A fistful of Bitcoins: Characterizing payments among men with no names

Sarah Meiklejohn, Marjori Pomarole, Grant Jordan, Kirill Igorevich Levchenko, Damon McCoy, Geoffrey M. Voelker, Stefan Savage

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Bitcoin is a purely online virtual currency, unbacked by either physical commodities or sovereign obligation; instead, it relies on a combination of cryptographic protection and a peer-to-peer protocol for witnessing settlements. Consequently, Bitcoin has the unintuitive property that while the ownership of money is implicitly anonymous, its flow is globally visible. In this paper we explore this unique characteristic further, using heuristic clustering to group Bitcoin wallets based on evidence of shared authority, and then using re-identification attacks (i.e., empirical purchasing of goods and services) to classify the operators of those clusters. From this analysis, we consider the challenges for those seeking to use Bitcoin for criminal or fraudulent purposes at scale.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)86-93
Number of pages8
JournalCommunications of the ACM
Volume59
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science(all)

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  • Cite this

    Meiklejohn, S., Pomarole, M., Jordan, G., Levchenko, K. I., McCoy, D., Voelker, G. M., & Savage, S. (2016). A fistful of Bitcoins: Characterizing payments among men with no names. Communications of the ACM, 59(4), 86-93. https://doi.org/10.1145/2896384