Bitcoin Blockchain

Could Indecent Images on the Blockchain Spell the Demise of Bitcoin?

Rick D. | March 20, 2018 | 9:47 pm

Could Indecent Images on the Blockchain Spell the Demise of Bitcoin?

Rick D. | March 20, 2018 | 9:47 pm

A team of German blockchain researchers have discovered images of child abuse on the Bitcoin blockchain. Since many network participants need to download a copy of the entire blockchain and it is entirely immutable, the legal implications of this might be damning for the world’s most popular cryptocurrency.

Indecent Content on the Blockchain Could Render it Illegal

The Bitcoin blockchain is a record of every transaction that has ever occurred on the network. One of its major value propositions is that it cannot be changed or amended by any party.

Other data can also be stored on the blockchain. Typically, this includes notes about certain transaction – perhaps what the payment was used for or other trivial information. As well as this harmless data, files and links can be uploaded to the blockchain. Unfortunately, it appears that some users have been using it to record highly illegal data. This includes indecent images of children.

The discovery was made by blockchain specialists at the RWTH Aachen University in Germany. They managed to find over 1,600 files that exist on the Bitcoin blockchain. According to reports in The Guardian, at least eight of these were of sexual content. One of these examples is thought to be depicting a victim of child abuse. Another two contain links to dark web repositories of child pornography. Finally, 142 of files link to other illegal services on the dark web.

This poses a very real issue for Bitcoin. Since miners and validation nodes need to store the entire blockchain on their computer systems, they are essentially in possession of illegal content. In a recent paper, the researchers explained the implications that the storage of such content on the blockchain could pose for Bitcoin in the future:

“Although court rulings do not yet exist, legislative texts from countries such as Germany, the UK, or the USA suggest that illegal content such as [child abuse imagery] can make the blockchain illegal to possess for all users.”

The idea of storing harmful material on the blockchain isn’t new. Back in 2015, a group of internet security specialists identified the risk of harmful software being uploaded to the Bitcoin blockchain. The fear then was that those downloading the chain would also install malware that could then be used to weaken the security of centralised entities such as cryptocurrency exchanges.

However, the research reported today does represent the first proof that the blockchain is being used in such a nefarious way. It seems that mass possession of child pornography would be a worthy enough reason for governments of the world to come down hard on Bitcoin and the technology behind it. The efficacy of such a course of action, remains to be seen though.



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  • jwvanderbeck

    This is disturbing and seems like something the developers should have thought of before allowing any arbitrary files to be attached!

    • Adam Burttschell

      It is disturbing, but its something thats exponentially more prevalent on the internet and it can be easily trace on the blockchain.

  • iuzarneimaveilabal .

    The block that contains the images will identify the miner. The tx within that block associated with the image will be able to identify the source address. There is a block chain forensics company that should be able to use that data to track down the address owner. I’m sure bankers ARE behind it or paying people big money to do it. If we are stupid enough to believe and sell then the banks should steal from us and buy up. I don’t blame them than. Old saying is you have to steal your first million and looks like the banks been doing so ever since their first 1M.

    • Ciel

      The miner has nothing to do with this…miners are just nodes confirming transactions by throwing hashing power into the blockchain. But yes, the address that created the transaction can be tracked and that law enforcement should be able to track them down from that.

      It is strange that developers allowed file attachment without also a way to run consensus on the file data.

  • Paul Desgrippes

    No, this is a spurious and silly argument. By the same token the internet would have to be made illegal. A normal user would have to go out of his/her way to view any indecent images on a blockchain, it doesn’t just appear; a bit like the way that you would have to go out of your way to view them on the web. So the internet would be illegal too following the same reasoning.

    • jwvanderbeck

      I think the argument is that the data is physically on your computer. Whether you view i or not is irrelevant according to *existing* law.

      You don’t download the entire internet to your machine 🙂

      • Rasputin 38


        Pedo is NOT legal if I just see online, without download. They care about data in your computer just because this make the easier to get pedo arrested. Yeah, this is silly. It´s their job, NOT all society job.

        If you agree with dictators, you are NOT better.

        • BH

          Bullshit you are an idiot

          • Rasputin 38

            Never disagree 😉

  • Carla Delastella

    Enigma would solve problems like these by encrypting the whole data on the blockchain so that no illegaliy would be comitted by saving the blockchain on a HD (only the person with thee password is able to see the content of the files).

  • Ricardo Martinez

    this is a wetbrained attempt to attack bitcoin and it’s humorous how sad they are becoming, lol.

  • samoanpunch .

    “It seems that mass possession of child pornography would be a worthy enough reason for governments of the world to come down hard on Bitcoin and the technology behind it”

    The words of a true statist that has zero confidence in the community to police the technology and find solutions. Of course only “government” has the moral fortitude to be intolerant of such behavior…

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