Alberto Bazbaz Sacal, a well-known financial intelligence specialist and former president of The Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (GAFILAT) for Latin and South America, has a new priority: cybersecurity.
Not only does Alberto Bazbaz Sacal call it an immediate need for Mexico’s infrastructure, he believes it can help remedy the country’s longstanding fight against money laundering.
The Recurring Problem
Money laundering occurs when someone makes illegitimate money but tries to make it appear legitimate. In Mexico, this often means illegal money (made through drug trafficking, cyberterrorism, bribery, etc.) that’s passed off as legal.
Alberto Bazbaz Sacal says that money laundering has plagued Mexico and much of Latin America for far too long. Last year alone, the Mexican government reported roughly $50 billion in money laundering. And the problem’s only grown with the coronavirus pandemic.
Money laundering allows individual criminals and organizations to easily use large funds made from illicit activities. With the pandemic shredding economies across the world, Alberto Bazbaz Sacal says it’s not surprising that criminals are taking advantages of governments’ fragile states.
With resources limited and challenges aplenty, Alberto Bazbaz Sacal emphasizes that this is the perfect time for governments to join forces in combatting money laundering. Latin America needs to work together in order to solidify its financial systems (especially with the rise of fintech), as well as institute better strategies and plans to eradicate this persistent problem.
The challenge, Bazbaz Sacal suggests (and a reason why money laundering has remained such a prolonged issue) is that illegal funds often enter financial systems after being partially laundered. This makes them difficult to detect.
Not to mention, with changing times comes changing practices for money launderers. Strategies for engaging in these illegal activities have evolved into much more complex and intricate methods. Thus, it seems like every time new systems are put into place to combat money laundering, savvy criminals find a way to bypass them.
The next step is finding a way to adapt alongside money laundering criminals and develop more vigilant ways to detect laundering practices before it’s too late and the damage has been done.
Luckily, Bazbaz Sacal knows exactly what steps need to be taken. Ironically, they stem from a more recent issue that the financial intelligence specialist and all of Mexico face.
The New Problem
Mexico’s latest foe is the cyberattacker. Like money launderers, cyberattackers have been taking advantage of opportune moments to attack during the coronavirus pandemic.
In fact, El Economista reported that nearly three quarters of Mexican companies who incorporate cloud-based networks from global businesses (Microsoft, Amazon, Google, etc.) have dealt with security breaches.
Subsequently, many Mexican citizens who use public could networks have reported increased cryptojacking and ransomware attacks. As a result, there is little trust among the public when it comes to using these networks in the future.
No one wants their personal data jeopardized, and the lack of faith in cybersecurity measures across Mexico has only grown with the times and number of incidents that have continued to occur.
There’s a link here, too. Alberto Bazbaz Sacal’s own research and insights suggest a connection between cyberattacks and money laundering.
Sometimes, though, a problem has to get worse before it can get better. That’s exactly what Alberto Bazbaz Sacal and Mexico are up against right now. As it turns out, there’s an added element to the money laundering and cyberattacking challenges.
It comes in the form of cryptocurrency.
Because of the current economic crisis and rise of cryptocurrency, Bazbaz Sacal predicts that many digitally-savvy criminals will turn to just that: digital assets in an effort to make their illegal funds become less traceable.
For example, with Bitcoin, monetary value can be shared directly between users without input from any sort of financial institution. Bitcoin hinges on what’s known as a blockchain, or a record of transaction history meant to allow for complete and total transparency between users.
The problem is that this type of system can be used for quick and easy international transactions. It’s used by people making honest transactions as well as the exact opposite.
In Bazbaz Sacal’s opinion, the lack of centralization creates major complications for financial regulators and criminal authorities. Bitcoin transactions remove the intermediary, making life that much easier for criminals to cheat the system.
So, what to do? Kill two birds with one stone.
There’s no hiding from these incredibly challenging problems. However, Bazbaz Sacal is confident that Mexico can eliminate the saturation of cyberattacks and also effectively combat the country’s money laundering dilemma.
The answer lies in cybersecurity.
Cybersecurity as a Solution
In 2018, Mexico enacted its Fintech Law, a major step toward improving the financial access of its citizens. The fintech industry has exploded across Mexico over the past several years, and the country is leading Latin America in fintech implementation.
Combine this progress with the influx of cyberattacks and dubious nature of Bitcoin transactions, and there’s no question that cybersecurity must be a priority.
Right now, Alberto Bazbaz Sacal and other knowledgeable officials are on a mission to educate those unfamiliar with this need. For a long time, companies have operated on a reactionary basis. Bazbaz Sacal wants to change this, particularly as the fintech industry continues to grow.
— Alberto Bazbaz Sacal (@AlbertoBazbazMX) August 24, 2020
Methods and procedures for protecting one’s assets against a cyberattack must be in place.
Earlier in the pandemic, three of Mexico’s largest banks faced unexpected cyberattacks. Fortunately, all three attacks failed, but had they succeeded, customers’ assets could’ve been compromised and stolen.
Despite the grim facts behind three attacks in a relatively short period of time, Alberto Bazbaz Sacal remains optimistic that these failed attempts to steal money and data will serve as a positive educational opportunity for companies and the public alike.
One of the reasons for Mexico’s lack of cybersecurity comes from its lack of understanding about its importance. As the country becomes more involved with digitization of data and assets, Bazbaz Sacal wants to address this limited knowledge around cybersecurity measures and help companies throughout the country create active plans that will help them be prepared for any attack at any time.
That’s a big point of understanding, Bazbaz Sacal admits. Companies and individuals need to accept the fact that a cyberattack can happen anywhere, anytime, and to anyone. Because we live in a society filled with technology, these attacks are more prevalent.
It goes back to changing with the times. Criminals are doing it, and governments must do the same.
In enacting appropriate cybersecurity measures, Mexico can ensure that millions of internet users retain their private information. Repeated cyberattacks will cease as criminals are met with stronger barriers to entry. The rampant distrust that exists between banks and customers when attacks occur will dissolve. And, most importantly, a growing industry that’s proven pivotal to strengthening Mexico’s economy will still be able to flourish.
Given the economic fallout from COVID-19, Mexico and Latin America as a whole need to divert all the resources they can toward strengthening the economy.
Moving forward, Bazbaz Sacal hopes to highlight the need for cybersecurity through intentional education. This means information for customers, targeted presentations and planning sessions for companies, and an all-around united front between the government and Mexico’s citizens.
Bazbaz Sacal also wants to make sure that appropriate steps are taken to help companies develop and implement their cybersecurity plans. Again, the goal is to avoid reacting to situations and be proactive.
In doing so, Mexico can stymie recurring cyberattacks, fight cyberterrorism at-large, and better detect instances of criminals trying to steal data or launder money via digital means. This will also help the country stabilize an economy that’s limping from the impact of the pandemic.
Given his background and understanding of financial security and cyber threats, Alberto Bazbaz Sacal is ready to help steer Mexico in the right direction. He’s committed to working with other officials to face Mexico’s problems head-on and devise solutions that promise long-term success instead of short-term relief.
Money laundering and cyberattacks are ongoing battles with lots of moving parts. However, they’re ones that Alberto Bazbaz Sacal plans to win.