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What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a digital crypto-currency with no single point of failure due to its decentralized peer-to-peer architecture. The source code is publicly available and changes to the reference Bitcoin client are made via concensus within the community. Advantages of Bitcoin include irreversible transactions (i.e. no possibility of chargebacks as with credit cards), pseudo-anonymous, limited and fixed inflation, near instant transactions, multi-platform, no double-spend and little to no barriers to entry and more. It was created by an anonymous person known as Satoshi Nakamoto. Find out more at WeUseCoins.com.

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Posted on 19 January 2018 | 1:07 pm

Report: India's Government Sends Tax Notices to Cryptocurrency Traders

India has sent tax notices to tens of thousands of cryptocurrency owners within its borders.

Posted on 19 January 2018 | 12:15 pm

OKCoin Eyes Cryptocurrency Exchange Launch in South Korea

Cryptocurrency exchange OKCoin is reportedly moving to launch in South Korea – possibly as soon as next month.

Posted on 19 January 2018 | 10:20 am

What is Ripple?

ripple101.jpg

By Shawn Gordon

What is Ripple? Technically speaking, is Ripple a cryptocurrency in the mold of Bitcoin? The short answer is probably “no,” but that doesn’t stop it from often being lumped into that same category.

What is Ripple?

Originally released in 2012 as a subsequent iteration of Ripplepay, Ripple is a real-time gross settlement system (RTGS), currency exchange and remittance network. Using a common ledger that is managed by a network of independently validating servers that constantly compare transaction records, Ripple doesn't rely on the energy and computing intensive proof-of-work used by Bitcoin. Ripple is based on a shared public database that makes use of a consensus process between those validating servers to ensure integrity. Those validating servers can belong to anyone, from individuals to banks.

The Ripple protocol (token represented as XRP) is meant to enable the near instant and direct transfer of money between two parties. Any type of currency can be exchanged, from fiat currency to gold to even airline miles. They claim to avoid the fees and wait times of traditional banking and even cryptocurrency transactions through exchanges.

How Is It Fundamentally Different From Bitcoin?

It is the validating servers and consensus mechanism that tends to lead people to just assume that Ripple is a blockchain-based technology. While it is consensus oriented, Ripple is not a blockchain. Ripple uses a HashTree to summarize the data into a single value that is compared across its validating servers to provide consensus.

Banks seem to like Ripple, and payment providers are coming on board more and more. It is built for enterprise and, while it can be used person to person, that really isn't its primary focus. The main purpose of the Ripple platform is to move lots of money around the world as rapidly as possible.

Thus far, Ripple has been stable since its release with over 35 million transactions processed without issue. It is able to handle 1,500 transactions per second (tps) and has been updated to be able to scale to Visa levels of 50,000 transactions per second. By comparison, Bitcoin can handle 3-6 tps (not including scaling layers) and Ethereum 15 tps.

Ripple’s token, XRP, isn't mined like Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin and many other cryptocurrencies. Instead, it was issued at its inception, similar in fashion to the way a company issues stocks when it incorporates: It essentially just picked a number (100 billion) and issued that many XRP coins.

What is XRP and What’s It Used For?

As a technology, the Ripple platform may have real value and real history that validate the claims they make for its efficacy. The XRP token itself, however, seems to have negligible use cases. In fact, Ripple had planned to phase it out — at least, until fevered interest in cryptocurrencies began to take off in 2016. Nevertheless, as CNBC noted today, if Ripple hits $6.57, its market capitalization will be bigger than Bitcoin’s.

There are 100 billion XRP tokens that were issued by the Ripple company. At the moment, the company promises that this is the total number of XRP that there will ever be (though, technically, there is nothing to stop them from issuing more tokens in the future). Ripple’s hub-and-spoke design positions XRP in the middle as a tool that is fungible with any currency or digital asset, such as frequent flyer miles. Ripple can settle a payment in 3.5 seconds through XRP and have it available and spendable. The use of XRP is totally independent of the Ripple network in general; that is, banks don't actually need XRP to transfer dollars, euros, etcetera which is what many small investors might be missing when they are buying the token.

