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Photo: Chesnot / Getty Images

New research from Recorded Future finds that online criminals who offer an alternative payment method to bitcoin prefer the more available cryptocurrency Litecoin to the harder-to-trace currency Monero.

Why it matters: Bitcoin won’t be around forever, at least for use as a method of criminal payment. Due to design flaws limiting the scalability of bitcoin, converting fiat currency to bitcoin can be slow and costly compared to other coins. And, though the currency is harder to trace than cash, transactions between anonymized sources can still be traced by law enforcement, leading to some security issues. Litecoin is a currency better equipped to address the first problem, while Monero is a currency better equipped to address the second.

The researchers expected Monero to do better: Buyers of drugs, stolen credit cards and the like tend to prefer how much harder the currency’s design makes it to trace transactions back to buyers and sellers. But Monero has one flaw that sellers can’t abide by — it’s very difficult to store offline.

Cold storage is the difference: Bitcoin ATMs can convert bitcoin stored on USB drives into actual currency. They can’t do the same for Monero. Since online exchanges and storage systems have often been hacked, criminals — and security-minded bitcoin enthusiasts — prefer to store their currencies offline, what cryptocurrency users refer to as cold storage. Litecoin closer resembles bitcoin in the convenience of cold storage.

The methodology: There are hundreds of different cryptocurrencies and thousands of different criminal vendors. Recorded Future essentially went door to door to check who took which coins. Monero, what may be the gold standard of hard-to-trace transactions, came in fifth. While Litecoin was accepted in 30% of markets, Monero was only accepted in 6%, ranking it behind Dash (20%), the Bitcoin spinoff Bitcoin Cash (13%) and Etherium (9%).

Go deeper

1 hour ago - World

Biden seeks to reboot U.S. sanctions policy

Sanctions increased under Obama and dramatically under Trump. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

The Biden administration is rethinking the U.S. approach to sanctions after four years of Donald Trump imposing and escalating them.

The big picture: Sanctions are among the most powerful tools the U.S. has to influence its adversaries’ behavior without using force. But they frequently fail to bring down regimes or moderate their behavior, and they can increase the suffering of civilians and resentment of the U.S.

1 hour ago - World

Merkel's farewell spoiled by Poland crisis at EU summit

One last awkward EU "family photo." Photo: John Thys/AFP via Getty Images

Angela Merkel took up her vaunted mantle as Europe's crisis manager for what could be the last time tonight, as she urged the EU to find compromise in its showdown with Poland.

Why it matters: The European Commission has threatened to withhold over $40 billion in pandemic recovery funds after Poland's constitutional tribunal — stacked with loyalists from the ruling right-wing populist party — rejected the principle that EU law has primacy over national law.

Republicans who put it all on the line

Rep. Nancy Mace speaks with reporters after voting to hold Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

A small contingent of House Republicans risked their political futures on Thursday, they say, in the name of constitutional responsibility.

Why it matters: The nine Republicans who voted to hold former Trump aide Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress are now in peril of becoming political pariahs. They've opened themselves up to potential primary challengers and public attacks from their party's kingmaker — former President Trump.

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