This is an open letter to our honourable Prime Minister Mr Narendra Damodar Das Modi, our honourable Finance Minister, Mr Arun Jaitely, our honourable Minister for IT, Mr Ravishankar Prasad, our honourable Minister of Home Mr Rajnath Singh and also to the Secretaries of the Ministries of Finance, IT, Home, as well as the RBI Governor Mr Urjit Patel and the Director General of CERT-IN.
Over the last few months, India has been witness to a series of attacks not only from across the borders of Kashmir, but also from the Cyber Space. It will not be long before the enemies across the borders and the enemies from Cyber Space converge more effectively than what they are doing now so that they can recruit more physical terrorists and inflict damage to the country.
The recent Cyber attack in which a ransomware called “WannaCry” infected over 2 lakh computers across the world and an estimated 40,000 in India itself should strike a warning bell in us since we in India are preparing for ushering in a “Digital India” with ‘Digital Payment’ systems replacing our currency system and introducing concepts such as smart cities and smart gadgets of various kinds leading our future.
The country’s dependency o IT systems is growing by the day and with the possibility of Aadhar Enabled Payment Systems coming into use, the vulnerabilities are all around us. If these vulnerabilities are exploited by our enemies, then the country will be irretrievably pushed back in its development agenda.
It is reported that there was recently an advertisement in the dark web stating “Let’s Kidnap the Planet” promoting a “Ransomware”. Though we may be relieved that WannaCry did not hurt India as much as it did some other countries, this relief may be short lived and we cannot be complacent. A whole industry is said to be coming up around “Ransomware” as indicated in the following report.
According to this report, ransomware is growing at an alarming rate because there is enormous money to be made. The report says that a study has indicated that 40% of the victims paid the ransom and some malware rakes in upto $ 30 million every 100 days. Hence the menace will continue and new variants of ransomware will keep coming up.
While technology people work out technical solutions to ensure that observed vulnerabilities in systems are quickly and effectively plugged, the Governments also need to device their own strategies and build a multi pronged Counter strategy to defeat the design of these Cyber Financial Terrorists to kidnap the planet for their personal gains or otherwise.
Though the initial crop of ransomware may come from techies who are not conventional terrorists who kill people for religious fanaticism or otherwise, ransomware is a tool which is easily acquired by conventional terrorists and it is reasonable to expect that it should already be in use for fund raising by terrorists not only in Kashmir or Naxalites in India but world over by many rogue elements.
A time has come now for us to initiate some measures which is in the hands of the Indian Government to mitigate the risk. I would like to highlight one such measure here since this is currently under the radar of the Finance Ministry and the RBI.
There are countries which have formally recognized the Bitcoin as a currency for public to use in exchange of goods and services. There are even ATMs which can be used to withdraw dollars against bitcoin holdings and also for depositing dollars into bitcoin wallets.
The current bitcoin (BTC) exchange rate is around Us $2000 and about 300,000 exchange transactions take place per day (Source www.coindesk.com).
Countries like China are reported to have invested a huge sum of money to acquire Bitcoins both by mining it themselves and also perhaps by buying from the market.
Bitcoin is created by computer operations which is called “Mining” but the total stock of Bitcoins in the world is limited to 21 million by design and it has become almost impossible now for any ordinary computer user to mine new Bitcoins. Most of the Bitcoins presently acquired are traded Bitcoins. Since Bitcoin has been a currency of drug mafia and other underworld activists, most of the current stock (Which is a commodity in legal sense) is tainted as having been used as “Money Laundering Tool” in the past. Hence most current stocks in India are legally like “Stolen gold pledged with a pawn broker” which is sold and resold.
Now there is a lobby in India which is trying to convince the Government and RBI that Bitcoins should be legitimized in India. Government has even formed a committee to bring in regulations for Bitcoins. The industry has started spreading the rumour that there will be regulation but there will be no ban on Bitcoins in India. Recently, one of the Bitcoin exchanges in India reported that they are receiving more than 2500 new registrants each day.
The confidence with which the industry is claiming that the Bitcoin Regulation Committee will only “Regulate” and not “Ban” Bitcoins creates a concern that the industry might have already got a hint of the things to come.
Bitcoin technology called “Block Chain” is technically fascinating and there is every possibility that the Committee members may be impressed to accept the technology. Many Banks are advocating its use for authenticating Banking transactions.
There is no doubt that “Block Chain” technology is an innovative technology but the way it has been used in Bitcoins as well as the way it is proposed to be used by Banks in India is not within the legal frame of the country.
Most importantly, there is a level of anonymity in Bit coin transactions which make it the best parking place for Black Money. Though technically, technologists claim that Bitcoins can be traced and FBI has the capability, the challenge is imposing. India is presently not capable of tracing Bitcoins and unless a global coordinated effort is launched, Bitcoin tracing is not practical.
There is a possibility that a Crypto Coin is seeded with a regulatory mark (Like an RBI seal) to make it usable as a replacement of printed paper currency. But the Bitcoin and other Crypto coins in circulation are anonymously generated and is outside the economic system of the country.
Allowing “Non RBI seeded Crypto coins” to be created and circulated is inimical to the economic interests of India and hence if there is any regulation, there should be a total ban on any “Crypto Currency” other than one which is released by RBI.
This is common sense like saying that no currency printed in India is valid as a currency unless it is printed in the Government Mint and carries the signature of the RBI Governor.
The second aspect that we need to recognize that Bitcoin today has become the currency of operation of the ransomware operators and one effective way to curb the menace of ransomware is to eliminate the use of Bitcoin worldwide so that the holdings of Bitcoin become worthless like the demonetized notes.
Just like high denomination notes were demonetized on November 8, 2016, the Government of India should “Demonetize Bitcoins” and force all existing holders of Bitcoins who are citizens of India to declare their present holdings and convert them to legacy currencies within a certain time of say one week after which holding of Bitcoins should be declared as an offence.
At the same time, we should work on getting other Governments to also take similar steps by raising this issue in the UNO so that we can move towards a global ban of unregulated crypto currencies and more particularly the Bitcoin.
If this is not done, we will have terrorists using Bitcoins instead of Havala to exchange money and pay the stone pelters of Kashmir and other Terrorists, Naxalites and Criminals. Bitcoin Ban will also prevent corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen from holding their black wealth in the form of Bitcoins.
Hence the request to “Ban Bitcoins” and “All Unregulated Crypto Currencies” should be considered as an extension of the November 8, 2016 move to demonetize Black wealth.
At the same time, Banks who are experimenting with authentication of transactions under the Block chain technology should review the legality of the operations involved before further action is involved.
I would like everybody to remember that Bitcoin is fascinating like the hood of a King Cobra. But we need to keep away from it to remain safe and not try to go near. Some may say, King Cobra can also be handled if we know how to handle. But only those who know the risks know how safe it is to sleep with the King Cobra.
I therefore urge the Indian Government that we should defeat the Cyber Financial Terrorists by choking their source of revenue and one of the first steps in this direction is to ban Bitcoins in India.
I request the Committee looking into the regulation to consider this as a submission from a concerned Indian citizen and take it on record before arriving at their final decision.