What Is Ripple’s Value Proposition?

The value here is the Ripple network itself and its ability to move assets around the world quickly, rather than in the XRP token.

Banks are able to use the Ripple software to shift money between different foreign currencies. Currently, this is typically accomplished using SWIFT, a system that is cumbersome and relies on the banks having separate accounts in every country they work in. Ripple says it has signed up more than 100 banks (compared to SWIFTs 11,000 financial institutions) including American Express.

So Why All the Hype?

While Bitcoin has seen a dramatic rise in price over the course of 2017, the end of the year saw the cryptocurrency almost breaking $20,000. As the price drove higher, we saw a massive increase in price for a large number of altcoins, with Litecoin jumping from $50 to nearly $400, Ethereum doubling, NEM and EOS going up by a factor of five, and the list goes on and on. The fear of missing out has driven many investors wild and “lower-priced” currencies are attractive to new investors who mistakenly think that the high price of an entire BTC puts the currency out of their reach.

Add to all the hype the rumors that had been swirling on social media through December 2017, that Coinbase was going to list Ripple, which caused the price to surge, which in turn prompted Coinbase to address the rumors in a more generic fashion in this blog post on January 4, 2018:

“As of the date of this statement, we have made no decision to add additional assets to either GDAX or Coinbase. Any statement to the contrary is untrue and not authorized by the company.”

ripple chart jan19

The Coinbase announcement caused a big drop in Ripple, back to around the same levels as before the rumors began. SInce then, Ripple has both dipped dramatically and recovered, as have many other volatile cryptocurrencies. While Coinbase doesn’t support Ripple, there are a number of ways for people to acquire Ripple, should they still want to.

Words of Caution

There has been a lot of ink used on criticizing Ripple as well. The complaint from Bitcoin and other blockchain enthusiasts is that Ripple’s centralized control is in direct contrast to the ideals and advantages of decentralized blockchains like Bitcoin.

Ripple also maintains a trusted Unique Node List (UNL) that is meant to protect against potentially malicious or insecure validating servers. It is the UNL that controls the network rules, presenting a conundrum: On the one hand, it protects against problematic validators, but, in theory, a regulating body or government could come in and force a change that isn't necessarily desirable or is downright invasive. Furthermore, because of a FinCEN violation and fine in 2013, Ripple has updated its policies and will only recognize and recommend gateways that are in compliance with financial regulations.

New York Times reporter Nathaniel Popper commented on Twitter that he has yet to find a bank that anticipates using the XRP token in any meaningful way. Ripple’s CEO, Brad Garlinghouse, has denied Popper’s claims stating, “Over the last few months I’ve spoken with ACTUAL banks and payment providers. They are indeed planning to use xRapid (our XRP liquidity product) in a serious way.” However, as Popper points out, even the banks that he contacted at Ripple’s suggestion were non-committal in their plans to implement Ripple anytime soon.

According to the Financial Times, of the 18 banks and financial services companies publicly linked to Ripple, most of them stated that they “had not yet gone beyond testing” while a few had moved on to using Ripple’s systems “for moving real money.” However,  not one of the 16 companies that responded had used the XRP token.


This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Posted on 19 January 2018 | 10:15 am

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Bitcoin is teaching libertarians everything they don't know about economics - Dallas News


Dallas News

Bitcoin is teaching libertarians everything they don't know about economics
Dallas News
Bitcoin changes prices too quickly to be a currency and processes transactions too slowly to be a payments system, but it is juuust right for teaching libertarians everything they don't know about economics. Not that they're paying attention. If you ...

Posted on 19 January 2018 | 10:00 am

Former FDIC Chair Says 'We Don't Ban Assets,' Bitcoin Just Needs To Be Regulated - Cointelegraph (Bitcoin, Cryptocurrency and Blockchain News)


Cointelegraph (Bitcoin, Cryptocurrency and Blockchain News)

Former FDIC Chair Says 'We Don't Ban Assets,' Bitcoin Just Needs To Be Regulated
Cointelegraph (Bitcoin, Cryptocurrency and Blockchain News)
Sheila Bair, former US Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) chair, told CNBC's “Fast Money” on Friday, Jan. 19 that there is no precedent to ban Bitcoin (BTC) as an asset, but there is a need for additional regulation of digital currencies ...

and more »

Posted on 19 January 2018 | 9:25 am

TEPCO Invests in Blockchain Startup in Bid to Decentralize Systems

The Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings announced it had invested in blockchain startup Electron to develop an asset management platform.

