The Volokh Conspiracy

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Tracers in the Dark by Andy Greenberg

Episode 438 of the Cyberlaw Podcast


In this bonus episode of the Cyberlaw Podcast, I interview Andy Greenberg,  long-time WIRED reporter, about his new book, Tracers in the Dark: The Global Hunt for the Crime Lords of Cryptocurrency.

This is Andy's second author interview on the Cyberlaw Podcast. He was also interviewed about an earlier book, Sandworm: A New Era of Cyberwar and the Hunt for the Kremlin's Most Dangerous Hackers. They are both excellent cybersecurity stories.

Tracers in the Dark is a kind of sequel to the Silk Road story, which ended with Ross Ulbricht, aka the Dread Pirate Roberts, pinioned to the table in a San Francisco library, with his laptop open to an administrator's page on the Silk Road digital black market. At that time, cryptocurrency backers believed that Ulbricht's arrest was a fluke, and that, properly implemented, bitcoin was anonymous and untraceable. Greenberg's book tells, story by story, how that illusion was trashed by smart cops and techies (including our own Nick Weaver!) who showed that the blockchain's "forever" records make it almost impossible to avoid attribution over time.

Among those who fell victim to the illusion of anonymity were: two federal officers who helped pursue Ulbricht – and to rip him off; the administrator of AlphaBay, Silk Road's successor as world's biggest dark market; an alleged Russian hacker who made so much money hacking Mt. Gox that he had to create his own exchange to launder it all; and hundreds of child sex abuse consumers and producers.

It is a great story, and Andy brings it up to date in the interview as we dig into two of the US government's massive, multi-billion-dollar bitcoin seizures, both made possible by transaction tracing. In fact, for all the colorful characters in the book, the protagonist is really Chainalysis and its competitors, who have turned tracing into a kind of science.

We close the talk by exploring Andy's deeply mixed feelings about both the world envisioned by cryptocurrency's evangelists and the way Chainalysis is saving us from that world.

Download Bonus Episode 438 (mp3)

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