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Justice Department Veteran Backs Bitcoin Crime-Fighting Tool

Blockchain services provider Bitfury has hired an 11-year veteran of the U.S. Department of Justice to lead the American push of its bitcoin blockchain tracking product, Crystal.

Bitfury announced Friday that Michael DuBose, who led the DoJ’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property section from 2000-2011, will be joining the firm as president of Crystal USA, where he will “help introduce Crystal … to U.S. law enforcement agents, financial groups and other key audiences,” according to a company statement.

“I am thrilled to play a key role at Bitfury leading business growth for Crystal,” DuBose said Thursday. “Crystal makes it much easier to identify and track criminal activities on the blockchain, thereby providing a vital service to law enforcement agencies, financial institutions and other groups across the United States.”

Bitfury, which also provides bitcoin mining hardware, first unveiled Crystal in January, offering a way for firms and law enforcement agencies to track transactions on the bitcoin blockchain. The software scores transactions and addresses according to their risk, flagging bitcoin movements that may be associated with illegal activities, for example.

According to Bitfury, the tool can help the authorities speed up their investigations into illicit activities involving the cryptocurrency. The firm’s website says that it took just three hours to find the entity behind the $5 billion WannaCry ransomware attacks last May.

“If law enforcement agencies had had the proper tool to find criminals on the Bitcoin Blockchain,” the company said in a presentation, “they could have quickly cornered the criminals and prevented further global damage.”

Bitfury also markets Crystal to companies, which face potential legal repercussions for accepting bitcoin derived from black market activities. Using Crystal, Bitfury CEO Valery Vavilov told CoinDesk in January, “you can track bitcoin transactions and see if this bitcoin address that you’re getting money from is green or black.”

DoJ image via Shutterstock

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Bitfury Enters Bitcoin Crime-Fighting Business with Crystal Launch

Bitfury isn’t waiting for law enforcement to clean up the bitcoin space.

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.

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.

She added:

“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.

He reflected:

“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.”

Disclaimer: Bitfury global communications officer Jamie Smith is a member of CoinDesk’s advisory board.

Badge and handcuffs via the company

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