That reality is not lost on many cryptoeconomy stakeholders, particularly blockchain analysis firms like CipherTrace and Chainalysis — companies that have proven increasingly ascendant as exchanges and governments have sought to better understand cryptoeconomy transaction flows.
Yet is that ascendancy on the verge of an existential challenge?
It’s a question some in the space are mulling after a curious “Ask Me Anything” thread appeared in r/Bitcoin earlier this week before being promptly deleted. The AMA was held by a person purporting to be a “current or former employee of Chainalysis.”
To Believe or Not to Believe?
It’s unclear whether the user, dubbed Chainalysis1, was able to verify their identity with the subreddit’s moderators beyond a shadow of a doubt. It’s also unclear why they ultimately deleted the thread.
With that said, their alleged insider knowledge should be approached with the appropriate level of skepticism, all things considered.
Notably, before the thread’s deletion the purported employee answered several questions with answers suggesting the advance of cryptocurrency privacy tech was a devastating gamechanger for the blockchain analysis industry.
And while the chance remains the AMA was an elaborate stunt, many of the answers were thought-provoking enough to be worth considering beyond the thread’s direct context.
“There Is No Way to De-Anonymize It”
One user asked Chainalysis1 if their alleged employer would be able to weather the advance of privacy solutions like the Wasabi wallet, which leverages the CoinJoin mixing technique and multisig scripts to help users trustlessly hide their bitcoin’s origins among one another.
“Things like that destroy the need for our/their software,” the purported employee answered, later adding:
“Even just privacy coins are more than anyone can handle right now, but throw in anonymization techniques, and forensic tracking utilities are done for. They might still have a niche purpose, but it will be small.”
Asked by another Redditor what the firm’s “most hated tool” at present was, Chainalsysi1 specifically cited Wasabi wallet:
“Initially, the difficulty was standard mixers (still are) but now I would say Wassabi [sic] is enemy number one. There is no way to de-anonymize it, and I don’t see how the government can legally take Wassabi down, so it will probably persist. Put it this way, if everyone used Wassabi [sic], Chainalysis would go out of business. Obviously that won’t happen, but you can see the point.”
Those are bold assertions, but they’re not necessarily ones that would take diehard cryptoverse privacy advocates by surprise. Rather, what is surprising is that these assertions come from someone claiming to have inside knowledge of one of the ecosystem’s top blockchain analysis firms.
When asked later why they were conducting the AMA given the alleged circumstances, Chainalysis1 said “Transparency,” going on to say that such firms were unethical for “Defeating the purpose of a system that was designed for anonymity, thereby reducing the interest and market for crypto.”
Yet not long after the thread went up, it went down — a version of its page is now only reachable via webpage archiving.
What to Make of It All?
To be sure, privacy coins like Monero already pose challenges for sleuths and regulators, while it’s becoming easier to use top public blockchains like Bitcoin and Ethereum privately.
Using Wasabi wallet in conjunction with Tor goes a long way toward making BTC transaction flows obscured, while Ethereum has recently seen major enterprises develop privacy tools for its public chain, e.g. EY’s Nightfall protocol and JP Morgan’s Anonymous Zether.
Those dynamics alone indicate blockchain analysis firms have their work cut out for them in the years ahead.