Blockchain consortium seeks to tackle cyber crime

A €5 million (£4.3m) project, funded by the European Union, has been launched in a bid to prevent criminals and hackers from using blockchain technology to avoid the prying eyes of law agencies.

The Titanium consortium aims to tackle the use of blockchain in crimes such as the recent WannaCry ransomware attack. Picture: Yun Dong-jin/Yonhap via AP

The three-year project will see 15 members join forces in a consortium dubbed Titanium (Tools for the Investigation of Transactions in Underground Markets), which has pledged to respect the privacy rights of legitimate users in the fight against cyber crime.

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Blockchain is a digital system for proving ownership of assets and operates under decentralised control, which the consortium said allows it to evade traditional investigative measures.

The best-known use of blockchain technology is the “cryptocurrency” bitcoin, which has many legitimate uses but is also used for criminal purposes in the so-called “dark web”. Those behind the recent WannaCry ransomware attack demanded ransom payments of up to €600 to release the data of affected organisations.

The Titanium researchers, including four law enforcement agencies and international police organisation Interpol, aim to develop and implement tools to reveal common characteristics of criminal transactions, detect anomalies in their usage, and identify money-laundering techniques. They will also carry out training to develop skills and knowledge among European law enforcement agencies.

Project co-ordinator Ross King, a senior scientist at the AIT Austrian Institute of Technology, said: “Criminal and terrorist activities related to virtual currencies and dark net markets evolve quickly and vary in technical sophistication, resilience and intended targets.”

To counter these activities, King said it was necessary 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 and seized devices.

He added: “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.”