This battle between authorities and criminals has been going on for years in cyber-realm.
Many cyber-criminals were caught in the past two years despite the anonymity of cryptocurrency. This was due to new techniques that allow them to track their funds using the blockchain.
Could the tide be changing?
On the darknet, a new service was launched that allows criminals to verify how clean their digital coins are.
“We are seeing criminals begin to fight back against Blockchain analytics and this service ist a first,” explained Dr Tom Robinson (chief scientist, founder of Elliptic analysis provider Elliptic), who created the website.
Dr Robinson explained that this is called Antianalysis. Criminals can now check their Bitcoin wallets to see if they are associated with criminal activity.
Elliptic claims that the discovery shows just how sophisticated cyber-crime networks have become and how concerned criminals are about being caught.
It’s a valuable technique. He said that if your funds are corrupted, you can do more laundering to try and remove any association with criminal activity until the coins are clean.
Robinson said it was a worrying new trend that could complicate their work as well as that of law enforcement. However, the service is not working well for the moment according to Dr Robinson’s researchers.
“It wasn’t very efficient at identifying criminal links. It will, however, improve over time. This is why I believe it will be a major capability for criminals in the future.
All governments around the globe, including those in China, UAE, and the UK, are working to address the problem of money laundering via cryptocurrencies.
Some high-profile arrests have been made thanks to cryptocurrency tracking. Graham Ivan Clark, a US teenager, is currently being held for masterminding one the largest-ever social media hacks.
Clark was able to take control of the Twitter accounts of many celebrities, including Elon Musk and Joe Biden.
Clark and his hacker group then posted a tweet announcing a scam with cryptocurrency. They received hundreds of transfer requests from people looking to cash in on the fake giveaway.
Clark quickly made more than $100,000 in just a few hours and started moving funds around to conceal his tracks.
It didn’t work. The US Department of Justice stated that they had successfully “analyzed the blockchain and de-anonymised Bitcoin transactions, allowing for the identification” of the hackers in the charges against him.
Clark, now 18 years old, pleaded guilty to the charges and is currently serving three year sentence in a Florida jail.
Privacy coin growth
Authorities are also concerned by the rise in popularity of privacy coins. These cryptocurrencies, such as Monero or XRP, offer greater anonymity than traditional coins like Bitcoin.
Hackers are asking victims in extortion cases to use these coins to get a discount.
This is a new trend, and Kim Grauer (director of research at Chainalysis), says that it is still in its infancy.
Privacy coins aren’t being used in the way one might expect. They aren’t as easily liquid as Bitcoin or other cryptocurrency.
“Cryptocurrency can only be used to buy and sell services, or cash out in mainstream money. This is much harder with privacy coins.