The once-promised “Netflix on the blockchain” by Ryan Felton failed to materialize. Instead, he spent the millions raised from investors on luxury items like a $1.5 million house and a red Ferrari.
This case exemplifies the role that digital currencies played in criminal activities, as they provided a seemingly anonymous way for criminals to transfer large amounts of money.
However, this anonymity was merely an illusion, as cryptocurrency transactions are recorded on a publicly viewable blockchain. This has led to the rise of a new breed of cryptocurrency detectives, such as Chainalysis, which was valued at $8.6 billion after a funding round last year.
These detectives are at the center of a growing industry dedicated to deciphering blockchain records and helping the government track crypto transactions.
The role of Chainalysis
Chainalysis occupies an increasingly important position in the crypto industry as federal agencies crack down on crypto fraud. The company markets itself as a force for good in the sector, solving crimes and cooperating with public officials.
For instance, after the FTX exchange imploded, Chainalysis was hired to track the $400 million in crypto stolen from FTX’s accounts. The firm has also engaged in light diplomacy, hosting conferences to bring together government officials and crypto executives.
However, this ambassadorial role has put Chainalysis at odds with some of crypto’s most passionate advocates, who envisioned digital money as a private and anonymous financial network.
This clash represents a battle for crypto’s future, unfolding at a turbulent moment in the industry’s short history.
The government’s perspective
From the government’s perspective, Chainalysis is arguably the most trusted company in the industry due to its powerful tools aimed at penetrating the veil of secrecy that made crypto attractive in the first place.
Jonathan Levin, one of the founders of Chainalysis, stated that the blockchain is “oftentimes the key to unlocking a case” and that “it’s more traceable and more conclusive.”
In Ryan Felton’s case, Beth Bisbee, a Chainalysis investigator, helped the prosecution by using a forensic technique called clustering to show that Felton had moved his investors’ Ether to one exchange before transferring it to another and then converting the Ether into cash.
Blockchain tracking: An expanding industry
As the crypto industry has expanded, blockchain tracking has become increasingly important. Large crypto companies now hire blockchain analytics firms to monitor their customers’ activity and comply with anti-money laundering laws.
In bankruptcy proceedings, analytics firms investigate public transaction logs to locate missing funds.
Although the recent downturn in the crypto industry has impacted the tracking business, firms like Chainalysis have been somewhat insulated from the worst effects of the market crash.
With two-thirds of its revenue coming from partnerships with public institutions, including law enforcement agencies, Chainalysis has managed to maintain relatively stable income even in turbulent market conditions.
Chainalysis now faces competition from smaller rivals such as TRM Labs, which has gained prominence by selling software for new types of cryptocurrencies.
As the world of digital money continues to evolve, the battle to maintain anonymity and privacy while combating crime is likely to shape the future of the crypto industry.