With more than three million Australians owning cryptocurrency, better education and market regulation are needed to avoid an increase in cybercrime, a leading advisory body says.

Telstra’s chief executive Andy Penn, who also chairs the federal government’s cyber security industry advisory committee, says many countries and networks are under constant attack due to more and better resourced cyber criminals.

“Cybercrime in 2022 is cheap, relatively simple and has the potential to be devastatingly effective,” Mr Penn told the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Tuesday.

“Malicious, determined and sophisticated actors are using a wide range of capabilities to target government, businesses and individuals to extort money, access private and sensitive information, and even steal state secrets.”

Cyber crime was estimated to cost the Australian economy $3.5 billion in 2020 and the global economy $6 trillion in 2021.

With cryptocurrency being the choice method for criminals receiving ransom payments, people need to be taught how to safely interact with the digital currencies in the same way they protect their banking information, Mr Penn says.

“It has also become a major channel for money laundering, in particular within jurisdictions that lack adequate monitoring and oversight,” he said.

“But ordinary Australians are using decentralised currencies to pay for legitimate goods and services too so we need a system that protects them to do this.”

Risks include hot wallet swapping where cryptocurrency is swiped, and crypto rug pulling, where the currency suddenly closes and loses its value.

This is where legislation and secure market settings are needed to protect consumers online, the chief executive argues.

“Australian cryptocurrency users should be able to get clear information on these offerings and know security settings are in place from their registered cryptocurrency exchange,” Mr Penn said.

The council has made five recommendations including minimum cyber security standards for cryptocurrency exchanges; market regulation that provides clarity about how cryptocurrencies can operate; and more transparency around crypto exchanges.

Law enforcement agencies also need to be adequately resourced to deal with sophisticated cyber crime, the council says.


Dominic Giannini
(Australian Associated Press)