An Assessment of Cryptomixing Services in Online Illicit Markets

Published date01 May 2023
Date01 May 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2023, Vol. 39(2) 222 –238
© The Author(s) 2023
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10439862231158004
An Assessment of
Cryptomixing Services
in Online Illicit Markets
Thomas J. Holt1, Jin R. Lee2, and
Elizabeth Griffith1
The internet has become a popular marketplace for the sale of illicit products,
including stolen personal information, drugs, and firearms. Many of these products
are acquired using cryptocurrencies, which are generally defined as forms of digital
currency that is traceable through blockchain ledger technology. These currencies
are thought to be more secure than other forms of digital payment, though law
enforcement and financial service providers have found ways to investigate account
holders and their transactions. Consequently, several service providers have begun
to offer cryptomixing services, which effectively launders payments to circumvent
detection and investigation tools. Few have explored the practices of cryptomixing
services, or the ways in which they are marketed on the Open and Dark Web.
This inductive qualitative analysis will examine a sample of 18 cryptomixing services
advertised on both the Open and Dark Web to better understand cryptomixing and
its role in facilitating illicit transactions across the internet.
cryptomixing, cryptocurrency, cybercrime, online illicit markets, Open and
Dark Web
Research exploring the operations of online illicit markets has grown substantially
over the last two decades (Hutchings & Holt, 2017; Tzanetakis et al., 2016). There has
been particular emphasis among researchers on economically motivated offenses,
1Michigan State University, East Lansing, USA
2George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Thomas J. Holt, School of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University, 655 Auditorium Road, 434 Baker
Hall, East Lansing, MI 48825, USA.
1158004CCJXXX10.1177/10439862231158004Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice XX(X)Holt et al.
Holt et al. 223
including the sale of stolen credit card data (Holt & Lampke, 2010; Hutchings & Holt,
2015) and cybercrime-as-service tools (Holt et al., 2022; Hutchings & Clayton, 2016;
Leukfeldt et al., 2017). Over the last decade, research has grown considering the prac-
tices of illicit online markets selling various physical products, including drugs
(Aldridge & Askew, 2017; Demant et al., 2018; Munksgaard & Tzanetakis, 2022),
firearms (Copeland et al., 2020; Holt & Lee, 2022a; Lee et al., 2022), and passports
(Holt & Lee, 2022b).
These studies illustrate the critical role and impact online payment platforms have
in the completion of illicit economic exchanges through online markets. Research has
documented the unique transitions observed in payment platforms used by cybercrimi-
nals over time (Holt et al., 2016; Kruisbergen et al., 2019; Trautman, 2014). Digital
currency platforms such as e-gold were initially serviced in the mid-2000s by indi-
viduals who sought to open payment accounts and convert traditional currencies into
separately valued currency (Holt et al., 2016). This system was eventually supplanted
by other platforms such as Liberty Reserve and WebMoney, which were frequently
serviced by hackers and other cybercriminals (Holt & Lampke, 2010; Hutchings &
Holt, 2015; Trautman, 2014). Both the frequency and visibility with which these plat-
forms were used in illicit online economies eventually led to their takedown by law
enforcement agencies (Hutchings & Holt, 2017; Trautman, 2014).
Over the last decade, the rise and emergence of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin have
once again changed the way online economic transactions occur. Cryptocurrencies
operate through blockchain technology, which logs transaction details between par-
ticipants in a publicly accessible, verifiable, but de-identified manner (Fanusie &
Robinson, 2018; Martin, 2014). While this system enables users to follow the path of
payment between two parties, they are unable to connect the account holders with an
offline identity. The anonymity afforded by these payment systems has led to their
common use by actors in all manner of illicit markets to acquire goods and services
(Aldridge & Askew, 2017; Copeland et al., 2020; Kruisbergen et al., 2019).
Given cryptocurrency’s increased visibility among cybercriminals, both law
enforcement and industry stakeholders have developed tools to better trace the
accounts (also known as “wallets”) associated with a given vendor or customer
(Goldsmith et al., 2020; Zagaris, 2021). As these tools improve the capacity of agen-
cies to investigate cryptocurrency-related crimes, new services have emerged to mini-
mize these risks (Desmond et al., 2019; Goldsmith et al., 2020; Zagaris, 2021).
Specifically, a new form of money laundering has emerged to obfuscate the paths of
transactions, which is colloquially known as cryptomixing (Fanusie & Robinson,
2018; Pakki et al., 2021). Cryptomixing services enable individuals to obscure crypto-
currency transactions by sending different currencies to a designated account.
Despite its frequent use and employment within the online illicit marketplace, lim-
ited research has explored the practices of cryptomixing services, or the ways in which
they are marketed by online illicit vendors (see Desmond et al., 2019; Fanusie &
Robinson, 2018). While accurate estimates of its scale, cost, and consequences
are limited, money laundering through cryptocurrency is a burgeoning problem that
needs further research. Such insights are essential for law enforcement, anti-money

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