Posted on 19 January 2018 | 9:15 am

Cornell IC3 Researchers Propose Solution to Bitcoin’s Multisig “Paralysis” Problem

Cornell IC3 Researchers Propose Solution to Bitcoin’s Multisig “Paralysis” Problem

Owning cryptocurrency comes with its own set of challenges. One of the biggest of those challenges is managing the private keys that enable you to spend funds. Lose your private keys, and your money is gone.

In a business environment, a common way to manage funds owned by multiple people is via what’s called a multisignature (multisig) address, a type of smart contract requiring two or more parties to sign off on a transaction to move the funds. 

This can be problematic, however. Let’s say you have a three-of-three multisig that requires you and two business partners to sign off on a transaction. If one person dies, disappears or becomes incapacitated, those assets become frozen — a risk some might feel uncomfortable with when dealing with tens of thousands of dollars or more.   

One way to ameliorate that risk might be to opt for a two-of-three multisig, where only two instead of all three individuals need to sign off on a transaction. But that’s not a complete solution either. Two players could conspire against the other one and run off with the money.

What now? If your funds are on the Ethereum blockchain, you could write a smart contract that would allow you to free the funds if one person in your trio disappeared.

However, Bitcoin with its limited scripting language makes things more difficult. “This seems like an unsolvable problem if you think about the traditional tools,” said Ari Juels, a professor at Cornell Tech and co-director of the Cornell Initiative for Cryptocurrencies and Contracts (IC3).

Paralysis Proofs

In a paper titled “Paralysis Proofs: How to Prevent Your Bitcoin from Vanishing,” researchers Fan Zhang, Phil Daian, Iddo Bentov and Ari Juels from the IC3 outline how to deal with what happens when a party is unable, or unwilling, to sign off on a multisig transaction in Bitcoin. The solution involves a combination of blockchain technology and trusted hardware — Intel SGX, in this case.   

Trusted hardware allows you to run code inside a protected enclave. Even a computer’s own operating system is unable to access data inside an enclave, so if your computer were to be hacked, the code in the enclave would remain secure.

IC3’s solution proposes replacing a trusted third party, such as a lawyer or a bank, who would put money in an escrow, with a trusted hardware solution that retains control of a master key to the funds.  

If one of the three people in the contract dies, the other two initiate a “paralysis proof.” That proof is based on a challenge sent to the missing third person. If the missing person responds to the challenge, the money stays put. If the missing person does not respond, the trusted hardware releases the funds to the remaining two players.  

Trusted hardware is only part of the solution, however. If the third person were to try and respond to the challenge request with an indication she is still alive, conceivably, the other players could intercept that message. To ensure that does not happen, the second half of IC3’s solution involves sending the message via the blockchain, which provides a tamper-proof and censorship-resistant medium.    

“By combining these two [methods], we can achieve the exact properties we’re after,” Juels explained to Bitcoin Magazine. “We can enable trusted hardware to determine whether or not somebody is alive, and there is no way to prevent a relevant message from getting transmitted if it is coming through the blockchain.”   

How It Works

Put simply, this is how to achieve a paralysis proof as outlined by the IC3 researchers:

  • Two players suspect a third is dead, so they post a challenge on the blockchain. The challenge consists of a tiny “dust” UTXO that the third person must spend within a certain period of time, say 24 hours, to prove she is alive.
  • The two players also get a “seize” transaction they may post to the blockchain later to collect the funds, if the third person does not respond to the challenge.
  • If the third person sends back a response by spending the UTXO, the game is over; the two others are not able to take control of the funds.  
  • Alternatively, if the third person does not return an “alive” signal by spending the UTXO before the time-out, then the two others can use the “seize” transaction to take control of the funds.  

