Nicolas Duvinage (Gendarmerie nationale): "We have around a hundred cryptocurrency experts"
Colonel Nicolas Duvinage is head of the Gendarmerie Nationale's Centre for Combating Digital Crime (C3N). He talks to The Big Whale about the role of cryptocurrencies in cybercrime.
The Big Whale: In the public debate, cryptocurrencies are almost systematically associated with cybercrime. Do you think this is justified?
Nicolas Duvinage: It's not easy to answer this question because we don't have all the data. When we measure cybercrime, we look at the nature of the offence, but we're not necessarily able to know whether the criminals used euros, dollars or cryptocurrencies.
The only way to find out is to look at the investigation reports, so it's case by case. Today, of the 130,000 or so cyber offences recorded each year in France, only a small minority are linked to cryptocurrencies.
In what kind of attack are cryptocurrencies most commonly found?
Clarically in the case of ransomware, i.e. a computer attack that prevents victims from accessing their computer system and data. To unlock the system, the criminals demand a crypto ransom. But the vast majority of cybercriminals do not use cryptocurrencies.
In what other situation do cybercriminals use cryptocurrencies?
For illicit sales on the Dark Web. They use them to sell weapons, narcotics, false papers, data from hacking and a little child pornography.
Criminals also use cryptocurrencies to launder funds from the sale of narcotics or organised crime.
Are the platforms for selling illicit products on the "Dark Web" still growing?
I would rather say that the phenomenon has stabilised.
Are cases more difficult to solve when there are cryptocurrencies?
No more so than when there are banks. Every technology has its advantages and disadvantages. Cryptocurrencies are not a problem in themselves and the overwhelming majority of those who use them are totally honest people. The problem, as with every subject, comes from a minority who will use these tools for criminal purposes.
Some cryptocurrencies like Monero allow you to make anonymous transactions. How do you manage this type of situation?
I'd be lying to you if I told you it wasn't complicated to manage, but at the same time, it's not impossible to get around the problem. Few technologies are infallible, and when they are, you can't be sure that they will last. Criminals are still human, they make mistakes like everyone else. That's when we can catch them.
What tools do you have to combat cybercriminals who use cryptocurrencies?
We use commercial tools developed by specialists in blockchain data analysis. We also have open source tools, such as GraphSense, and others that we develop in-house.
The American company Chainalysis is the world leader in the blockchain data analysis market. What do you think about this?
It's difficult to comment on the subject because we're currently in the process of tendering with them. I don't want to give the impression that I'm favouring one player over another. All I can say is that it is a reputable player.
How many gendarmerie investigators are competent to deal with cases involving cryptos?
We have trained around a hundred people during the FinTech courses we launched in 2019. We have also trained investigators from other administrations and European partners.
What is your recruitment process?
We have two: we recruit from within the gendarmerie, and also from outside.
Can investigators set traps?
Unlike in the United States, this is not possible in France. In fact, it is totally forbidden.