A Fistful of Bitcoins: Characterizing Payments Among Men With No Names

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 characterize longitudinal changes in the Bitcoin market, the stresses these changes are placing on the system, and the challenges for those seeking to use Bitcoin for criminal or fraudulent purposes at scale.

http://cseweb.ucsd.edu/~smeiklejohn/files/imc13.pdf

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