This not the only use case for a paralysis-proof system. Juels thinks the solution would work well in any situation that called for a controlled access to private keys that could not otherwise be maintained on a blockchain. “It is actually a very general scheme you could use for lots of other purposes,” he said.   

For instance, a paralysis-proof system could be used as a dead man’s switch for control over the release (or decryption) of leaked information or a journalist’s raw materials. It could also be used in numerous ways to control daily spending limits from a common pool of money or as a conditioned expenditure based on an outside event (as reported by an oracle), like a student getting good grades or a salesperson meeting a sales quota.   

“Basically, you can a rich set of conditions around the expenditure of money using the fact that a trusted hardware kind of acts like a trusted third party,” said Juels.

This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Posted on 19 January 2018 | 9:07 am

Staten Island-based 'CabbageTech' charged with bitcoin-related fraud after promising 300% returns in a week - CNBC


CNBC

Staten Island-based 'CabbageTech' charged with bitcoin-related fraud after promising 300% returns in a week
CNBC
The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission announces Friday it has charged Patrick K. McDonnell and his company CabbageTech with "fraud and misappropriation in connection with purchases and trading of Bitcoin and Litecoin." The company promised ...
Bitcoin currency operators slapped with lawsuits alleging fraudCNET
The SEC Wants Answers Before It Approves Bitcoin-Based FuturesGizmodo

all 28 news articles »

Posted on 19 January 2018 | 8:37 am

PBoC Reportedly Orders Payment Services to Stop Serving Crypto Traders

The PBoC's Beijing division has reportedly issued a document requiring payment services to stop facilitating crypto trading activities.

Posted on 19 January 2018 | 8:00 am

What's The Real Story Behind Bitcoin? - Forbes


Forbes

What's The Real Story Behind Bitcoin?
Forbes
Sometimes we elevate belief beyond factual truth. This a core principle of religion and politics. When belief supersedes reason in finance, we call it speculation. Is belief crowding out reason when it comes to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies? While ...
Yale Prof. Shiller Thinks Bitcoin's 'Bubble' Could Actually 'Linger 100 YearsCointelegraph (Bitcoin, Cryptocurrency and Blockchain News)
BITCOIN CRASH: How 'Tulip mania' could spark epic cryptocurrency collapseExpress.co.uk

all 7 news articles »

Posted on 19 January 2018 | 7:19 am

CFTC Files Suits Against Crypto Investment Schemes for Alleged Fraud

The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission brought two lawsuits against allegedly fraudulent cryptocurrency investment schemes yesterday.

Posted on 19 January 2018 | 7:09 am

Massachusetts Sues ICO Organizer for Alleged Securities Violations

Massachusetts' securities enforcement office is suing a resident and his company for selling unregistered securities in a token sale.

Posted on 19 January 2018 | 7:00 am

I fell in love with bitcoin—but am cheating with its best friend - Quartz


Quartz

I fell in love with bitcoin—but am cheating with its best friend
Quartz
Andreas Antonopoulos, the de facto spokesperson/preacher of bitcoin, started his involvement in early 2012, quitting all other work to research and promote bitcoin full time. Antonopoulos deserves massive respect, as he is the springboard from which ...

Posted on 19 January 2018 | 5:22 am

Stuck at $12K: Bitcoin Price Needs Quick Progress to Avert Further Losses - CoinDesk


CoinDesk

Stuck at $12K: Bitcoin Price Needs Quick Progress to Avert Further Losses
CoinDesk
Stuck in the doldrums today, bitcoin needs a quick break above $12,500 or the tide may turn in favor of the bears, the charts suggest. The "V" shaped recovery in bitcoin (BTC) from Wednesday's low has stalled below the $12,000 mark in the last 12 hours ...

Posted on 19 January 2018 | 5:03 am

Global Securities Watchdog Warns Investors on ICO Risks

An organization of global securities regulators has issued a notice alerting investors to the perceived risks associated with initial coin offerings.

