Policing Bitcoin

Investigating, evidencing and prosecuting crime involving cryptocurrency.

Full report


Cryptocurrencies have increasingly become a common method of value exchange in a number of types of criminal activity; notably in May 2017 the NHS was crippled by a global cyber-attack whereby Ransomware was utilized to demand payment for the decryption of encrypted files in bitcoin. This collaborative project has brought together a variety of experts from different disciplines and practices to explore the challenges posed by criminal use of cryptocurrency with regard to the investigation, production of conclusive evidence of wrongdoing, and prosecution of offenders.

In this research, scenarios were developed based upon dark-web purchases and sextortion using crypto-currencies bitcoin and monero. 

  • Mock warrants were executed and devices seized.
  • The purchase of Bitcoin using ATMs and exchanges was explored.
  • Both open-source and private industry track and trace tools were used to identify potential lines of enquiry on the blockchain
  • A review of different types of cryptocurrency was compiled.
  • Training and Guidance has been produced for police officers and agencies.

Key findings

  • Cryptocurrencies (mainly Bitcoin) have become a popular choice for criminals.
  • They are facilitating criminal transactions and crimes such as money laundering, extortion (ransomware), blackmail, and fraud.
  • There is currently a lack of experience in law enforcement agencies in conducting effectively investigations and prosecutions of crimes involving cryptocurrencies.
  • UK law enforcement needs to coordinate a more strategic approach to counter the threat posed by cryptocurrencies.
  • Bitcoin transactions are not completely anonymous so by improving training and access to industry tools, UK law enforcement would improve its capability to investigate and prosecute these types of crimes.


Research authored by: Philip Larratt (National Crime Agency), Paul Taylor (Greater Manchester Police), David S. Wall (University of Leeds), Syed Naqvi (Birmingham City Univiersity), Matthew Shillito and Rob Stokes (Liverpool University)