What are Bitcoin mixers, and why do exchanges ban them?

Bitcoin transactions are easy to trace, except when the sender uses a mixer to muddle the link between their crypto address and real-life identity.

One of the original allures of cryptocurrency is the narrative that using them provides the sender or recipient anonymously, but this is a common misconception within the sector. 

In reality, Bitcoin (BTC) and many other cryptocurrencies are easily traceable.

Proof of this came earlier this week when on April 27, U.S. authorities arrested the mastermind of Bitcoin Fog, a darknet-based BTC mixing service. Authorities were able to capture the operator after analyzing ten years of blockchain data.

One doesn’t need to be a forensic analyst to know that every single transaction is tied up to addresses on the blockchain and that they will stay there forever. While government agencies cannot determine the IP address or personal data from the address, these coins usually end up being used for products or service payments. This is the trail that leads back to the sender and recipient.

In the case of Bitcoin Fog, law enforcement was able to identify server hosting expenses paid using digital currency. Bitcoin mixing services such as Bitcoin Fog allow users to mix their coins with other users, making it almost impossible to detect the destination addresses. This obfuscates the ties between the inputs and output addresses, providing a better level of privacy.

Example of a mixing transaction. Source: TarushTech-Medium

Mixing services are offered in a wide range of methods, including fully centralized solutions where trust is required, to Coinjoin mixers, which depend on a large group of users to self cooperate and act simultaneously. There’s even the possibility of trading on decentralized exchanges (DEX) to virtually eliminate any possible tracing.

Mixers do present a few risks

Centralized mixers offer the obvious single point of failure problem. Even if one trusts that the entity is using multisig addresses, if the service is willing to share its data or has been breached, their users will lose their privacy.

CoinJoin solved this problem by combining the inputs of multiple users into a single transaction. The service will then take those coins, craft them into a transaction, and have each participant sign before broadcasting it to the network. These transactions are then merged into one, and each user gets the original quantity in return. However, no one can see the origin of those coins, not even the entity that merges the transaction.

Even though CoinJoin isn’t exactly untraceable, it provides plausible deniability, as no one can point out which entity owns each output. The larger the number of participants, the higher the degree of deniability.

Wasabi Wallet CoinJoin function screen capture. Source: WasabiWallet

Some cryptocurrency users also require anonymity for sending tokens to their wallets, and Wasabi Wallet has long been used for its embedded CoinJoin functionalities.

While its infrastructure is technically centralized, its design assures that the operators cannot deanonymize users or steal any funds. At the moment, the Wasabi wallet is only available for desktop solutions, so as is the case with anything in cryptocurrency, beware of clones!

A similar service is provided by Samourai wallet, which also offers a Chaumian CoinJoin mixing service, called Whirlpool. To achieve a full-privacy solution, users have to connect the Samourai wallet to their own full Bitcoin node. However, it does offer desktop and mobile versions.

Even though these mixing services aren’t illegal in most jurisdictions, some exchanges and services might refuse users linked to addresses associated with coin mixing activities.

As more people realize the importance of achieving a certain degree of privacy for self-protection, the fewer incentives companies will have to deny their clients to use mixers.

The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Cointelegraph.com. Every investment and trading move involves risk, you should conduct your own research when making a decision.

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Singapore PM tells followers to ‘remain vigilant’ on crypto after seeing name used to sell tokens

“I have nothing to do with the platform,” said Lee Hsien Loong. “It is misleading and done without my permission.”

Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore, claims someone set up a profile on the social token platform BitClout to sell tokens using the information from his Twitter account. 

In a Facebook post Friday, Loong urged Singaporeans to “to remain vigilant when dealing with cryptocurrency platforms.” He said that someone had used BitClout to create one of the platform’s Creator Coins using his name, Twitter account bio, and photo. According to the screenshot Loong posted, there were 27.4088 of his tokens with a market capitalization of more than $9,800, with at least one user holding $4.77 worth.

“I have discovered that my Twitter profile (and others as well) has been used without my permission or knowledge on a blockchain platform that allows users to buy and speculate with its proprietary cryptocurrency,” said the prime minister.

He added:

“The site’s creators are anonymous, but I have sent an open tweet out to ask that my name and photo be removed from the site immediately, as I have nothing to do with the platform. It is misleading and done without my permission.”