Posted on 19 January 2018 | 4:00 am

The end of bitcoin - The Week Magazine


The Week Magazine

The end of bitcoin
The Week Magazine
The bitcoin boom may be over. And the death of the cryptocurrency craze may well come at the hands of government regulators. Earlier this week, Bloomberg reported that Chinese authorities plan to block domestic access to central cryptocurrency trading ...
Why Bitcoin's Value Could Eventually Approach ZeroPacific Standard
TK evergreen Bitcoin cryptocurrency price article blog post | Popular ...Popular Science
Bitcoin's price crashed, but it's still devouring an obscene amount of energyVox
Express.co.uk -Bloomberg -Cointelegraph (Bitcoin, Cryptocurrency and Blockchain News) -Bloomberg
all 334 news articles »

Posted on 19 January 2018 | 4:00 am

SEC Outlines Reasons for Reluctance to List Cryptocurrency ETFs

An SEC letter states there are "significant investor protection issues" to be examined before opening up crypto-ETFs to retail investors.

Posted on 19 January 2018 | 3:00 am

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Why São Paulo Wants to Pay for Infrastructure with Cryptocurrency

The Brazilian state wants to pay for feasibility studies with a token designed for the construction industry. Can such a coin achieve network effect?

Posted on 19 January 2018 | 2:00 am

The ECB Wants to Hear Your Cryptocurrency Questions

The European Central Bank is soliciting questions for its president, Mario Draghi, specifying that cryptocurrencies should be a topic.

Posted on 19 January 2018 | 12:00 am

Where'd You Get That Token? 7 Platforms Managing ICOs

A handful of platforms have launched to support token issuers with their sales. Which one an issuer uses may say something about the token itself.

Posted on 18 January 2018 | 10:11 pm

Bitcoin drifts slightly lower after briefly topping $12000 - CNBC


CNBC

Bitcoin drifts slightly lower after briefly topping $12000
CNBC
Bitcoin drifted slightly lower after surging in the last session to briefly top $12,000. Still, the cryptocurrency stayed above $10,000 — a milestone level it had fallen below for some time earlier this week. The volatile digital currency hit a high ...

Posted on 18 January 2018 | 6:29 pm

Bitcoin is here to stay, analyst says - CNBC.com - CNBC


CNBC

Bitcoin is here to stay, analyst says - CNBC.com
CNBC
Spencer Bogart of Blockchain Capital says there is a legion of people who see a great buying opportunity.

and more »

Posted on 18 January 2018 | 4:17 pm

Bitcoin Devs Release Long-Awaited Schnorr Paper for Scalability Gains

Bitcoin devs have released the first paper on the Schnorr multi-signature protocol, which, if implemented, would increase bitcoin block sizes.

Posted on 18 January 2018 | 3:45 pm

Virginia Beach Government Backs Bitcoin Mine With $500K Grant

The U.S. city of Virginia Beach has granted $500,000 to help establish a new bitcoin mine in the area.

Posted on 18 January 2018 | 1:45 pm

NYSE Parent Company Launches Cryptocurrency Data Feed

Intercontinental Exchange announced today that it was partnering with Blockstream to launch a cryptocurrency price data feed.

Posted on 18 January 2018 | 1:00 pm

ESMA Seeks Public Input on Cryptocurrency Derivatives Policy

The European Securities and Markets Authority released a public call for input on cryptocurrency-based contracts-for-differences.

Posted on 18 January 2018 | 12:00 pm

Decentralizing the Sharing Economy With Blockchain Technology

Decentralizing the Sharing Economy With Blockchain Technology

San Francisco–based startup Origin is creating a set of protocols that allow developers and businesses to build decentralized marketplaces on the blockchain, with a focus on the sharing economy.

The Origin Protocol is a set of open-source blockchain protocols for buyers and sellers of services like car-sharing or home-sharing to transact on a decentralized, open web platform.

The protocol’s applications will store transactional data such as pricing and availability directly on the blockchain.

Leveraging the Ethereum blockchain and the Interplanetary File System (IPFS), the Origin platform will create and book services and goods in a decentralized way, without traditional intermediaries.

