural backwaters of Syria or Afghanistan but in cyberspace. Addressing the problem of inadequate cyber defense systems would serve the Biden administration well. More attacks are inevitable. It’s much easier to use bitcoin as a scapegoat than it is to address the real elephant in the room. Critics of bitcoin would do well to remember this.
This is a guest post by John Mac Ghlionn. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.