Loong’s account has since been removed, but could have been added to the platform at launch. According to BitClout, the site pre-loaded the top 15,000 Twitter influencers — purportedly based on the number of followers — allowing users to “buy and sell their coins even though they’re not on the platform yet.” The Singapore PM has more than 792,000 followers.

However, it appears that the figures behind the BitClout accounts do not have to reserve their profiles for the buying and selling of the tokens to start. Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s BitClout profile shows he has not officially joined the platform, but many users are currently holding his tokens, worth $89,379.39 each at the time of publication. When creators activate their accounts by tweeting out their BitClout address, they’re entitled to claim a certain number of their own tokens.

The prime minister’s warning went out to his 1.6 million Facebook followers in addition to his Twitter followers, but was purportedly intended for all 5.7 million people living in Singapore. Loong seemed to imply investing in the crypto platform was akin to “falling prey to scams,” and encouraged users to only deal with companies regulated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

BitClout has also attracted the attention of former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson, who is handing out signed copies of her final 2016 Playboy magazine cover to the three biggest holders of her Creator Coin. Anderson’s token is currently valued at $6,749.89 with a market cap of more than $800,000.

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Law Decoded: The guard changes, and with it, the tweets, Jan. 8–15

Accompanying the presidential transition are some major questions about the role of social media in society and politics.

Every Friday, Law Decoded delivers analysis on the week’s critical stories in the realms of policy, regulation and law.

Editor’s note

Armed National Guardsmen are building up concentric perimeters of black barricades around the U.S. Capitol and its whole neighborhood of federal buildings in preparation for the Biden inauguration and protests against it on Wednesday. Which inspires some déjà vu, whether to last week or last summer.

As much as history is said to repeat itself, the present day seems to be stuck on its own loop. Remember how last week’s Law Decoded was mostly about the handover of presidential power in the U.S.? This is also going to be about that. Apologies; I too hope that this stops dominating news.

In the same vein, today’s leading stories are going to feature a cast of characters eerily similar to last week’s. If it’s any help, their primary role in today’s plot is that they are all about to change.

Watch the platform

One consequence of last week’s violence at the U.S. Capitol was the lockdown on President Trump’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. CEO of Twitter and Square Jack Dorsey wrote an extended thread on the decision last night, pointing to what many see as the grand crux of the current tech dilemma. Platforms make their own decisions in a free market, but consumers have little free choice between providers when a small group of major companies act collectively.

Facebook and Twitter went on to purge a number of far-right accounts — a decision they are certainly allowed to make, by law. Many of those accounts migrated to encrypted channels like Telegram and Signal, which saw a surge in bad press attacking them for fostering extremism. A combined blockade from Apple, Google and Amazon Web Services seems to have completely strangled Parler, which was a known online hangout for white nationalists. And it’s not just social media. Stripe, PayPal and Square announced that they would cut off payments to organizations connected to last week’s rallies. In advance of Wednesday’s inauguration, AirBNB has shut down rentals in the D.C. area after conversations with the mayor’s office, with a number of local hotels joining them.

Allow me to be clear: I have no patience for “stop the steal,” QAnon, nor the Proud Boys and the whole constellation of white supremacist groups surrounding them. As a D.C. resident, I don’t particularly want these protestors here either. But these are some problematic methods. Even Reporters Without Borders, certainly no fans of Trump, called for more democratic controls in the face of this mass deplatforming.

While these companies have free rein to police content on their platforms, politicians don’t always have to pass laws to pressure and even deputize private companies into doing their bidding, which is more of a First Amendment concern. Republicans and Democrats in federal office have spent recent years threatening social media giants to get them to fall in line. With Democrats narrowly winning the Senate as of last week, the recent excision of Trumpism may owe more to self-preservation than moral awakening. All of which makes me deeply uncomfortable.

Last week’s attempted insurrection was undoubtedly outside boundaries of freedom of speech. Authorities should arrest those who stormed the Capitol, especially those who did so looking to commit violence upon elected officials. Twitter and Facebook were right to cut off Trump’s megaphone. But the U.S. is facing some dangerous trade-offs between freedom and security. Dorsey’s ultimate conclusion is especially intriguing: If these platforms are going to function as town squares, they should be decentralized so there is no individual making these calls. But don’t expect legislators to wait around for that to happen before they act.

A parting gift from Brian Brooks

Brian Brooks has left the building, but not before an encore.

On Brooks’ last day as the head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the OCC announced that it had granted a national charter to Anchorage.

