And we're totally clueless about how to deal with it.
«C'mon this guy must be cheating!» — you say for the hundredth time, spitting on the screen in a righteous anger. This battle was lost, but the war wasn't. The only thing that can save the day is a big-ass unique legendary broadsword that you've seen from the merchant a couple of hours ago. So you grab your in-game coins and flee to the marketplace, just to give them to a stranger and smash your enemies down.
How may you be even sure that he won't exchange it on fiat and buy a few ak-47 for his friends in ISIS then? While almost everyone's branding Bitcoin to be a criminal economy unit, real terrorists may found a cozy niche with loosen control — video games and platforms.
We've tried to sort things out a little and find out if Bitcoin's is really useful for terrorists.
Bitcoin is a somewhat terrorist
Bitcoin may seem a terrorist by itself for the most of non tech-savvy people: it has broke in into the world economy unexpected, it's somewhat difficult to understand, it revolutionised the way humanity treated money in general, traditional banks are its enemies. All in all this is more like a famous revolutionary leader biography, rather than a currency description.
When you look on the technical side of it, it seems criminals may have enough reasons to use bitcoin in their activity. For example, there's a myth circulating in the Web that Bitcoin is totally anonymous. We've recently shared an article why it's not necessary so, but one article couldn't defeat all technical ignorance. These are the reasons why people tend to tie bitcoin to terrorism and criminality:
Bitcoin can be instantly sent from and to literally any part of the world. Few minutes of stable internet connection is the only requirement for the sender
Wallets and transactions are not directly tied to the user identity, so the tracking of ongoing or past transactions becomes a non-trivial task
There's no regulator who can freeze funds on the suspicious account, because the network is decentralized.
So, why do we should think of Bitcoin any different? There are two crucial points that denominate all benefits above.
The number of confirmed transactions goes higher and higher over the past two years.
Bitcoin is a peaceful civilian
The first factor is actual lack of anonymity in the network, which stands behind any bitcoin operation. All transactions are registered in the ledger, usually called a blockchain, and remain there forever. They can be seen and, in theory, tracked down to the source. Plus, the Chief Scientist of the Bitcoin Foundation — Gavin Anderson himself mentioned that if you are not tech-savvy enough to use bitcoin "right", and unaware of other anonymising tools like Tor and i2p, your transaction still reveals your IP-address and therefore can be traced.
The second concern is the process of actual money-laundering in Bitcoin world. It's far more complicated than just go to the ATM on the railway station. If you take a closer look on bitcoin markets, you can see that bitcoin usage is very limited in countries, like Syria and Iraq. These cryptocurrency markets in their nature can't be described as fluid and therefore suspicious transactions in this area would be noticed. It turns out that terrorists and criminals should deal only with fluid markets in Europe and USA, which can be controlled better than third world countries' market.
How's the gaming involved
When talk about gaming, it's fair to remember PS4, Xbox and Steam. All three (mainly the first and the last) has revolutionised the gaming on a worldwide level. Instead of two-four individual players, playing together for a couple of hours after the school, more than 500 000+ are combined in large communities. Games, previously stored in outlets, now come worldwide with implementation of centralised shopping platforms. Different chats we previously used for online coordination are also consumed by the built-in and console-agnostic communication tools.
All this not only helped good guys have more fun playing games, but also opened a big range of opportunities for bad ones. There are a few ways terrorists may benefit from modern gaming systems.
The scheme illustrates the number of sold PS4 units over the past two years.
Anonymous communication platform
International Business Times indicates that PlayStation 4 gaming chats were used to spell out plans of the ISIS and God's-know-how-much other criminal organisations. The discussion of this topic faded. It began anew recently, but without any result, while experts tend to suspect that terrorists again have used PlayStation 4 console to coordinate the attack in Paris in 2015.
There are also rumours of a full-scale recruitment campaigns held by the ISIS in the gaming chats and forums.
Gaming networks are overloaded with millions ongoing peer-2-peer conversations making it almost impossible to trace the one from both technological and human resources points of view.
Want to learn to fly a jet? Flight simulators became a life-like movies, with adoption of joysticks, improved game mechanics and seats that emulate real jet driving procedures, and now allow to quickly tech newcomers the basics. Top-notch mixed and alternate reality applications are also the perfect instruments for training in conditions very close to the real combat.
Personal data source/Blackmailing
The reports of this kind don't come very often, because the successful blackmailing assumes you won't tell anyone neither about the harassment itself, nor the cause of it. Gaming platforms are hard to hack, but user personal data continue to leak away — who knows where? Gaming platforms are keeping silence, the only thing we can notice is the number of hacked accounts that are sold widely these days.
In-game currencies can be freely exchanged on fiat. Sometimes you don't even need to leave the same gaming environment to do it. There's only one regulator — gaming platform that in its core weren't designed for a secure work with the payments, not mention that users tend to overcome any limits and restrictions to "win the war" (as described in the first paragraph).
Gaming services and platforms offer a great opportunity to monetize and get unaccounted profit without risks. Transactions are also instant and can be performed anywhere with a stable internet connection.
Painting the image
The image of a terrorist using bitcoin to plot and support the attack is working to a traditional banking system benefit surprisingly well. It allows to decrease the competition between government issued fiat currencies and new ways of providing payments, because less people trust cryptocurrencies and choose banks instead. Banks need to rotate our money in order to receive benefit, so the price of the question is counted in millions of euros. This is much more than paying for a small black PR campaign.
As traditional banks support the stereotype, governments without an expertise in blockchain technology forbid Bitcoin to protect their citizens from the threat (at least, we hope this is the motivation). Cryptocurrency exchangers then go to the black markets and this is where the most criminals and terrorists allocated. The ordinary user from the country, that limits bitcoin, is the perfect target for scamming and blackmailing. It turns out the image of Bitcoin we have painted, is sponsoring world terrorism more than Bitcoin itself.
Bitcoin space needs to be cleaned up
As you can see from all above, gaming consoles, services and platforms may or even already were used by terrorists to communicate and raise money. There's an important point — games do not compete with banks, and that's why we don't actually see the mass hysteria about the matter. Government financial structures could ban Bitcoin, but no one ever going to ban innocent Steam or WoW. Huge audience, the variety of communication and exchange tools, constant developing of gaming environments make monitoring gaming networks a very non-trivial task.
It seems that in future we're going to concentrate on adopting the experience of payment and financial services to the gaming industry, making it impossible to send or exchange money untraced. We should develop new anti-money-laundering measures and improve monetizations everywhere aiming to control the purpose of payments inside the gaming environment.
The more we trust Bitcoin and bring it to the "light" from the darknet basement, the less is a chance for it to be used for terrorism and criminal activity. The trust brings out the development, and blockchain technology development will provide us with new controlling tools, which are hopefully going to stay in the hands of the community.