A new open source Python-based tool called BitCluster may soon make it harder for Bitcoin users to stay anonymous. Motherboard recently talked with the two creators of the project, David Décary-Hétu and Mathieu Lavoie, who say the platform isn’t meant to help the authorities or those committing crimes.
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BitCluster Can Find the BTC Transaction Source
BitCluster, unveiled at the NorthSec 2015 conference, may not be able to identify a person’s name and address. However, the Python-based platform groups Bitcoin addresses together in a way that determines if certain transactions came from the same source. These sources could be an exchange, marketplace, business or an individual user.
University of Montreal assistant professor David Décary-Hétu tells Motherboard in an interview:
Our goal is not to help either the offenders or law enforcement.— Our goal was to see, how much data can you gather on people who are using the bitcoin network, and can you aggregate the Bitcoin wallets which seem to be anonymous and isolated from one another?
The two developers will be showing off the new tool during the HOPE hacking event, held in New York City this July 22. The platform analyzes transactions between specific addresses and enables those using the tool to log connected addresses into a downloadable spreadsheet. Décary-Hétu says this can be useful for tracking ransomware authors’ payments.
“We can see exactly how much money they’ve made,” he says. “Because we can group this data by date or amount, we can know exactly when the first victim sent them money.”
The project, according to its creators, will be open source, but they won’t be setting up any specific company or goal with the newly-designed tool. They say the platform takes a lot of computational resources, and those wanting to apply the technology will have to do so on their own behalf.
Not Intended for Law Enforcement
The platform does not necessarily track specific addresses, according to Mathieu Lavoie. “Instead of seeing movement per addresses, you see movement per entity,” he explains.
In regards to Dark Net Marketplaces (DNM), the project’s creators say that it’s also possible to cluster transactions made in escrow towards an individual market. The developers have accrued data from marketplaces currently in operation such as Nucleus and the AlphaBay. They also have cluster information tethered to the original Silk Road. This includes average transaction data going in and out of the market, and how much the vendors are making in total.
The developers know that law enforcement may take advantage of this new tool, but it is mainly designed to motivate researchers and academic professionals. Décary-Hétu stresses many times in the interview that this tool is not meant for any particular entity unlike services such as Elliptic and Chainalysis.
“It’s an open tool to help people have a better idea of what is going on with the Bitcoin network,” states Décary-Hétu.
For users looking to stay under the radar of monitoring tools such like BitCluster, the developers say coin shufflers work well, but that they can track the money if all the funds end up in one wallet. Another tip is to stay away from using the same address multiple times, and to avoid sharing addresses online. The tool, the developers say, are for those not using Bitcoin “properly,” and they believe most people are not using it to their benefit when it comes to privacy.
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