In brief

  • Chainalysis, a blockchain data and analysis company, is launching a program to help governments better store ill-gotten cryptocurrency seized during investigations.
  • The company helped the DOJ track down the 69k Silk Road-tied Bitcoins (nearly $1 billion) that the government seized last week.

Cryptocurrencies have come a long way since the Bitcoin free-for-all of the Silk Road era, but they’re still a pretty popular option if you’re looking to do illegal things on the dark web. 

Fortunately or unfortunately for privacy purists, Chainalysis, a data company that pitches itself as something like a blockchain watchdog, is already working with governments to trace and seize ill-gotten crypto.

Now, the company has announced a new program to help governments keep an eye on their stores of legally-seized digital assets.

Just last week, over 69,000 Bitcoins linked to the Silk Road, which had been lying dormant since the marketplace’s closure in 2013, were transferred to a government-controlled wallet. In its forfeiture complaint, the Department of Justice disclosed that it used a “third party bitcoin attribution company to analyze Bitcoin transactions executed by Silk Road.” Chainalysis has since taken responsibility for that analysis.

After a court orders a forfeiture, government-seized crypto is typically liquidated at auctions held by the US Marshall Service on their own terms: it determines how many auctions are held, and the size of each block sold. 

And if the auctioneers aren’t delicate in their approach, there could be consequences for the market. “If the Department of Justice decides to market-sell those Bitcoins, you’d be seeing a significant dip, as it will go through all orderbooks,” said Amsterdam-based trader Michaël van de Poppe.

But what happens to the crypto after the seizure and before the eventual forfeiture? Chainalysis claims that the new asset realization program will help improve storage and tracking for seized assets in this window.

Asset Reality, a partner company, will bolster that effort by providing “strategic advisory services and training regarding cryptocurrency and other complex assets,” per a press release. Chainalysis did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.

Chainalysis executive Jason Bonds put a finer point on it: “As our government partners become more successful in rooting out bad actors, assisting them with asset recovery and realization is a natural next step,” he said in a statement.

Though its most recent partnership was with the US government, the company remains open to working with governments and insolvency agencies across the world—another bad sign for criminals looking to make a few digital bucks on the dark web.