An Inquiry into Money Laundering Tools in the Bitcoin Ecosystem
Möser Malte, Böhme Rainer, Breuker Dominic
We provide a first systematic account of opportunities and limitations of anti-money laundering (AML) in Bitcoin, a decentralized cryptographic currency proliferating on the Internet. Our starting point is the observation that Bitcoin attracts criminal activity as many say it is an anonymous transaction system. While this claim does not stand up to scrutiny, several services offering increased transaction anonymization have emerged in the Bitcoin ecosystem -- such as Bitcoin Fog, BitLaundry, and the Send Shared functionality of Blockchain.info. In a series of experiments, we use reverse-engineering methods to understand the mode of operation and try to trace anonymized transactions back to our probe accounts. While Bitcoin Fog and Blockchain.info successfully anonymize our test transactions, we can link the input and output transactions of BitLaundry. Against the backdrop of these findings, it appears unlikely that a Know-Your-Customer principle can be enforced in the Bitcoin system. Hence, we sketch alternative AML strategies accounting for imperfect knowledge of true identities but exploiting public information in the transaction graph, and discuss the implications for Bitcoin as a decentralized currency.