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Cyber criminals launder up to $200bn a year, study reveals

The proceeds of cyber crime amount to an estimated $80bn to $200bn a year, according to one of the first studies of the myriad ways hackers launder their profits.

The research, commissioned by Bromium and conducted by Mike McGuire – a criminologist at Surrey University, reveals that cryptocurrencies have become the primary route through which cyber-criminals launder money.

As government agencies crack down on the use of bitcoin as a vehicle for dirty cash, criminals are turning to alternative coins, such as Monero, that afford greater anonymity, according to the report.

McGuire calculated that as much as $80bn a year is laundered through cryptocurrencies, while criminals are also increasingly reliant on video-game currencies and digital payment systems, as well as more traditionals means, to cash out the proceeds of their crimes.

“People often talk about cyber crime as a business – that idea really needs to be put to rest,” McGuire told NS Tech. “What we have got here is a complex global economy. The way various actors are connected and the various flows and dynamics of this system – the ways it mirrors the legitimate economy and feeds off it is really striking.”

Much of the existing research into the finances of cyber crime, says McGuire, has focused on the cost to businesses: “If you want to understand why cybercriminals are doing it, the fundamental driving engine there is really revenue.”

Bromium CEO Gregory Webb said the work was commissioned to instigate a “meaningful conversation about how to disrupt the economic systems and poor security practices that enable cybercrime”.

McGuire will present his findings to the RSA Conference in San Francisco in April.