Cryptocurrency flows to known criminal entities were down 65% in the first half of 2023 compared to the same period in 2022, but ransomware is on track to have one of its biggest years to date, according to Chainalysis.
The firm analyzed blockchain activity in the first six months of 2023 to put together its Crypto Crime Midyear Update.
It found transaction volumes to risky entities like crypto mixers and high-risk exchanges were also down significantly, by 42% year-on-year (YoY). However, those to legitimate services declined by just 28%.
“In other words, there’s been a market pullback, but illicit crypto transaction volume is falling much more than legitimate crypto transaction volume,” Chainalysis explained.
A decline in cryptocurrency-based scams over the period accounted for a large part of the slump in criminal activity. Crypto scammers made nearly $3.3bn (77%) less YoY, amassing a total of just over $1bn in the first half of 2023.
This is notable as it comes at a time when crypto prices are increasing, Chainalysis claimed. The large fall can be attributed to the disappearance of two prolific campaigns: VidiLook and Chia Tai Tianqing Pharmaceutical Financial Management.
The operators of both investment scams appear to have pulled the plug in a classic exit scam, leaving victims high and dry, the report noted.
However, unfortunately, ransomware is the only crypto-based crime set to grow in 2023. Attackers have already extorted $176m more than the same period in 2022, reversing a welcome downward trend in 2022.
“In fact, ransomware attackers are on pace for their second-biggest year ever, having extorted at least $449m through June,” Chainalysis said. “If this pace continues, ransomware attackers will extort $899m from victims in 2023, trailing only 2021’s $940m.”
The report warned that rising criminal profits could be traced to a resurgence in big-game hunting coupled with an increase in the number of successful smaller attacks.