“Follow the money” – for generations this is the mantra of investigators looking for criminals.
In the cyber sphere, this battle between criminals and the authorities has been raging for years.
Despite the anonymous nature of cryptocurrencies, dozens of cybercriminals have been caught in the last two years thanks to new techniques capable of tracking their funds around the cryptocurrency blockchain – a public list of all transactions between portfolios.
But can the tide be reversed?
A new service has launched on the dark web, offering criminals a way to check how “clean” their digital coins are.
“We see criminals starting to fight blockchain analysis, and this service is the first,” said Dr. Tom Robinson, chief scientist and founder of the Elliptic analyst who launched the website.
“It’s called Anti-Analysis, and criminals can now check their own bitcoin wallets and see if the authorities can report any connection to criminal activity,” Dr. Robinson said.
Elliptic says the discovery shows how complex cybercrime networks are becoming and how worried criminals are about being caught.
“It’s a very valuable technique. If your funds are tainted, then you can do more laundry and try to remove this link to criminal activity while you have clean coins, ”he said.
Dr Robinson says this is a worrying new trend that could hamper their work and the work of law enforcement. But fortunately, his researchers who tested it say the service isn’t working very well right now.
“In fact, he wasn’t very good at identifying links to criminal sites. Over time, however, it will inevitably improve. So I think this will be a significant ability for criminals and money launderers in the future. “
Governments around the world, including China, the UAE and the United Kingdom, are trying to tackle the growing problem of money laundering through cryptocurrencies.
There have been some arrests thanks to the tracking of cryptocurrencies – for example, the teenager from the United States Graham Ivan Clark, who is currently in prison to organize one of the biggest hacks for social media so far.
Clark has found a way to conquer the Twitter accounts of dozens of celebrities, including Kim Kardashian, Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Joe Biden.
Clark and his team of hackers then tweeted an ad for cryptocurrency fraud, receiving hundreds of transfers from the public in hopes of receiving money from the fake gift.
In just a few hours, Clark earned more than $ 100,000 (£ 72,000) and began the process of moving the funds to hide his tracks.
It did not work out. In the indictment against him, the US Department of Justice said that the officers successfully “analyzed the blockchain and de-anonymized bitcoin transactions, allowing the identification of hackers.”
Clark, now 18, pleaded guilty and spent three years in prison in Florida.
Expansion of privacy coins
Another trend that worries the authorities is the increased use of so-called privacy coins. These are cryptocurrencies like Monero that offer more anonymity than mass coins like Bitcoin.
In some cases of extortion, hackers now want victims to pay with these coins in exchange for a discount.
Again, this is a trend that is yet to be fully developed, and Kim Grawer, director of research at cryptocurrency analysis firm Chainalysis, says the method has drawbacks for criminals.
“Coins of confidentiality have not been accepted to the extent that can be expected. The main reason is that they are not as liquid as bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
“Cryptocurrency is only useful if you can buy and sell goods and services or pay in bulk, which is much more difficult with privacy coins.”