Tracing Transactions Across Cryptocurrency Ledgers

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One of the defining features of a cryptocurrency is that itsledger, containing all transactions that have ever taken place,is globally visible.  As one consequence of this degree oftransparency, a long line of recent research has demonstratedthat — even in cryptocurrencies that are specifically designedto improve anonymity — it is often possible to track moneyas it changes hands, and in some cases to de-anonymize usersentirely. With the recent proliferation of alternative cryptocur-rencies, however, it becomes relevant to ask not only whetheror not money can be traced as it moves within the ledgerof a single cryptocurrency, but if it can in fact be traced asit movesacrossledgers. This is especially pertinent giventhe rise in popularity of automated trading platforms suchas  ShapeShift, which make  it effortless  to  carry  out suchcross-currency trades. In this paper, we use data scraped fromShapeShift over a thirteen-month period and the data fromeight different blockchains to explore this question. Beyonddeveloping new heuristics and creating new types of linksacross cryptocurrency ledgers, we also identify various pat-terns of cross-currency trades and of the general usage of theseplatforms, with the ultimate goal of understanding whetherthey serve a criminal or a profit-driven agenda.


In this study, we presented a characterization of the usage ofthe ShapeShift trading platform over a thirteen-month period,focusing on the ability to link together the ledgers of multipledifferent cryptocurrencies. To accomplish this task, we lookedat these trading platforms from several different perspectives,ranging from the correlations between the transactions theyproduce in the cryptocurrency ledgers to the relationshipsthey reveal between seemingly distinct users. The techniqueswe develop demonstrate that it is possible to capture com-plex transactional behaviors and trace their activity even as itmoves across ledgers, which has implications for any crimi-nals attempting to use these platforms to obscure their flowof money.

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