The Protect Network across England and Wales encompasses numerous Police Officers with specialist skills including Cyber Security. The Protect Network works closely with Cyber Resilience Centres to ensure specialist information reaches businesses. Our series of Specialist Insights puts key business questions to Law Enforcement. This feature takes a look at the increasing number of SMEs considering introducing Bitcoin as a payment method. If your Centre would like more information on this for your members, please contact us.
“I want to use Bitcoin as a payment option for my customers
where do I start?”
Protect Network Cryptocurrency Investigations Specialist; Detective Sergeant Paul Taylor
An increasing number of online businesses are allowing customers to purchase goods and services with Bitcoin. Websites such as coinmap.org highlight the increasing number of offline retailers accepting Bitcoin for payment of computer equipment, clothing, and even fish and chips. Having an understanding of what Bitcoin is and how it has risen in popularity over the last few years will help you if you’re considering Bitcoin as a payment option for your customers.
In a nutshell - Bitcoin is the world’s first digital currency that allows users to send value on a peer-to-peer basis, with no need for a bank, service provider or any other authority to be involved. Transactions are verified and shared by members of the global Bitcoin network. It was invented by an anonymous researcher, or group of researchers, known as Satoshi Nakamoto back in 2008 and was introduced to the world in a white paper titled, “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System”.
Legitimate uses - include the transfer and storage of value without trust or reliance on others, such as banks. Bitcoin is also used for trade, with payment services becoming increasingly common for services and goods – even those as common as clothing and beer. Value is sustained by the finite number of Bitcoins ‘mined’ and by the need for a user’s private key(s) to access them. Users simply need a device with a data connection, rendering access and use for up to two billion people who do not have access to banks. If you have a mobile phone, you can install a Bitcoin wallet app and be transacting within minutes. Most of what happens to facilitate transactions happen seamlessly and the experience of sending or receiving Bitcoin feels rather straightforward and familiar to most.
What is a Bitcoin wallet? – A Bitcoin wallet is a place where you store your Bitcoins, think of it like your bank account where you store your money and it is required to transact on the Bitcoin network. You don’t need to supply names, addresses or personal information like when you transact through a bank.
Considerations for security - it’s worth noting the differences between the type of wallets;
• Custodian wallets - arguably the simplest to use because someone else is looking after the asset for you. Most exchanges, online wallet providers and trading platforms operate in this way and some can be described as ‘hot’ wallets. The private keys to your funds belong to the platform and you are trusting them with the security of your funds. You should minimise the amount of Bitcoin you hold in custodian wallets and consider using all available security options, such as strong passwords, two-factor authentication, and secure backups.
• Non-custodian wallets - those that allow you to be solely responsible for the private keys and good examples are hardware wallets and offline ‘paper wallets’; the funds are yours and yours alone and only you have responsibility for the security of them. Carefully think about how you store your backup information and also consider the risk of physical damage, fire, and theft.
Risks to consider - Criminals take advantage of the seemingly anonymous nature of Bitcoin. They can transact for illicit goods and services, then store the proceeds of their crime in digital form away from bank accounts. They can then launder the proceeds by converting them to other cryptocurrencies or cash. Only a diminishingly small number of Bitcoin users are acting in a criminal manner. The vast majority of the network is made up of genuine and legitimate users, investors and enthusiasts.
If you want to accept Bitcoin - there are plenty of resources online to first learn more about the technology and what it can offer you as a business or individual. A good starting point for most is https://bitcoin.org/en/getting-started which can then be supplemented with additional guidance from https://cointelegraph.com/bitcoin-for-beginners.
For the latest advice on regulation - the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) are the UK supervisor for cryptoasset businesses and have several resources available here.
About Detective Sergeant Paul Taylor
DS Paul Taylor is the Regional Cyber Crime Coordinator for the North West and is a specialist in cryptocurrency investigations. Paul has been involved with investigations concerning the criminal abuse of cryptocurrency since 2013 and continues to offer guidance and evidence to cases throughout the UK and further afield. Paul holds a master’s degree in Cyber Security, Threat Intelligence and Forensics from The University of Salford and has published research looking at how blockchain can be applied in the field of cyber security.