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Spy agency is probing bitcoin risks

15 January 2018

GCHQ is investigating the risks associated with digital currency Bitcoin.

The Treasury is worried that it is being used to facilitate tax evasion and money-laundering.

The soaring price of Bitcoin - it was valued at less than £745 at the start of last year, and is worth in the region of £11,400 now - has made it an increasingly attractive target for hackers.

Chris Ensor, the deputy director for cyber skills and growth at GCHQ's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), told the Daily Telegraph it is investigating potential security risks on behalf of a number of UK Government departments.

Civil servants want to know if Bitcoin is safe

'We are interested in anything that could affect the country, so Bitcoin is a major thing now,' Mr Ensor said, adding 'Government departments are saying to us, "we want to use some of this technology so is it safe?", or simply, "how does it work?"'

The NCSC works with private organisations and the government to counter cyber crime and it is recruiting mathematicians, academics and industry experts who will coach government staff on how to understand cryptocurrencies.

GCHQ supports cybersecurity start-ups

 Last month the NCSC announced the names of another nine start-ups that will spend nine months working alongside the UK intelligence agency and business experts in a programme to help protect the UK from hackers and cyber crime.

This second wave of start-ups joins an earlier cohort of organisations seeking to develop innovative security products and services that will enhance the UK’s cyber defences.

‘There's a bunch of problems out there and we want solutions to them. That's what we hope we've got with the companies that we've selected for the accelerator,’ said Chris Ensor.

Digital minister says cybersecurity is ‘mission-critical’

The GCHQ Cyber Accelerator programme is a key aspect of the government’s £1.9bn National Cyber Security Strategy, a partnership between the NCSC, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and start-up advocate Wayra UK.

One of the nominated start-ups, London-based Elliptic, detects and investigates cyber crime involving cryptocurrencies, enabling the identification of illicit blockchain activity and providing intelligence to financial institutions and law enforcement agencies.

The launch of this second cohort of start-ups selected to join the programme was attended by then-minister of state for digital, Matt Hancock, who said: ‘I passionately believe cybersecurity is a mission-critical part of our security. In government, we’ve put a large budget behind it and stated it’s a tier one national security issue.’

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