TITANIUM: Tools for the Investigation of Transactions in Underground Markets

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the aim of TITANIUM?

TITANIUM will research, develop, deploy, and validate novel data-driven techniques and solutions designed to support law enforcement agencies charged with investigating criminal or terrorist activities involving virtual currencies and/or underground markets in the darknet.

The need for such solutions becomes evident when regarding the increasing number and diversity of criminal and terrorist activities and threats that rely on the pseudo-anonymous nature of virtual currencies (e.g., Bitcoin, Ethereum) and the secrecy of underground markets (Dream Market, Tochka, Wall Street Market, Silk Road 3.1, etc.), which are offered as hidden services via darknets (such as Tor, Freenet, or I2P).

Who will benefit from the project results?

The expected impacts of TITANIUM are improved investigation capabilities for law enforcement agencies in cases involving virtual currencies and darknet markets. As a result, crimes will be solved more rapidly and societal distress, impact on victims, and investigative costs will be reduced. Thus, the European society as a whole will benefit from improved criminal investigation methods that in turn lead to an overall reduction in crime. Furthermore, the project will allow European small and medium enterprises to develop cutting edge tools, and to strengthen European innovation and competitiveness.

Who are the project partners and what are their roles?

TITANIUM brings together an international and interdisciplinary group of stakeholders collectively representing a wide range of research expertise, technical disciplines, business acumen, and law enforcement experience. The consortium consists of a balanced team of six research organisations, three of which are universities (UCL, UIBK, and KIT) and three of which are research and technical organisations (AIT, TNO, and VICOM). Furthermore, the consortium includes four industry partners (dence GmbH, Coblue Cybersecurity, Countercraft, and Trilateral Research), all of which are small and medium enterprises, and five law enforcement agency stakeholders (BKA, INT, NBI, BMI, and MIR-PN). The partners have been chosen in order to provide the full coverage of expertise necessary to ensure that the project is not missing any key competencies required for its execution.

The partners come from seven different EU member states (AT, DE, ES, FI, FR, NL, and UK) and were also chosen in order to enhance “regional competence centres,” which consist of at least one stakeholder, one research partner, and one industry partner within a given competence cluster. The project consists of a northern cluster (including the UK, the Netherlands, and Finland), a central cluster (including Germany and Austria), and a western cluster (in Spain). The international criminal police organisation INTERPOL is located near the centrum of these clusters and will serve as a technical and legal point of integration.

What is the duration of the project?

TITANIUM started on May 1, 2017 and will end on April 30, 2020.

How is the project funded?

The project’s total budget of ca. 5 million Euros is provided by the EU Commission.

Since the project is funded by public funds of the European Commission, will its outcomes be free for all European citizens?

Partly. There will be public reports to inform EU citizens on the project’s main insights, and scientific publications will be created to share our scientific results with the community. Some tools might be open sourced. However, most of the tools and details of the results will not be freely available. This is normal in Horizon 2020 research projects. Additionally, these tools are based on previous results that are based on private investments, and some tools are meant to be used by Law Enforcement Agencies, meaning that their operation cannot be disclosed to the public.

Why do law enforcement agencies work together with universities and small and medium sized enterprises?

The role of universities in the project is to provide the fundamental knowledge and understanding of the research topics to be addressed. The research organisations, which serve as a bridge between basic research and industry, support the regional competence clusters with their technical expertise. On the other hand, it’s the task of the industry partners, which have great experience in developing and producing technical tools, to convert the aforesaid knowledge into working solutions. In order to make sure that the forensic tools meet the actual police requirements, the law enforcement stakeholders are responsible for the testing. Finally, they also serve as the long-term user base of the project tools.

Why are law enforcement agencies interested in the transaction processes of a blockchain?

The use of virtual currencies is increasing steadily. Being traded independently of states, central banks and other financial institutions, they evade governmental control. In particular this circumstance makes virtual currencies interesting not only for lawful users, but for criminals as well.

Two aspects of the project are important for the law enforcement agencies: on the one hand, it aims to develop technical measures that enable efficient investigations of crimes involving virtual currencies. On the other hand, the project aims to explore regulatory approaches to prevent such crime and thereby improve the protection of legitimate users.

What is a virtual currency and how does a blockchain work?

A virtual currency is an online communication protocol that combines cryptographic primitives and a consensus mechanism to facilitate digital value transfers in a peer-to-peer network. In contrast to conventional electronic payment systems, virtual currencies do not require account holders’ identities. They are unregulated, operate cross-border and cannot exclude parties.

Virtual currencies rest on an open transaction ledger which records the complete payment history in ordered blocks of transactions and is called a blockchain. Whenever a party wishes to make a payment, it generates a transaction and authorizes it with a digital signature. The transaction is posted to the network and, once verified and confirmed by special participants (miners), added to the blockchain.

