Bitfury taking cryptocrime into its own hands
After years of working with government agencies leery of bitcoin's seedy past, the blockchain services firm best known for its bitcoin transaction processing business has decided to take matters into its own hands. Launched today, a number of tools collectively identified as Crystal are intended to make it easy for users to identify and investigate criminal activity on the world's largest blockchain.
But that's not to say that the end goal of Crystal is philanthropic.
Developed over a two-year period with feedback from former senior-level government officials, the platform was ultimately created to help bitcoin once and for all move past its association with black market transactions.
The next time potential Bitfury customers balk at getting involved with the cryptocurrency, the CEO of Bitfury Group, Valery Vavilov hopes Crystal will provide a solution.
Vavilov told CoinDesk:
"The industry needs some very user-friendly tools so that you can track bitcoin transactions and see if this bitcoin address that you're getting money from is green or black."
Beginning today, a light version of the Crystal software will be made available for free to individuals, with pricing for enterprise subscriptions to be released in March.
The core of the toolkit is a detailed risk scoring solution that helps law enforcement agents and investigators trace suspicious transactions to a final address, or a point of withdrawal. By tracking the relationships between so-called "bad actors," Crystal will generate a score of the likelihood a particular address is related to illegal activity.
The results of the data analysis are then presented in a visual graph that can be integrated with other software tools and used to prepare legal reports as part of larger investigations.
Other tools enable the autonomous tracking of bitcoin addresses over time, custom reports that can be sent based on predetermined criteria or triggered by transactions between groups and advanced services that include previously revealed technology for "untangling" transactions that have been sent through laundering software, called mixers.
"We are analyzing the web, we are analyzing the forums, we are analyzing different kinds of sources, and combining this information and getting some kind of result if this transaction is risky or not," said Vavilov.
Untangling from the competition
Overall, Bitfury's entrance into the bitcoin security space marks the latest expansion for the company, founded in 2012 as a bitcoin mining startup.
As part of a larger push to gain industry adoption of blockchain technology, Bitfury last year entered the blockchain industry more broadly, with the launch of Exonum, its own blockchain infrastructure aimed at enterprise users.
Now, to further distinguish Bitfury's enterprise offering, Crystal Pro will be deployable in a customer's in-house architecture, a service designed to extend beyond simply tracking bitcoin transactions and into providing an additional security layer for bitcoin companies.
Crystal Bitfury screen capture
The expansion is important, as a niche industry surrounding blockchain analytics has emerged over the past couple years.
Among the most notable competitors offering users a way to investigate the bitcoin blockchain are Elliptic, which has raised $5 million, Chainalysis, which has raised $1.6 million, and Skry, which was last year acquired by Bloq.
"The bottom line is it is very critical for the blockchain and all of this technology to really advance," said Bitfury global chief communications officer and former White House deputy press secretary Jamie Smith.
"And if bad people are doing bad things, then nobody really benefits that's not in anyone's interest."
The justice league
The origin of Crystal goes back to about 2015, when Bitfury was working to help overcome the reluctance of financial institutions and government agencies who were curious about the cryptocurrency.
At the time, Bitfury had just helped kick off the first Blockchain Summit in 2014 at bitcoin supporter and billionaire Richard Branson's personal retreat, Necker Island.
Gathered at the event were numerous blockchain entrepreneurs, several people from Bitfury — and former 15-year veteran of the U.S. Department of Justice, Jason Weinstein, who played a crucial role in inspiring Crystal.
According to Smith, it was at Necker Island where the seeds were first sown for the Blockchain Alliance to explore how private companies could join in the public fight against criminal activity.
Weinstein, who now directs the alliance is also a strategic advisor to Bitfury confirmed Smith's story.
"I’ve often said that bitcoin is friendlier to cops than it is to crooks, and that criminals should run, not walk, away from using bitcoin. With Crystal, they should be running away even faster."