The county sheriff in Bentonville, Ark. is mining bitcoin as part of a program to prevent cyber crime, according to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Detectives interviewed about the initiative did not give a lot of details about the program, but said the sheriff is using bitcoin for undercover operations. One detective interviewed said the department is entering the deep web to patrol its “neighborhoods” as well as its “main highways.”
Sheriff Shawn Holloway told a recent conference that he is using bitcoin to address cyber crimes which are a growing problem.
Nathan Smith, the county prosecutor who was consulted in developing the program, said the program will likely be refined. Smith said efforts to battle online crime has a direct impact on community safety.
The detectives mine bitcoin instead of buying it in order to know the bitcoin they are using has not been used already for illegal purchases. Mining also allows them to get bitcoin without spending taxpayer funds. In addition, by mining, they are able to get bitcoin in a way that is not likely to arouse suspicions by other users.
The department is using one computer stored in a data center for mining, detective Olin Rankin said. He said the electricity cost increase from mining will be minor compared to the cost of running the entire facility. He said the electricity cost for the mining would be equivalent to plugging in another PC.
The division is part of a mining pool that combines different miners’ resources to share their processing power over the network.
Rankin said it is necessary for law enforcement to change its methods as criminals change theirs.
Zach Steelman, an assistant professor of information systems at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, said mining is a better way to enter the bitcoin market without throwing up red flags.
David Undiano, another detective, said the division has not yet spent any of the bitcoin accumulated so far. He said the division needs to finish collecting data and consult with experts and officials to determine how much currency they need.
Steelman said law enforcement is trying to find the “crumbs” people using bitcoin have left on the Internet.
A former law enforcement officer who plans to challenge Holloway in 2018 raised concerns about the bitcoin initiative.
The challenger, Glen Latham, said the mining equipment uses a huge amount of power at taxpayer’s expense. He said if the department can prove the effort is cost effective, that is okay, but taxpayers have a right to know how their funds are being used.
Latham said the sheriff should go after the “low hanging fruit” on the surface web instead of entering an area that will not lead to many, if any, arrests.
Potential hacking and privacy concerns have been raised. The cyber crimes division does not think this will be an issue.
Deep Web Challenges Law Enforcement
The “deep” web, a hub for illegal transactions, cannot be accessed using traditional search engines since its content is not indexed. A May 2017 Congressional Research Service report stated that information is not static or linked to other pages on the deep web.
The deep web, also known as the “dark web,” is used for some legitimate purposes in addition to concealing criminal activity, the research report noted.
The research report also noted that a free software called Tor enables anonymous communication. Tor has estimated that 1.5% of its users visit concealed pages.
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