Cyber crime bust: Computer security consultant says NZ seen as a bit of a backwater

10:22 am on 23 June 2020

Police say the freezing of $140 million connected to a cryptocurrency exchange proves that New Zealand is not a safe haven for international crime.

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It's the largest restraint of funds in New Zealand police history.

The money was under the control of Canton Business Corporation and its owner, Alexander Vinnik.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said the funds likely reflected the profit gained from the victimisation of thousands - if not hundreds of thousands - of people globally as a result of cyber crime and organised crime.

Computer security consultant Adam Boileau told Morning Report: "On the scale of global cyber crime that's a real drop in the bucket. Even for Alexander Vinnik, the guy who is behind this particular set of funds, the operation he was running - some of stats say they were handling up into the billions of dollars from cyber crime, so probably pretty small change for him.

"One of the key features of cryptocurrencies is the decoupling of the identity of a person from the control of the money. The cryptocurrencies let you move money around very rapidly and keep strong control of the money, but without your identity necessarily being tied to it compared to the traditional financial system where identity is very important.

"The [cryptocurrency] exchanges provide the way for the online system to glue into the real world and to allow you to transfer [money] into and out. So that's where, of course, the police want to focus - is back to where you can start to tie it to real identities. These currency exchanges really are the point where you have to interact with the rest of the real world.

"We've seen cryptocurrencies used for all sorts of things ... speculation, investment, fraud, handling the proceeds of crime, from things like ransomware ... We have also seen ties to Russian state-sponsored hacking ... it's a real variety of things."

Asked if New Zealand had been seen as a place where cyber crime could be conducted with less scrutiny, Boileau said: "We've certainly seen NZ companies used as shell companies, not quite as strongly as other tax havens ... it has been seen as a kind of a backwater.

"In this case, it's not really clear how much of this was the online part and how much was just New Zealand corporate and tax and legal structures being amenable."

Boileau expected to see further money seizures in other parts of the world as the case unravelled.

"We are part of a global operation here and that doesn't detract from the scale of the action that the New Zealand have had to take to capture these funds."