Tech 21 March 2018Dan Taylor
Snowden papers: NSA is tracking Bitcoin users
The U.S. National Security Agency is tracking users of cryptocurrency like Bitcoin worldwide, going beyond public systems to capture personal details, such as IP and billing addresses.
Disclosed for the first time this week, the findings stem from confidential papers leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, dating back as far as March 2013. The news breaks a matter of days after the U.S. outlawed its citizens from trading with Venezuela’s petro cryptocurrency.
First reported by the Intercept, the findings in the paper suggest that surveillance of cryptocurrencies remains a priority for the agency, amongst its broader tech surveillance agenda.
Referred to as ‘Project OAKSTAR’ within the paper, the NSA describe their tracking efforts as targeted, specifically at those using the cloak of privacy offered by cryptocurrencies to engage in terrorism financing and money laundering.
According to the document, the project aims to disrupt those who seek to use cryptocurrencies to access the international financial system, often for nefarious ends.
“[The NSA] is hoping to use the access for their mission of looking at organized crime and cyber targets that utilize online e-currency services to move and launder money. These illicit finance networks provide user access to international monetary systems while providing a high degree of anonymity,” the report stated.
While the revelations are unsurprising in light of previous revelations about NSA tracking and monitoring of digital systems, the paper will nevertheless serve as a wakeup call for the wider cryptocurrency community.
There is no suggestion that the timing of the leak was related to the most recent restrictions on U.S. citizens, preventing them from transacting in Venezuela’s controversial state-backed cryptocurrency.
The findings suggested the NSA were using the XKeyScore internet monitoring system, a tool originally unveiled by Snowden in 2013, as a mechanism for tracking internet user behaviour. The report ties in with a broader U.S. agenda to regulate cryptocurrencies, and to deconstruct the pseudo-anonymity authorities’ claims allows criminal elements to exploit the technology.
While much of the transactional information on blockchain is public by definition, the most significant findings are those that point to more intrusive access to systems, and the targeted recording of billing information, passwords and other private system data.
Note: Tokens on the Bitcoin Core (SegWit) chain are referenced as BTC coins; tokens on the Bitcoin Cash ABC chain are referenced as BCH, BCH-ABC or BAB coins.
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