bitcoin mixer are a useful tool for anyone looking to add privacy back into cryptocurrency transactions. However, they’re also used by criminals to hide cryptocurrencies that come from illegal acts.
Since Bitcoin activities are recorded on a public database, they can be traced. That’s why people turn to mixers to keep their transactions anonymous.
What is a crypto mixer?
Mixers, also known as tumblers, are a type of cryptocurrency service that helps people keep their transactions private. They do this by taking in a deposit of coins, mixing them with other deposits, and then returning the clean coins to the user. This process makes it difficult to identify the origin of a given cryptocurrency transaction on the blockchain.
While many believe cryptocurrencies are more anonymous than cash, the reality is they’re actually less so. This is because every transaction on the blockchain includes two unique wallet addresses and is publicly recorded. Additionally, most of these transactions are executed on exchanges that are subject to regulation and must comply with anti-money laundering (AML) and know-your-customer (KYC) requirements.
In an effort to avoid being tracked by law enforcement, criminals have turned to mixer services in order to hide their digital trail and launder money. While the growth in mixer usage began in 2020 and has calmed down somewhat this year, it remains close to all-time highs.
This is largely due to increased volume from centralized crypto exchanges, DeFi protocols, and most significantly, addresses associated with illicit activities. As these high risk transactions increase, it’s important that regulated businesses have the tools they need to detect these red flags. That’s why it’s critical to ensure that your organization has access to robust analytics capabilities and your team is trained and skilled in identifying suspicious activity.
How does it work?
Cryptocurrency mixing services or tumblers work by taking the coins deposited by users and sending them to new addresses that can’t be traced back to the original sender. This hides the link between a cryptocurrency transaction and its originator, and can be used to conceal illegal activities such as money laundering and tax evasion.
When a user sends Bitcoin to a mixer, the service takes the coins and mixes them with other people’s tokens in a pool. Then the mixer will send the new, mixed coins to a user’s address. This process is repeated multiple times to increase anonymity.
These services are often called blockchain analysis tools, and they can be useful for law enforcement agencies investigating cybercriminal activity. For example, Check Point Threat Intelligence analysts have encountered attackers who seek payment in Bitcoin after ransomware attacks and employ mixers to cover their tracks.
A decentralized mixer is more secure than a centralized one, since the owner of a centralized mixer has access to the funds deposited by users. However, decentralized mixers may have more trouble delivering on their promise of security because the servers are distributed across the world.
In addition, some decentralized mixers have a central account where users deposit their assets before mixing them. This means that if the mixer is hacked, it can expose the users’ private keys to criminals or regulators.
What are the advantages and disadvantages?
A crypto mixer increases the privacy of a bitcoin transaction by obfuscating its trail back to its original source. This makes it harder for law enforcement to track bad actors or criminal activities in the blockchain. It’s especially useful for people who live under oppressive regimes or want to circumvent restrictions on crypto transactions imposed by their governments.
However, it’s important to note that mixing services aren’t a magic bullet for protecting your cryptocurrency from regulators or hackers. For example, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) has identified several centralized coin mixers and warned virtual-currency firms that they should treat such services as high risk and develop an appropriately risk-based AML/Sanctions compliance program to ensure that these types of services don’t serve illicit purposes.
While mixers do make it difficult to trace the origin of a bitcoin transfer, it’s still possible for regulators to track such transfers by using blockchain analysis tools. In addition, regulated businesses can use transaction monitoring to identify the transactions sent through mixers and then assess whether or not they need to file a suspicious activity report.
Because of this, some centralized mixers have begun to close down as the owners of those services weigh the costs and legal risks associated with operating in an environment where their services are frequently used for money laundering. For instance, BestMixer shut down after the FATF designated Tornado Cash as a sanctions front and other companies began censoring wallet addresses connected to that mixer.
Is it worth it?
While mixers have a bad reputation for being associated with criminal activity, the truth is that they are used by many legitimate users. For example, people living under oppressive regimes often have to use Bitcoin to purchase goods and services online without revealing their identity to the authorities. In addition, journalists and whistleblowers often use mixers to obfuscate their transactions so that they can receive compensation for their work without being tracked by bad actors.
Unfortunately, centralized mixers have drawn scrutiny from regulators due to their role in money laundering and other illicit activities. For instance, US authorities arrested the operator of one of the most popular mixers, ChipMixer, in 2022 for allegedly processing bitcoins linked to Russian military intelligence agents involved in cyber attacks on Ukraine. In addition, centralized mixers save personal data on users and can be hacked or shut down by authorities.
Thankfully, decentralized mixers are much more reliable and are more effective at mixing funds than centralized ones. However, the main drawback of using a crypto mixer is that it requires you to trust a third party. Therefore, it’s important to research a service carefully before sending any money to it. Also, you should only use a decentralized mixer if it has good security and privacy measures in place. Otherwise, you might be at risk of getting redirected to a phishing site or being scammed by a malicious hacker.