CoinSeer: A Telescope Into Bitcoin

Open Access
Koshy, Philip
Graduate Program:
Computer Science and Engineering
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
November 22, 2013
Committee Members:
  • Patrick Drew Mcdaniel, Thesis Advisor
  • Sencun Zhu, Thesis Advisor
  • Bitcoin
  • security
  • CoinSeer
Bitcoin is a decentralized cryptographic currency that has gained popularity since it was created by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2009. The currency has garnered the interest of numerous individuals, from those who are looking for an alternative to their government's fiat currency to law enforcement trying to track down illegal activity facilitated by Bitcoin's pseudo-anonymity. The goal of this thesis was to study the Bitcoin system to find out more about this cryptic new currency. We were interested in answering two questions: what does normal activity on the network look like, and what type of information can be gleaned from anomalies? A number of researchers have attempted to characterize the Bitcoin network, but none have analyzed information about connected peers, nor attempted to link messages to their originator IPs; no one has performed relay analysis, instead focusing on static data that is available to the public through the Bitcoin block chain. By building a custom Bitcoin client we named CoinSeer, we were able to continuously collect data being relayed among peers on the Bitcoin network, storing both messages and relayer information for a period of 5 months. We then analyzed this data for patterns to determine a baseline for what is normal, as well as to find outliers that could be pursued further. Our contributions include analyses of connection activity, block creation and relaying, and transaction creation, contents and relaying. We also present examples of how both connection handshake and transaction relaying activity can be exploited to track individuals' activity and, in some instances, discover potential owners of Bitcoin addresses.