In under a century, how people pay for goods has undergone dramatic evolutions. Beginning with gold-backed, paper money, society then embraced digitized, un-backed fiat. Now we’re in the early stages of adopting blockchain-based cryptocurrencies.

The latest iteration of value exchange has the potential to democratize the financial industry by linking individuals in a faster, cheaper, and more interconnected, digital economy. The benefits have already accrued: immigrants to the U.S. are increasingly leveraging bitcoin to overcome financial barriers and optimize remittances, while Ukraine has raised millions in global cryptocurrency donations to support its defense against the Russian invasion. Unfortunately, like most innovative, new technologies, nefarious actors will find ways to exploit it. Crypto is not immune to cybercrime, and must be controlled before society at large accepts the new currency and its positive benefits can scale.

In early April, the play-to-earn crypto game, Axie Infinity, announced that $625 million in assets were hacked and another digital thief exploited a security flaw in the cryptocurrency platform, Wormhole, stealing close to $325 million. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice this year recorded its largest-ever financial seizure in the arrest of a modern-day Bonnie & Clyde over conspiracy to launder crypto, but the seizure happened six years after the theft occurred and left nearly a billion dollars unaccounted for. Too little, too late. According to Chainanalysis, a blockchain and crypto watchdog, cybercriminals stole a record $14 billion worth of cryptocurrencies in 2021, nearly double the 2020 figure. In the first quarter of 2022, crypto losses due to hacks and fraud were up 695% from the same period last year. Without better understanding and protection of private liabilities on the blockchain, trust in digital assets will begin eroding alongside value.

For its part, the U.S. government is seeking to bolster security and accountability. In March, President Biden issued an executive order mandating the study of federal crypto policy, including cybersecurity. The SEC announced plans to double its enforcement of crypto assets. And in April, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen gave her first speech on crypto, emphasizing a goal to craft regulations staving off fraudulent and illicit activity on the blockchain. In the same address, however, Yellen also acknowledged the elephant in the room when she identified the historical pattern of federal regulators failing to match the speed of technological progress. It is a lesson the private sector need not learn twice.

Instead of waiting for retroactive government action, investors have an opportunity to support and guide a burgeoning cybersecurity industry focused on protecting value exchange on the blockchain. Like a number of sectors that self-regulate, the digital-asset space can emulate that behavior for the benefit of all participants.

Several cybersecurity companies are already stepping up.

U.K.-based Elliptic uses AI to survey and analyze blockchain data to provide risk resiliency and anti-laundering assistance to governmental agencies, fintech firms and crypto users. For over seven years, MasterCard-backed CipherTrace has developed blockchain forensic tools to inspect and prevent crypto fraud by “de-anonymiz[ing]” addresses associated with cybercriminals, producing the information developers need to proactively keep bad actors away from their platforms.

And Next Dim, a seed-stage startup my firm invested in, has designed a pattern-seeking algorithm that automatically detects irregularities in both traditional and crypto transactions within the massive financial networks of big banks. Next Dim’s tech can encourage potentially hesitant legacy-financial firms to venture confidently into this nascent space, thereby capturing their many existing customers and building blockchain confidence in the marketplace. Obviously, with both new cryptocurrencies and criminal tactics emerging almost daily, these security tools must constantly evolve as each in its own right is not a panacea.

Even with the recent spike in fraud, we should remain optimistic about crypto’s growing role in our everyday lives and the benefits it can create for communities around the world. Across the entire financial system, fraud and its associated costs increased significantly over the past few years.

The difference crypto offers is the opportunity to build better protections into the foundation. Already, the blockchain provides a complete, transparent ledger of transactions, so it is very difficult for an individual to abscond with digital assets untraced. With more targeted investments in blockchain cybersecurity, we can shore up any other vulnerabilities and stay ahead of fraudsters.

As crypto matures past these growing stages, people beyond the early adopters will come to see the asset for what it really is: a safe, efficient means to interact directly with people and businesses on the digital marketplace, irrespective of geographic, political or financial boundaries.

Mor Assia is a Founding Partner and Co-CEO of iAngels , an Israel-based VC firm.

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