National Security Implications of Virtual Currency
Examining the Potential for Non-state Actor Deployment
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This report examines the feasibility for non-state actors, including terrorist and insurgent groups, to increase their political and/or economic power by deploying a virtual currency (VC) for use in regular economic transactions. A VC, such as Bitcoin, is a digital representation of value that can be transferred, stored, or traded electronically and that is neither issued by a central bank or public authority, nor necessarily attached to a fiat currency (dollars, euros, etc.), but is accepted by people as a means of payment. We addressed the following research questions from both the technological and political-economic perspectives: (1) Why would a non-state actor deploy a VC? That is, what political and/or economic utility is there to gain? How might this non-state actor go about such a deployment? What challenges would it have to overcome? (2) How might a government or organization successfully technologically disrupt a VC deployment by a non-state actor, and what degree of cyber sophistication would be required? (3) What additional capabilities become possible when the technologies underlying the development and implementation of VCs are used for purposes broader than currency? This report should be of interest to policymakers interested in technology, counterterrorism, and intelligence and law enforcement issues, as well as for VC and cybersecurity researchers.