SoK: Assumptions Underlying Cryptocurrency Deanonymizations

Authors: Dominic Deuber (Friedrich-AlexanderUniversität Erlangen-Nürnberg), Viktoria Ronge (Friedrich-AlexanderUniversität Erlangen-Nürnberg), Christian Rückert (Universität Mannheim)

Volume: 2022
Issue: 3
Pages: 670–691
DOI: https://doi.org/10.56553/popets-2022-0091

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Abstract: In recent years, cryptocurrencies have increasingly been used in cybercrime and have become the key means of payment in darknet marketplaces, partly due to their alleged anonymity. Furthermore, the research attacking the anonymity of even those cryptocurrencies that claim to offer anonymity by design is growing and is being applied by law enforcement agencies in the fight against cybercrime. Their investigative measures require a certain degree of suspicion and it is unclear whether findings resulting from attacks on cryptocurrencies’ anonymity can indeed establish that required degree of suspicion. The reason for this is that these attacks are partly based upon uncertain assumptions which are often not properly addressed in the corresponding papers. To close this gap, we extract the assumptions in papers that are attacking Bitcoin, Monero and Zcash, major cryptocurrencies used in darknet markets which have also received the most attention from researchers. We develop a taxonomy to capture the different nature of those assumptions in order to help investigators to better assess whether the required degree of suspicion for specific investigative measures could be established. We found that assumptions based on user behaviour are in general the most unreliable and thus any findings of attacks based on them might not allow for intense investigative measures such as pre-trial detention. We hope to raise awareness of the problem so that in the future there will be fewer unlawful investigations based upon uncertain assumptions and thus fewer human rights violations.

Keywords: anonymity, cryptocurrencies, assumptions

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