Most people think Bitcoin is anonymous, like its founder, Satoshi Nakamoto. However, somebody can trace Bitcoin. Although the user’s identity doesn’t link directly to their Bitcoin address, the blockchain records all transactions. Also, Bitcoin transactions are public. So, while your address doesn’t attach to your real-world identity, it links to your transaction details and history.
Since Satoshi Nakamoto launched Bitcoin, people have used it to complete millions of transactions. Anybody in the Bitcoin blockchain can view every transaction using a block explorer. However, Bitcoin users are pseudonymous. That means no information ties a user to their transactions apart from their Bitcoin address, a string of characters the system generates cryptographically. A user can share this address to receive Bitcoin from another user. Also, they can use the associated private key to send Bitcoin.
Why Is Bitcoin Traceable?
Bitcoin is traceable because the blockchain that records transaction details is entirely transparent. That means it stores the details of every transaction on a public, distributed ledger. Since 2013, researchers have tried to find ways to track Bitcoin transactions and their corresponding identities. While somebody can create some level of anonymity with Bitcoin, transferring tokens while remaining completely anonymous is challenging. That’s because anybody can access the Bitcoin blockchain, which is fully open.
Thanks to blockchain transparency, authorities can track the flow of money. Once they know the identity behind a crypto wallet, they can trace the transactions back and eventually locate them in the real world. Bitcoin blockchain enables users to view transactions in detail. That way, you can know the amount somebody sent via their wallet and the date.
Why the Misconception About Bitcoin Anonymity?
Satoshi Nakamoto designed Bitcoin as the most transparent payment method. However, they had the user’s privacy in mind. Bitcoin is anonymous since the network allows you to set up a wallet address without disclosing your real-world identity.
In the Bitcoin Whitepaper, the developer notes they suspected malicious people could link wallet addresses to joint owners. Therefore, they recommended using a new address for every crypto transaction. That way, Bitcoin users could enjoy a higher privacy level.
How to Trace Bitcoin Transactions
Standard blockchain explorers enable anybody to perform rudimentary tracing. However, these are unsuitable methods for tracing suspicious Bitcoin transactions. A criminal can use multiple wallet addresses to obfuscate their trail.
Law enforcement agencies partner with various platforms, including crypto exchanges bitcoin trader and data handlers, to trace criminal Bitcoin activity. Usually, the investigations begin with digital breadcrumbs that online scams and cyber hacks leave behind. These help investigators to track the wallet’s owner using the past internet history of the criminals and cross-referencing it with KYC details from crypto exchanges. These details enable law enforcers to trace suspicious Bitcoin to the wallets and their owners.
This knowledge has enabled law enforcement agencies to reduce crypto scams significantly. But the increasing amount of funds hackers steal has counterbalanced the scams that target Bitcoin investors. By the half of 2022, hackers had stolen Bitcoin worth $1.9 via DeFi protocols, crypto exchanges, and internet-connected hot wallets.
Nevertheless, law enforcers have tracked down stolen Bitcoins worth millions of dollars. For instance, the Department of Justice announced seizing 63.7 bitcoins stolen during the colonial pipeline ransomware attack. The same department reported using Chainalysis to trace cryptocurrency worth $28.7 that a hacker group in North Korea had stolen in 2020.
Many people argue that criminals can use Bitcoin in their activities because it is anonymous. However, that’s a false argument because somebody can trace your Bitcoin transactions. With adequate resources and skills, anybody can trace your Bitcoin, thanks to the transparent blockchain. And this explains how law enforcement agencies have managed to recover stolen Bitcoins.