Sunday 1 November 2015

Technical feasibility of tracking stolen cryptocurrencies and legal response

Arvind Narayanan writes in his blog post that since banks can reverse fraudulent transactions and law enforcement of digital financial crimes is relatively competent, the risk of getting caught combined with the diminished ability to cash in on attacks skew the economics against attackers. He contrasts this with bitcoin whose design puts the entire onus on preventive measures. This insightful observation is based on the assumption (in his words) that "[i]f an attacker breaks into a server containing private keys, he can steal the bitcoins ... irreversibly." This assumption seems widely accepted. It seems to rest largely on technical grounds but I think it also depends on legal issues which are unsettled yet. Narayanan comments on the technical aspect saying, "[w]hile there’s been talk of taint-tracking mechanisms to prevent thieves from cashing out, these haven’t materialized and there are fundamental technical and political difficulties with such proposals." But he also adds a footnote referring to a paper which argues that it currently is difficult for thieves to launder large sums of bitcoins.
I do not have expertise to comment on the technical feasibility of tracking. But the point I want to make here is that should there be cases in which it is possible to trace the movement of stolen bitcoins, it will raise a legal question whether a recovery should be granted to the original owner. This question has not been tested before courts under any legal system to my knowledge. It would not be inconceivable that thieves and third parties who have acquired stolen bitcoins in bad faith are denied legal ownership and held liable to make restitution of the stolen bitcoins or their value in fiat currencies.

No comments:

Post a Comment