Ending Anonymity: Why the WEF’s Partnership Against Cybercrime Threatens the Future of Privacy

With many focusing on the Cyber Polygon exercise, less attention has been paid to the World Economic Forum’s real ambitions in cybersecurity – to create a global organization aimed at gutting even the possibility of anonymity online. With the governments of the US, UK and Israel on board, along with some of the world’s most powerful corporations, it is important to pay attention to their endgame, not just the simulations.

Amid a series of warnings and simulations in the past year regarding a massive cyber attack that could soon bring down the global financial system, the “information sharing group” of the largest banks and private financial organizations in the United States warned earlier this year that banks “will encounter growing danger” from “converging” nation-state and criminal hackers over the course of 2021 and in the years that follow.

The organization, called the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center (FS-ISAC), made the claim in its 2021 “Navigating Cyber” report, which assesses the events of 2020 and provides a forecast for the current year. That forecast, which casts a devastating cyber attack on the financial system through third parties as practically inevitable, also makes the case for a “global fincyber [financial-cyber] utility” as the main solution to the catastrophic scenarios it predicts.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, an organization close to top FS-ISAC members has recently been involved in laying the groundwork for that very “global fincyber utility” — the World Economic Forum, which recently produced the model for such a utility through its Partnership against Cybercrime (WEF-PAC) project. Not only are top individuals at FS-ISAC involved in WEF cybersecurity projects like Cyber Polygon, but FS-ISAC’s CEO was also an adviser to the WEF-Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report that warned that the global financial system was increasingly vulnerable to cyber attacks and was the subject of the first article in this 2-part series.

Another article, published earlier this year at Unlimited Hangout, also explored the WEF’s Cyber Polygon 2020 simulation of a cyber attack targeting the global financial system. Another iteration of Cyber Polygon is due to take place tomorrow July 9th and will focus on simulating a supply chain cyber attack.

A major theme in these efforts has not only been an emphasis on global cooperation, but also a merging of private banks and/or corporations with the State, specifically intelligence and law enforcement agencies. In addition, many of the banks, institutions and individuals involved in the creation of these reports and simulations are either actively involved in WEF-related efforts to usher in a new global economic model of “stakeholder capitalism” or are seeking to imminently introduce, or are actively developing, central bank-backed digital currencies, or CBDCs.

In addition, and as mentioned in the first article in this series, a cyber attack like those described in these reports and simulations would also provide the perfect scenario for dismantling the current failing financial system, as it would absolve central banks and corrupt financial institutions of any responsibility. The convergence of several concerning factors in the financial world, including the end of LIBOR at the end of year and the imminent hyperinflation of globally important currencies, suggests that the time is ripe for an event that would not only allow the global economy to “reset”, but also absolve the fundamentally corrupt financial institutions around the world from any wrongdoing. Instead, faceless hackers can be blamed and, given recent precedents in the US and elsewhere, any group or nation state can be blamed with minimal evidence as politically convenient.

This report will closely examine both FS-ISAC’s recent predictions and the WEF Partnership against Cybercrime, specifically the WEF-PAC’s efforts to position itself as the cybersecurity alliance of choice if and when such a catastrophic cyber attack cripples the current financial system.

Of particular interest is the call by both FS-ISAC and the WEF Partnership against Cybercrime to specifically target cryptocurrencies, particularly those that favor transactional anonymity, as well as the infrastructure on which those cryptocurrencies run. Though framed as a way to combat “cybercrime”, it is obvious that cryptocurrencies are to be unwanted competitors for the soon-to-be-launched central bank digital currencies.

In addition, as this report will show, there is a related push by WEF partners to “tackle cybercrime” that seeks to end privacy and the potential for anonymity on the internet in general, by linking government-issued IDs to internet access. Such a policy would allow governments to surveil every piece of online content accessed as well as every post or comment authored by each citizen, supposedly to ensure that no citizen can engage in “criminal” activity online.

Notably, the WEF Partnership against Cybercrime employs a very broad definition of what constitutes a “cybercriminal” as they apply this label readily to those who post or host content deemed to be “disinformation” that represents a threat to “democratic” governments. The WEF’s interest in criminalizing and censoring online content has been made evident by its recent creation of a new Global Coalition for Digital Safety to facilitate the increased regulation of online speech by both the public and private sectors.

FS-ISAC, its influence and its doomsday “predictions” for 2021

FS-ISAC officially exists to “help ensure the resilience and continuity of the global financial services infrastructure and individual firms against acts that could significantly impact the sector’s ability to provide services critical to the orderly function of the global economy.” In other words, FS-ISAC allows the private financial services industry to decide on and coordinate sector-wide responses regarding how financial services are provided during and after a given crisis, including a cyber attack. It was tellingly created in 1999, the same year that the Glass-Steagall Act, which regulated banks after the onset of the Great Depression, was repealed.

Though FS-ISAC’s members are not publicly listed on the group’s website, they do acknowledge that their membership includes some of the world’s largest banks, Fintech companies, insurance firms and payment processors. On their board of directors, the companies and organizations represented include CitiGroup, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Morgan Stanley, among others, strongly suggesting that FS-ISAC is largely a Wall Street-dominated entity. SWIFT, the society that manages inter-bank communication and dominates it globally, is also represented on FS-ISAC’s board. Collectively, FS-ISAC members represent $35 trillion in assets under management in more than 70 countries.

