The War on Cash: We Got It All Wrong

I got it all wrong.

I’ll explain what I mean in a minute, but first…

There were a few events that happened over the weekend.

The Richmond Tigers surprisingly lost on home ground to the Fremantle Dockers by two points. Then there was the absurd parenting worship day, also known as Mother’s Day. If last year is anything to go by, Aussies blew about $200 million on flowers, as part of the total $2 billion we like to blow on Mother’s Day.

Here’s a fun fact to kick-start your Tuesday.

Aussies tend to spend more on Mother’s Day then we do on Father’s Day. It’s mildly amusing. Women rarely out-earn men, but, as some sort of second place prize, mothers are showered with more expensive sentimental crap once a year.

Tragic Tiger fans and blatant consumerism-equals-love aside, a much bigger event occurred.

What is possibly the largest scale private ‘hack’ occurred over the weekend. Yet people barely noticed it. After all, there were cold meat pies to eat and wilted flowers to buy.

It turns out, roughly 200,000 computers in 150 countries were affected by ransomware known as ‘WannaCrypt’ or ‘WannaCry’.

The bug had a devastating impact on the British healthcare system. Locally, however, Australia snored through the event. According to Cyber Security Minister Dan Tehan, Australia had one confirmed infection, and two more were under investigation.

That’s right. Out of 200,000 security breaches, Australia may top out at three.

Perhaps our shoddy, second-class internet saved us this time…

Ransomware demands

If you haven’t heard of ransomware before, it means it hasn’t happened to you. Which is a good thing.

The idea is simple. People up to no good write a program, which infects your computer from an attachment in an email or similar. These worms can live in your computer, undiagnosed, for a period of time. Generally, they are coded to be ‘activated’ at a certain time.

While nasty, they are all similar. You turn your computer on and the screen is locked, with instructions on how to pay the ransom to gain control of your PC again. And the demand is always exclusively in bitcoins, but more on that in a second.

I experienced a ransom attack a few years ago. Thanks to Google and my smartphone, I was able to follow instructions on how to bypass the setup procedure, and beat the ransomware through DOS (your computer’s operating system). It took me three attempts to get around it. Honestly, if it wasn’t for all those years of having a computer-nerd dad who insisted I know my way around DOS, I probably wouldn’t have got around it.

It’s not a war on cash — it’s a war on wealth

You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.

The quote above is credited to US politician Rahm Emanuel. However, folklore has it that Winston Churchill originally uttered something along those lines.

I’m not here to discuss the origins of the quote.

But it neatly sums up the global ransomware attack. Already powerful people are coming out and finger-pointing.

Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, Brad Smith, wrote in his blog on the weekend that by keeping the software weaknesses a secret, businesses are left in the dark when it comes to helping their customers.

He then compared this event to theft of missiles from the US military.

An equivalent scenario with conventional weapons would be the US military having some of its Tomahawk missiles stolen. And this most recent attack represents a completely unintended but disconcerting link between the two most serious forms of cybersecurity threats in the world today – nation-state action and organised criminal action.

The governments of the world should treat this attack as a wake-up call. They need to take a different approach and adhere in cyberspace to the same rules applied to weapons in the physical world. We need governments to consider the damage to civilians that comes from hoarding these vulnerabilities and the use of these exploits.

Smith rightly points out that this security breach is a wakeup call. For too long, governments have been ignorant enough to think they hold all the power when it comes to cyber warfare. A global attack like this has shown that it’s not their systems that are vulnerable…perhaps the private sector is the weakest link here.

This warning isn’t just for governments though. I believe it is for you as well.

Most people are what I like to call ‘slaves to the interface’. That is, as long as the operating system does most of the work, we continue to fix minor tweaks here and there. Without a doubt, I’m a slave to the interface these days. If the ‘WannaCry’ ransomware got me today, I’m not sure my limited knowledge of DOS would’ve gotten me out of trouble this time.

Tech skills aside, this ‘crisis’ has created the next layer in the war on cash — it’s turned into a full-blown war on private wealth.

Here’s where I was wrong. I — and several of my colleagues — have argued for some time now that there is a war on cash. That the government is ushering us to digitise our assets to lock us into the banking system.

I have suggested to my subscribers over at Strategic Intelligence to consider a small allocation of physical gold to keep some of their money out of the system.

However, this attack will step up global efforts to ban all forms of money that isn’t government-approved.

As I said earlier, these ransomware attacks are almost always demanding bitcoins. There’s good reason for that. Ownership of bitcoins — or any cryptocurrency for that matter — is private. Thanks to blockchain technology, you can’t trace it. There’s no ledger of who has what. Once you pay for your bitcoins, no one knows it’s you.

The problem is that governments will make this ransomware attack — about the criminal masterminds’ demands for bitcoins — as proof they should be banned.

The language around bitcoins is about to suddenly change. Get ready to listen to governments tear down bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies. Like gold, they can’t control it, so they fear it.

The war on cash is actually a war on money…which is ultimately the destruction of your personal wealth.


Shae Russell,
Editor, Strategic Intelligence

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Since starting out in the financial markets over a decade ago, Shae has extensive experience across various aspects of the industry. Shae cut her teeth in the derivatives industry, teaching clients basic trading techniques with technical analysis.

Joining Fat Tail Investment Research eight years ago, Shae has worked across a number of publications, such as Australian Small-Cap Investigator, Gold Stock Trader and Microcap Trader. She’s spent the past two years however, honing her macro analysis skills alongside Jim Rickards, showing Australians how to invest and profit form global macro trends.

Drawing on her extensive experience, Shae is a contributor to Money Morning, and lead editor of sister-publication Markets & Money, where she looks at broad macro trends developing around the world, combining them with her distaste for central banks and irrational love of all things bullion.

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