In the past few years, we’ve seen a steady increase in ransomware attacks that have shut down utilities, manufacturers and hospitals. This is extortion on a global scale. But coverage in The Seattle Times has failed to highlight the key fact that would help readers understand this threat.

Without exception, the criminals behind these attacks are demanding payment in cryptocurrency — the REvil syndicate behind the latest ransomware is demanding Bitcoin worth $70 million. This is the key technology that enables ransomware, because it’s the only way that criminals can safely and anonymously receive extortion payments anywhere in the world. The growth of ransomware as an industry has paralleled the growth of cryptocurrency.

Cryptocurrency is not useful for mundane transactions like buying a pizza, and it’s too volatile to serve as a store of value. As an investment, it has most of the properties of a Ponzi scheme. The one place where Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have proved their value is enabling criminal transactions. Any attempts to stem the flood of ransomware are doomed to fail without financial regulation that addresses the root of the problem.

Warren K. Jones, Seattle