Bruno Requião da Cunha


Brazilian Federal Police; Visiting Professor at Brazil’s National Police Academy


Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

TRM Team

Global Investigations

Investigative Specialities

DeFi, smart contracts, big data, darknet marketplaces 

Bruno Requião da Cunha

Bruno Requião da Cunha is a member of TRM’s global investigations team, based in Brazil’s southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, which borders Argentina and Uruguay. He cut his investigative teeth during 13 years in the Polícia Federal, Brazil’s federal police, working cybercrime, drugs, electoral fraud and human trafficking cases – latterly as Head of Operations and Analysis within the Institutional Defense Unit at the Rio Grande do Sul Superintendency. 

With a PhD in Theoretical and Mathematical Physics, Bruno is a passionate advocate of the role social physics and network science applications can play in tracing, analyzing and disrupting criminality. He has contributed to global thinking on this topic via a series of publications – including his 2021 book on criminophysics, a term he coined to denote the science of criminal interactions – and as a professor at Brazil’s National Police Academy.

What was your route into crypto investigations – was there a pivotal case that brought you into the space?

I joined the Brazilian federal police as an intelligence officer and field operative in the drug enforcement sensitive investigations unit in 2010. I moved across to its cybercrime unit four years later, when I began a PhD focused on the use of scientific tools and approaches to map criminal networks.

The case that kickstarted my crypto journey was Operation “Darknet”, a high-profile sting operation that was launched across 18 Brazilian states and the federal district of Brasilia, in 2014. The first of its kind in Brazil – and only the third worldwide – it involved cracking into the Dark Web to disrupt a large pedophile forum on the Tor browser, whose content was being shared in 11 other countries. In 2014-2016, we successfully deployed some of the scientific tools that I had been developing at the time, leading to the arrest of nearly 200 of the forum’s users, and the rescue of several children who were being abused. 

Many of the abusers had been receiving funds in cryptocurrency – mainly bitcoin – so my colleagues and I began studying the topic. After that, the volume of crypto-related cases only grew – we saw cryptocurrency use occurring in other child sexual abuse materials (CSAM) and darknet cases, as well as in Ponzi schemes, ransomware cases and numerous other investigations. 

Why do you consider network science so fundamental to criminal investigations?

When you use a scientific method to do something, you tend to be more precise and methodical in your approach, and less likely to be misled by assumptions or ideology. Network analysis has an important role to play in ensuring the efficiency of law enforcement interventions. Sophisticated modeling tools enable investigators to spot patterns of criminal behavior more easily, conferring a degree of predictive power and helping to pinpoint where law enforcement operations can have the maximum impact. 

For example, after Operation Darknet, I led a team of academics at the University of Limerick to publish a research paper that used network analysis to examine the topological effectiveness of the operation. Published in Nature Portfolio’s Scientific Reports, our research found that arresting a relatively small percentage of the pedophile forum’s total users was enough to disable its viewership network, due to the selection of targets. It also identified patterns to refine law enforcement target selection in future operations.

What is the most memorable case you’ve worked on at TRM?

My first case at TRM was a live investigative collaboration with Brazilian law enforcement. It related to the kidnap of an individual, who was forced to transfer over USD 400,000 in bitcoin as a condition for his release. 

The case was unusual, in that the kidnappers knew that the victim stored his cryptocurrency in a hardware wallet, because they belonged to the same scam group. The group used stolen credit card data acquired on darknet marketplaces to advertise fake login pages to known centralized exchanges on Google Ads. TRM was able to assist law enforcement’s investigation by tracing the ransom back to the kidnappers and by tracing the funds back to their origin.

How does your experience as a former federal police agent shape the support you provide to TRM customers and partners?

People often say that one year in crypto is like 10 years in normal life – there are new technologies emerging all the time. Keeping up with these developments can be challenging, particularly where budgets and personnel are limited. This is why having one-to-one access to a global network of investigators with extensive and diverse law enforcement backgrounds, technical expertise and state-of-the-art investigative tools is invaluable! 

When I was in the Brazilian federal police, complex topics like demixing, cross-chain swaps and smart contracts often obstructed investigative progress. We really could have used technical assistance to iron out confusion and uplift our crypto awareness. I’m pleased that TRM provides this support to our law enforcement partners.

How has your crypto knowledge evolved since joining TRM? What subject areas are you currently curious about?

As a federal police agent, I was almost entirely focused on Bitcoin, which was where nearly all illicit crypto activity in Brazil was occurring at the time. As TRM was the first blockchain intelligence company to support Ethereum and DeFi – and with crypto users migrating away from Bitcoin – I started to learn about other blockchains, and and nascent topics in the space, from my colleagues around the world who had already had more exposure to them.

I continue to learn from my teammates on an almost daily basis. Recently, I’ve been looking into potential use cases associated with smart contracts and artificial intelligence in crypto. Both hold the potential to revolutionize our lives and optimize the investigative process – but also contain vulnerabilities that offer opportunities for criminals to exploit. 

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