FS-ISAC also has ties to the World Economic Forum due to the direct involvement of its then-CEO Steve Silberstein in the WEF-Carnegie initiative and FS-ISAC’s participation in the initiative’s “stakeholder engagements.” There is also the fact that some prominent FS-ISAC members, like Bank of America and SWIFT, are also members of the WEF’s Centre for Cybersecurity, which houses the WEF Partnership against Cybercrime project.

At the individual level, the founding director of FS-ISAC, Charles Blauner, is now an agenda contributor to the WEF who previously held top posts at JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank and CitiGroup. He currently is a partner and CISO-in-residence of Team8, a controversial start-up incubator that operates as a front for Israeli military intelligence in tech-related ventures that is part of the WEF Partnership against Cybersecurity. Team8’s CEO and co-founder and the former commander of Israeli intelligence outfit Unit 8200, Nadav Zafrir, has contributed to WEF Centre for Cybersecurity policy documents and WEF panels on the “Great Reset”.

In addition, current FS-ISAC board member Laura Deaner, CISO of Northwestern Mutual, served as the co-chair for the WEF’s Global Futures Council on Cybersecurity. Teresa Walsh, the current global head of intelligence for FS-ISAC, will be a speaker at the WEF’s Cyber Polygon 2021 regarding how to develop an international response to ransomware attacks. Walsh previously worked as an intelligence analyst for Citibank, JP Morgan Chase and the US Navy.

The FS-ISAC’s recent report is worth looking at in detail for several reasons, with the main one being the sheer power and influence that its members, both known and unknown, hold over the current fiat-based financial system. The full report is exclusive to FS-ISAC members, but a “thematic summary” is publicly available.

The FS-ISAC’s recent report on “Navigating Cyber” in 2021 is “based on the contributions of our members and the resulting trend analysis by FS-ISAC’s Global Intelligence Office (GIO)” and includes several “predictions” for the current calendar year. The group’s GIO, led by Teresa Walsh, soon-to-be speaker at Cyber Polygon 2021, also “coordinates with other cybersecurity organizations, companies and agencies around the world” in addition to its intelligence gathering from FS-ISAC members.

At the beginning of 2020, when the COVID-19 crisis resulted in an overt push towards digitization, FS-ISAC launched a “new secure chat and intelligence sharing platform” that “provided a new way for members to discuss threats and security trends.” It is fair to assume that the private discussions on this platform directly informed this report. According to the recent FS-ISAC report, the main trends and threats discussed by its members through this service over the past year were “third party risks”, such as the risk presented by major hacks of third party service providers, like the SolarWinds hack, and “geopolitical tensions.”

The report contains several “predictions for 2021 and beyond.” The first of these predictions is that adversarial nation-states will team up with “the cybercriminal underworld” in order to “obfuscate their activity and complication attribution.” FS-ISAC does not provide evidence of this having happened, but supporting this claim makes it easier to blame state governments for the activities of cybercriminals when politically convenient without concrete evidence. This has happened on several occasions with recent high-profile hacks, most recently with SolarWinds. As noted in previous reporting, prominent companies that contract for the US government and military, like Microsoft, and intelligence-linked cybersecurity companies, are often the sole sources for such narratives in the past and, in those cases, do not provide evidence, instead qualifying such assertions as “likely” or probable.” Even mainstream outlets reporting on FS-ISAC’s “predictions” noted that “FS-ISAC did not point to specific examples of spies relying on such tradecraft in the past,” openly suggesting that there is little factual basis to support this claim.

Other predictions focus on how third party service providers, such as SolarWinds and the more recently targeted Kaseya, will dominate, affecting potentially many thousands of companies across multiple sectors at once. However, the SolarWinds hack was not properly investigated, merely labeled by US intelligence as having “likely” ties to “Russian” state-linked actors despite no publicly available evidence to support that claim. Instead, the SolarWinds hack appears to have been related to its acquisition of an Israeli company funded by intelligence-linked firms, as discussed in this report from earlier this year. SolarWinds acquired the company, called Samanage, and integrated its software fully into its platform around the same time that the backdoor used to execute the hack was placed into the SolarWinds platform that was later compromised.

FS-ISAC also predicts that attacks will cross borders, continents, and verticals, with increasing speed. More specifically, it states that the cyber pandemic will begin with cyber criminals that “test attacks in one country and quickly scale up to multiple targets in other parts of the world.” FS-ISAC argues that it is therefore “critical to have a global view on cyber threats facing the sector in order to prepare and defend against them.” Since FS-ISAC made this prediction, cyber attacks and especially ransomware have been occurring throughout the world and targeting different sectors at a much more rapid pace than has ever been seen before. For instance, following the Colonial Pipeline hack in early May, JapanNew Zealand, and Ireland all experienced major cyber attacks, followed by the JBS hack on June 1. The hack of Kaseya, believed by some to be just as consequential and damaging as SolarWinds, took place about a month later on July 2, affecting thousands of companies around the world.

The final, and perhaps the most important, of these predictions is that “economic drivers towards cybercrime will increase.” FS-ISAC claims that the current economic situation created by COVID-related lockdowns will “make cybercrime an ever more attractive alternative,” noting immediately afterwards that “dramatic increases in cryptocurrency valuation may drive threat actors to conduct campaigns capitalising on this market, including extortion campaigns against financial institutions and their customers.”

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