A group of fifteen organisations from seven European countries has initiated a project – named TITANIUM. This stands for ‘Tools for the Investigation of Transactions in Underground Markets’).Its purpose: to curtail criminals and attackers from using blockchain technology to avoid law detection. They claim their work will respect the privacy of legitimate users.
Project co-ordinator Ross King, a senior scientist at the AIT Austrian Institute of Technology GmbH, said: “Criminal and terrorist activities related to virtual currencies and darknet markets evolve quickly and vary in technical sophistication, resilience and intended targets.” Dr. King emphasised that the tools developed within the TITANIUM project will respect individual privacy and other fundamental rights. “The consortium will analyse legal and ethical requirements and define guidelines for storing and processing data, information, and knowledge involved in criminal investigations without compromising citizen privacy.”
Blockchains are not necessarily criminally exempt
Blockchain technology is an electronic ledger under decentralised control. By their nature blockchains can evade or prevent traditional investigative measures.
The best-known application of blockchain technology is Bitcoin, which has many legitimate uses. Yet Bitcoin is also used for criminal purposes in the so-called dark web (the part of the internet that is beyond the reach of Google and other search engines). The attackers who froze computers in 150 countries on 12 May, with the WannaCry infection, demanded ransoms paid in Bitcoin.
The researchers are in a consortium undertaking a three-year, €5 million project, funded by the European Union. The common aim is to develop technical solutions for investigating and mitigating crime and terrorism involving virtual currencies and underground market transactions.
The researchers hope to develop and implement tools which counter illegal activities. To that end, the members will seek to develop efficient and effective forensics tools enabling the reasonable use of different types of data from different sources including:
- virtual currency ledgers
- online forums
- peer-to-peer networks of underground markets
- seized devices.
In turn, the members hope their work will:
- reveal common characteristics of criminal transactions
- detect anomalies in their usage
- identify money-laundering techniques.
As part of TITANIUM, the project plans to test and validate their tools and services on the premises of the law enforcement agencies. This will assess both effectiveness and the overall impact of the project results.
What agencies are participating in TITANIUM?
In addition to Dr. King’s AIT (Austrian Institute of Technology GmbH), the partners in the TITANIUM consortium are:
- Bundeskriminalamt (Germany)
- Coblue Cybersecurity (NetherlandsCountercraft S.L. (Spain)
- Countercraft S.L. (Spain)
- dence GmbH (Germany)
- Universität Innsbruck (Austria)
- INTERPOL (International Criminal Police Organization)
- Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (Germany)
- Ministry of the Interior (Austria)
- Ministry of the Interior (Spain)
- National Bureau of Investigation (Finland)
- TNO (Netherlands)
- Trilateral Research Ltd. (UK)
- University College London (UK)
- VICOMTECH-IK4 (Spain)
What’s it mean?
For those who have imagined that blockchain technology is necessarily ‘white than white’, the TITANIUM project aspires to prove them wrong. The starting premise is a dark one.