For the first time in history, the United States has issued sanctions against Bitcoin addresses, held by two Iranians who allegedly helped facilitate a ransomware scheme. The addresses that are banned include 149w62rY42aZBox8fGcmqNsXUzSStKeq8C and 1AjZPMsnmpdK2Rv9KQNfMurTXinscVro9V.
These addresses are controlled by Ali Khorashadizadeh and Mohammad Ghorbaniyan, who are accused of converting Bitcoin into Iranian Rial (IRR) for hackers who seized up people’s computers and demanded ransom payments in association with the SamSam ransomware scheme.
The United States Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control, who issued the sanctions, says those in the compliance and cryptocurrency communities should ban those addresses and investigate any association with those addresses. People in the United States are prohibited from sending Bitcoin to those addresses, and anyone who does is subject to secondary sanctions.
That being said, it is actually impossible to truly sanction a Bitcoin address, due to Bitcoin’s inherent decentralization and cryptographic security. People can still choose to send Bitcoin to those addresses since they cannot be shut down by any government or entity. This is one of the strengths of Bitcoin, it is immutable and no Bitcoin account can ever be frozen so long as only owners control their wallets.
Someone is having fun with these Iranian Bitcoin addresses despite the sanction. A day after the sanction was issued, on 29 November 2018, USD 0.08 of Bitcoin was sent into a sanctioned address from two addresses with the prefixes 1JEWS and 1MOSSAD, an obvious reference to the national intelligence agency of Israel. At the other sanctioned Bitcoin address, three people have sent small amounts of Bitcoin, seemingly defying the sanctions.
In any case, Bitcoin wallet owners can also simply generate new addresses to receive Bitcoin, while some wallets, like Blockchain.com, automatically generate a new address after each deposit. Khorashadizadeh and Ghorbaniyan have the ability to generate virtually unlimited addresses, making the sanctioning of any single Bitcoin address non-meaningful.
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