Book review: “Investigating Cryptocurrencies” by Nick Furneaux
“Investigating Cryptocurrencies” is a 2018 book about blockchain (and other kinds of) forensics primarily aimed at law enforcement agents to help understand and investigate crypto crime. While I do not belong to law enforcement, to my knowledge as of July 2020, this is the only book written about blockchain forensics, a topic that I am rather curious about. I will review this book through the lenses of someone interested in blockchain forensics specifically, I am sorry if this disappoints any of the super-secret NSA agents who will surely stumble upon this article.
The book is split into 2 parts and 15 chapters, with the first part serving as a general introduction to cryptocurrencies. Obviously, you cannot be jumping into blockchain forensics without first understanding the underlying technology, and the book does an alright job at explaining it but really I would recommend reading “Mastering Bitcoin” and the first few chapters of “Mastering Ethereum” to get a way more in-depth understanding. Both books can be read for free on Github:
Although, do note, however, that while more knowledge will be gained from these books it will also take a lot more time. If you are short on time part 1 of “Understanding Cryptocurrencies” will serve well as a general explanation.
The second part of the book focuses on the actual investigation with the bulk focusing on blockchain forensics (only Bitcoin and Ethereum really, but to be fair, that’s all that you need anyways). Besides that, it also has a few chapters about sniffing cryptocurrency traffic and seizing coins, both of which I appreciated and found interesting.
Now, let’s explore the good and the bad of the book:
Explains the philosophy. It is very easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of information available when looking at transactions and addresses, this book rightfully acknowledges this and provides some tips on how to organize the investigation to not get lost in all the details.
Delves a little into everything. This book touches a little of all the topics of the investigation, it explorers not only the forensics “on-chain” but explores traffic sniffing, how to search the internet for specific addresses, and more, which gives a more expansive view of the field of cryptocurrency investigations.
Explores the nitty-gritty. The book explores the nitty-gritty of the investigations as a real investigator would, it not only explains the concepts but provides the links to useful tools (although many of the links, unfortunately, no longer work) and give a lot of specific tips.
The book is rather outdated. Unfortunately, a lot of the tools linked in the book are no longer working and with time this will issue will only become worse. Also, although 2018 seems to have been yesterday, as far as the cryptocurrency field is concerned it may as well have been a millennia ago. The field expands and changes very rapidly meaning that some of the methods mentioned in the book are no longer best practices.
No mention of the complex. The book does not even mention such important topic as CoinJoins and other more advanced privacy schemes available, the book also makes no effort to predict the future of blockchain forensics, a shortsighted due to all the privacy-related updates coming to the network, such as the lightning network.
Final thoughts: While “Investigating Cryptocurrencies” is an interesting read, I don’t believe it’s a must for people interested in blockchain forensics. The book will only be getting more outdated as time goes on and while it’s nice that it delves into many topics, it only does so a bit superficially without mentioning the more complex concepts and privacy tools. People interested in Bitcoin privacy specifically would get more out of reading the privacy article in the BTC wiki: https://en.bitcoin.it/wiki/Privacy
Overall, I would give the book a 5/10, however, if you are reading this review a year or two from now (July, 2020) the score might as well be 4/10, unfortunately, time is against this kind of book.