Tracers in the Dark: The Global Hunt for the Crime Lords of Cryptocurrency takes readers on a gripping journey where the worlds of digital currencies and criminals collide. This captivating non-fiction narrative delves into the thrilling and high-stakes pursuit of Bitcoin’s underworld, unveiling a shadowy realm few have explored. The book tells of the crimes surrounding Bitcoin darknet markets and the follow-the-money methods used to bring them down. You will hear about the Mt. GOX hack, The Silk Road, BTC-e, AlphaBay market, and the “Welcome To Video” takedown.
Tracers in the Dark – Following the Money
In Bitcoin’s early years, no one doubted its anonymity claims, but today we know better. In this book, readers gain insight into the redefinition of Bitcoin’s privacy capabilities and the groundbreaking revelation that Bitcoin is anonymous but also traceable. As you will see, confusing those concepts will lead to darknet operators’ and users’ arrests and even deaths.
Piercing Bitcoin’s anonymity vail was a collective effort of academics, a private blockchain analysis company, and an IRS agent. Together, this group took the idea of tracing Bitcoin from a research project to immutable evidence that proved who owned and operated the Silk Road in court. Even worse, the blockchain retains an eternal record, ensuring that crimes committed under the false assumption of anonymity are now traceable. Permanently inscribed within the Bitcoin blockchain ledger, the evidence of these crimes awaits the diligent IRS agent, Tigran Gambaryan, who has the tools to uncover its secrets. The Silk Road case is part one of the high-stakes Bitcoin investigations to follow in the book.
Tracers in the Dark – Whack-a-Moe
Ross Ulbricht opened Pandora’s box when he launched the Silk Road. So when the Silk Road was taken down, it was only a matter of time before a copycat appeared. AlphaBay didn’t take long to emerge as the new largest darknet market. Unlike the Silk Road, which only allowed party drugs, AlphaBay had fewer restrictions on what it would sell, which led to many deaths from bad drug overdoses. In addition to the drugs, AlphaBay allowed selling stolen data like credit cards and identities.
The investigation into the owner and administrator of AlphaBay leads the IRS agent, Tigran, and the US DEA to Thailand. Tigran used the same Bitcoin tracing methods from the Silk Road case, plus some OpsSec mistakes, to finger Alexandre Cazes, a Canadian, as the AlphaBay kingpin. Alexandre was a womanizer, who enjoyed cheating on his pregnant wife and bragging about how much of an “alpha male” he was on a forum site called Rawmeo. So when Alexandre is caught and tricked into not locking the computer and tricked again into unlocking his phone, it’s really funny. To get evidence, the DEA agents used his sexist arrogance against him. The AlphaBay case is the book’s most memorable story.
Tracers in the Dark – Deeper into the Dark
The stakes skyrocket as the lead investigator dives into the “Welcome to Video” case. Welcome to Video was a darknet market trafficking in child sexual abuse material. This is where the book gets dark… Even the most high-level generalized description makes me sick. So you can only imagine what these investigators must have felt. The investigation leads them to criminals abroad, but more alarming, to active abusers in their own backyard. Thankfully the darknet site was so poorly designed, that it did not take long to locate the operator. But the Investigators faced the harder challenge of tracing all the active abusers who used the site and saving the abused children. A challenge that I can only imagine haunted the Investigators.
Tracers in the Dark – Use F12 To Take Down A Darknet Market
Misunderstanding Bitcoin’s anonymity claims were not these cryptocurrency criminals’ only mistake. The OpsSec mistakes also played a massive role in bringing these criminals down. Some OpsSec mistakes criminals made are comically stupid, like hardcoding their home clear-net IP address into the darknet market source code. Cybersecurity has a common saying: “Attackers only need to find one security hole, while Defenders have to protect all the holes.” This security inequality also applies to illegal darknet markets too. Market operators only have to make one mistake for law enforcement to bring their multi-million dollar operation to its knees.
Andy Greenberg, the book’s author, has a well-balanced approach to writing about cybersecurity topics. His books are compelling true-story narratives, which is uncommon for cybersecurity books. His previous book, Sandworm, is also a must-read for any cybersecurity professional. Like Sandworm, Tracers In The Dark will become another must-read for cybersecurity professionals.