Does TITANIUM focus only on Bitcoin? How about other virtual currencies?

No, not exclusively. Although TITANIUM’s focal point is Bitcoin, the project seeks to address all relevant virtual currencies. Driven by the goal to design tools that meet actual requirements of law enforcement agency officers, while being compliant with legal and ethical principles, TITANIUM will observe trends and follow developments in the global cybercrime ecosystem on an ongoing basis, and adjust priorities as needed.

How can you keep up with criminals who are switching between different virtual currencies?

By following criminal trends (which we can do by keeping up with darknet markets and forum discussion threads) and by directly observing the introduction of new cryptocurrencies and services, we can observe new currencies or techniques that are being used by or that may be attractive to criminals. We can then design methods to combat or deter criminal activity in these new domains. While this inevitably takes some time to do, deploying new cryptocurrencies also takes time, and ultimately the transparency of cryptocurrency ledgers means that newly developed methods can capture even criminality that has happened in the past.

How is the data protection of legal users of virtual currencies ensured?

TITANIUM aims to develop novel data driven techniques to analyse the transaction flow of cryptocurrencies. It is inherent to the concept of permission-less blockchains that transaction data is publicly accessible. Since such data is deemed personal data, the processing underlies strict statutory provisions on European and national level. Those provisions are implemented in TITANIUM and constitute the framework for research, development and use of the tools. Further information can be found in our privacy policy.

Will the project outcomes allow law enforcement agencies to (randomly) monitor darknet users?

We try to avoid this. TITANIUM implements technical and organizational safeguards to prevent users from illegitimately using the technologies developed within the project. Anyhow, security measures can potentially be bypassed. Therefore, TITANIUM specifically aims to implement unalterable logs to make users liable for their actions, and moreover, making the legal compliance verifiable for supervisory authorities and in trials. The tools functionality is further planned to be adaptable to the given legal framework, thereby restricting the use according to provisions constituted in the respective criminal procedure codes and police laws.

Will the project outcomes allow law enforcement agencies to monitor on my private virtual currency transactions?

No. TITANIUM aims to develop tools which are legally compliant with the frameworks existent in the EU. Unfounded investigations of virtual transactions are restricted to the extent deemed possible. Although, the risk of misuse cannot be ultimately excluded, TITANIUM implements specific safeguards to prevent law enforcement agencies from any use beyond the legal framework. For instance, the use of the tools is restricted to specific users, and each use of the tools is planned to be logged unalterably, making the legal compliance verifiable for supervisory authorities and in trials.

Does TITANIUM support law enforcement agencies by sharing findings from ongoing research?

No. Potential findings and personal data are not shared with law enforcement agencies, unless a legal obligation to notify law enforcement exists. The project outcomes will solely contain technologies developed over the course of the project. Potential findings are not part of the project outcome provided to law enforcement agencies.

How does TITANIUM assure compliance with fundamental rights of data subjects?

TITANIUM devotes a considerable amount of working hours and project funding to the ongoing evaluation of legal, societal and ethical impacts of the tools. The outcomes of this evaluation are directly incorporated in the development due to close interdisciplinary work of all partners.

Can I opt out from the processing of my public data by TITANIUM?

Unfortunately, in most cases it will be technically impossible to exclude specific individuals from the general analysis methods of TITANIUM. Having said this, the tools are developed to function as privacy preserving as possible. As a consequence, the processing of personal data is by default limited to the minimal amount of data necessary. For further details and your rights regarding the processing, please read our Data Privacy Statement or contact our Data Protection Officer.

Who will be able use the tools developed in TITANIUM?

The tools will be available to law enforcement agencies in Europe under the statutory provisions of the respective legal frameworks. Furthermore, the tools will be available for interested organizations, but conditions may apply – in terms of financials (free trial, commercial licence, etc.), usage (operational use, demonstration, exploration, inclusion in tool-suite, etc.) and organization type (commercial, law enforcement agency, etc.). Some tools may be made available in the Open Source domain.

Will you provide training to law enforcement agencies seeking to use the TITANIUM tools?

Yes, the consortium will prepare curricula and carry out training sessions and joint exercises that will facilitate the take-up of TITANIUM technologies by law enforcement agencies across Europe. Information about TITANIUM training will be posted on the project website and social media channels.

Will the project outcomes continue to be supported after the project’s completion?

Yes. The results will be exploited by the partners who participate in the project, and in principle the partner that has created the result will exploit those results. Whether or not the tool-suite as a whole will be supported after the project’s completion is not yet known because this also depends on the development of the tool functionality, their interdependencies, the user’s needs and commercial opportunities.

How can I stay informed about the project?

You can stay informed about the project by following TITANIUM on Twitter and LinkedIn. You can also visit the project website for future updates. We tweet weekly about Bitcoin and blockchain Technology and will upload the project deliverables to our website where you will also find the project key dates.