Cryptocurrencies, avatar bots and web intelligence. Thus the Guardia di Finanza investigates “innovative” crimes such as cyber laundering

The word alone can evoke perplexity because the most (re) known uses concern scams, money laundering or even sensational ransom requests. Also a recent ruling of the Cassation has “branded” cryptocurrencies as financial instruments “That facilitate offenses”. Instruments that are however in increasing expansion as shown by the numbers for the last two years. “Created” in 2008, after a devastating economic crisis it was supposed to be a revolution, but after 14 years digital money cannot be tracked (except through transactions), for now it shows more shadows than lights. Yet there are areas in which their use can be considered “positive” as the colonel explains Gian Luca Berruticommander of the investigative group of the special unit for the Protection of Privacy and Technological Frauds of the Finance police. “A positive example is the use of blockchain and cryptocurrencies as it happens in art, to certify the originality of a good or gold, that we can consider a positive innovation. It is not the technology that is dangerous but the use made of it, in this sense organized crime is very unscrupulous in using this technology but we too have developed the appropriate tools to investigate ”.

But are the rules to combat digital crimes sufficient?
With the massive advent of digital technology and phenomena such as the pandemic that paradoxically accelerated its diffusion widely, even computer crimes are increasing and evolving. These offenses are often preparatory to other criminal conduct, including innovative ones: an example is cyber money laundering: money laundering that has no connection with cash. Some launderers use cryptocurrencies as a step in the classic scheme: they turn cash into cryptocurrencies and turn them back into money; as if they were washing machines because they have this feature of anonymization and it is difficult to follow them. The cyber money laundering instead, it is born directly in cryptocurrency and has no ties to cash. The cryptocurrencies resulting from a crime are moved within the circuit, others are bought and then transformed into cash and in this way it will be much more difficult to identify them. The anti-money laundering regulations are designed for solid money, but recently we have also managed to seize cryptocurrencies with a decision of the judicial authority. Even the techniques of patrimonial aggression are therefore easily usable in this sector and this remains the most effective approach against organized crime on the net. However, recently the national rules against money laundering and self-laundering have been significantly adapted to the Crypto-Asset sector, for example providing for the register of virtual currency operators managed by Oam (Organism Agents and Mediators) or the extension of due diligence obligations. of customers and the same can be said for the new IT tools we have, such as bots and avatars, which are decisive for dealing with relevant phenomena such as trafficking in Dark Markets.

Does Finance use avatars and bots?
Yes, small machines configured by us that manage to have interactions with those who are hidden behind a Facebook profile or another account, able to make you reveal something and obtain information. They are not tools used ordinarily, but in those more complex investigations under the direction of the Public Prosecutors. The judicial authority has in fact an increasingly important role in our investigations: for example, the transnational nature of computer crimes makes international judicial cooperation an indispensable channel in this sector. For us, the best IT investigation tool remains, in cases where the law allows it, undercover activity. So we basically manage to create a profile or an account with one of our investigators who, for example, in the context of scams can pretend to be a customer and try to obtain information. Bots also serve to give the agent credibility. It is a new world and it needs to evolve continuously.

Even in the Metaverse
The message is that if there is an innovation destined to change the world, because the Metaverse, cryptocurrency and artificial intelligence are determining a new reality, we must try to reap the benefits. I have attended meetings in the Metaverse with people in London, Rome and New York who could touch, shake hands or pass a document. These are innovations that radically change society. And even the investigator – both in the special and ordinary component – must take this into account and continuously update himself. Hence the need for these new investigative tools and the continuous training that the Finance Police provides to its investigators. Against a cybercrime, the steps are almost always from the complaint to the file, from a decree to be notified perhaps to a Social Media to the acquisition of information and databases. Today we can implement and facilitate these procedures with the help of a web intelligence platform that allows us to immediately verify if that profile has left digital traces, has had interactions with other known people, is attributable to e-mail addresses and / or numbers present. in other portals. In short, a native analysis in the digital field, and often with this support it is possible to de-anonymize criminals much more easily then using the effective traditional activity (searches, seizures, digital forensics, etc.) to obtain the necessary feedback and protect the evidence.

You say that people need to have faith in institutions, but just today one institution – the Federal Reserve – has warned banks of the risks associated with involvement in the crypto-asset sector.
That’s it, a lot of freedom but risks. It is true that cyber threats and crimes in general are constantly on the rise and there are many recurring breaches: phishing banking, dispossession of social profiles, scams, cyber attacks, all with economic and financial implications and motivations. Hence the importance of the Guardia di Finanza on the internet and more generally in combating technological fraud. We need to make citizens and the healthy economy understand that institutions monitor and in our case investigate and protect them from the dangers of cybercriminals. It is also increasingly crucial to inform and increase the culture of citizens in terms of cyber resilience and more generally cybersecurity. The world of Crypto-assets is certainly an example: since there is no central authority it is possible that you will lose or be stolen your private key, and you are no longer in possession of your cryptocurrency and probably no one will ever be able to give it back to you.

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