Compliance-minded crypto-based financial services in the U.S. have historically depended on state money services business licensing. The OCC, the regulator for national banks, has long flirted with a means of expanding that access to more niche fintech firms that may not hold traditional deposits — freeing them from the FDIC requirements that typical banks have, but otherwise authorizing them to operate nationwide.

The concept is a major rethinking of what exactly banking is, and Anchorage is the first recipient. While the idea goes back well before Brooks’ time, he is the most fintech and crypto-forward figure to lead the OCC. In only seven months as acting comptroller, Brooks has been instrumental to a flurry of actions to integrate crypto into the financial system.

Brooks’ position is, however, an appointed one, with a formal nomination from Trump coming only after the November election. The Senate, occupied with presidential shenanigans and seeing a sea change clear on the horizon, never scheduled Brooks’ confirmation hearing.

FinCEN flinches

The Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network has extended the timeframe on its controversial proposal to require crypto exchanges to hold more data on self-hosted wallets they transact with.

This is not to say that the rule has been cancelled. Far from it. But one of the central concerns over the proposal was the fact that it gave only 15 days for response, days which fell on Christmas and New Year’s Day and came immediately before a new administration comes to power.

The slowdown was thanks to an overwhelming response from the crypto industry, which on average submitted some 500 comments a day. The extended window will put any final decision on the proposal in the hands of the next administration. The rulemaking was part of an overall suspicion of crypto from Secretary Treasury Steven Mnuchin, who, alongside many of Trump’s cabinet picks, was obsessed with uncontrolled capital flows out of the U.S. and consequently saw crypto primarily as a threat. While the next administration is likely to put out a rule based on some of these provisions, Yellen doesn’t have quite the same tradition of international hawkishness.

Further reads

The Electronic Frontier Foundation argues against firms that, like Amazon, offer technological infrastructure acting as chokepoints for content.

Brookings’ TechStream assesses two new draft laws that aim to reconfigure competition and data management among digital platforms in the EU.

The Economist gives a (comically begrudging) explainer of Bitcoin’s recent bull run.

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Following delisting, Dash pushes back against ‘privacy coin’ label

Despite past claims, Dash insists that it’s no more private than Bitcoin

A recent tweet from Dash’s official Twitter account has invited criticism that the cryptocurrency, which once advertised its privacy features, is wilting in the face of possible regulatory scrutiny. 

On Jan. 1, the US-based Bittrex exchange announced in a tweet that it would be delisting Monero, Zcash, and Dash:

The delistings follow a similar Dec. 29 announcement last week that Bittrex would be delisting XRP following a SEC lawsuit against Ripple, prompting speculation that the exchange preemptively delisted the privacy coins in anticipation of a wider regulatory crackdown. 

In response, Dash announced in a tweet that they had “reached out to @BittrexExchange to request a meeting,” and that referring to DASH as a “privacy coin” is a misnomer:

As recently as 2017, however, archived screenshots from the Dash Foundation website advertise DASH as “the worlds first privacy centric crypto-currency.” The current Dash Foundation website instead now says DASH is “the leading payments cryptocurrency.”

In a recent tweet about the delisting DashPay CEO Ryan Taylor also minimized the currency’s privacy features:

While the seeming about-face has prompted jeers and criticism on Twitter, proponents have noted that Dash released guidance on the cryptocurrency’s privacy features in August. In a blog on the official Dash website, Taylor wrote that “regulators are concerned that exchanges may be unable to comply with KYC / AML regulations when transacting coins with privacy features,” because DASH is “often found on lists of coins with privacy enhancements.” 

However, Taylor wrote that Dash has largely been successful in convincing exchanges and regulators that Dash is not a privacy coin.

“Through a process of education, we have been effective in explaining the technology and convincing regulators that accepting Dash poses no incremental risk compared to Bitcoin.”

The clarifications about Dash’s core focus follow an announced upgrade to Dash moving to the testnet phase, an upgrade which will include DashPay, a “social crypto payments wallet.” DASH is down 3% on the day to $87.71.

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Darknet Giant White House Market Drops Bitcoin, Supports Monero Payments Only

Darknet Giant White House Market Drops Bitcoin, Supports Monero Payments OnlyThe prominent darknet marketplace, White House Market, has dropped bitcoin payments and now accepts monero only. The darknet marketplace administrators detailed that there was an issue with a payment processor blocking Tor exit nodes, but the full transition to monero was always planned. A number of crypto proponents have reported on the darknet marketplace, White […]

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