Haaroon Yousaf, George Kappos, and Sarah Meiklejohn, University College London
One of the defining features of a cryptocurrency is that its ledger, containing all transactions that have ever taken place, is globally visible. As one consequence of this degree of transparency, a long line of recent research has demonstrated that -- even in cryptocurrencies that are specifically designed to improve anonymity -- it is often possible to track money as it changes hands, and in some cases to de-anonymize users entirely. With the recent proliferation of alternative cryptocurrencies, however, it becomes relevant to ask not only whether or not money can be traced as it moves within the ledger of a single cryptocurrency, but if it can in fact be traced as it moves across ledgers. This is especially pertinent given the rise in popularity of automated trading platforms such as ShapeShift, which make it effortless to carry out such cross-currency trades. In this paper, we use data scraped from ShapeShift over a thirteen-month period and the data from eight different blockchains to explore this question. Beyond developing new heuristics and creating new types of links across cryptocurrency ledgers, we also identify various patterns of cross-currency trades and of the general usage of these platforms, with the ultimate goal of understanding whether they serve a criminal or a profit-driven agenda.
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