Recently, Origin launched its functional, completely decentralized prototype Origin Protocol Demo DApp, live on the Ethereum test network. It also announced that several companies have committed to developing further applications on the Origin platform.

“Our vision for Origin is to create protocols that allow marketplaces to be governed by a set of rules instead of corporate rulers. We want to eliminate the rent-seeking middlemen, maximize personal liberty, reduce censorship and redistribute value to the early participants in the network,” Origin co-founder Josh Fraser said in conversation with Bitcoin Magazine. “Partners are building on Origin because they realize they can get to market sooner and we can share network effects by working together.”

Tackling the Problems of the Centralized Marketplace

Uber and Airbnb, the hugely popular marketplaces for ride-sharing and home-sharing, are usually considered the leading players in the emerging “sharing economy.” Another buzz phrase, “people as a service,” describes the business models of these two companies, both of which attracted funding that values them in the tens of billions of dollars.

Consumers perceive that Uber and Airbnb are faster, cheaper and better alternatives to traditional services like taxis and hotels, delivered via sophisticated yet easy to use apps. But, while the consumer has the impression that they are buying services directly from individual providers in decentralized, P2P networks, Uber and Airbnb are centralized systems where transactions between individual consumers and providers are routed through infrastructure, hubs and software that belong to the companies that own the platform.

Centralization makes Uber and Airbnb vulnerable to regulatory actions, and there is the possibility that both services could be shut down by the government at any time. In the meantime, besides taking a fee, the platform owners are in complete control of the networks and the individual providers and are often accused of predatory behavior.

“Look at Uber and Airbnb as examples,” said Fraser. “Both companies have been banned or heavily regulated in cities all around the world. Likewise, those companies have a history of banning certain individuals for life from ever using their marketplaces.”

Uber and Airbnb (the Services) without Uber and Airbnb (the Companies)

According to data provided by Origin, Uber, Airbnb and other centralized sharing marketplaces are expected to earn $40 billion in platform fees annually by 2022, and the sharing economy as a whole is expected to top $335 billion by 2025. Some centralized sharing services charge upwards of 30 percent fees for hosting transactions.

Origin wants to cut out these middlemen with new standards based on blockchain technology.

The Origin platform “enables people to freely transact on the blockchain in decentralized marketplaces without rent-seeking middlemen,” says Coleman Maher. who recently joined Origin as its first business development hire. “We aim to eliminate excessive transaction fees, reduce censorship and redistribute value back to the community.”

“We imagine a broad collection of vertical use cases (e.g short-term vacation rentals, freelance software engineering, tutoring for hire) that are built on top of Origin standards and shared data,” reads the Origin product brief. Origin applications will be able to share users, creating a “shared network effect” that could benefit all application providers, as well as the consumers.

Bee Token, SnagRide, JOLYY, Acquaint, Aworker, BlockFood, Edgecoin and ODEM have committed to building on the Origin platform. More partners will be announced in the coming months.

The first two projects are in Airbnb and Uber territory. The Bee Token team, a group of former employees from Google, Facebook, Uber and Civic, is building a middleman-free, peer-to-peer network of hosts and guests on the decentralized web, with the stated goal of “reinventing the home sharing economy.” SnagRide is a ride-sharing application for mid– to long-distance rides, which leverages artificial intelligence and blockchain-powered smart contract technologies to smartly manage drivers and passengers willing to travel together between cities and share the cost of the trip.

The Origin ecosystem will offer incentives based on the Origin token, an ERC20 utility token on the Ethereum blockchain, described in the Origin white paper. The Origin token, to be distributed later in 2018, is the currency used for transactions on the Origin platform. However, the Origin team plans to implement on-the-fly conversions of fiat currencies and Ethereum to the Origin token in future releases.

This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Posted on 18 January 2018 | 11:06 am

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Ledger-to-Ledger? Hardware Wallet Integrates with Decentralized Exchange

Decentralized exchange Radar Relay has partnered with Ledger to allow for hardware wallet-to-wallet direct transfers.

Posted on 18 January 2018 | 10:40 am

This week's Bitcoin crash was all about fraud and regulation - The Verge


The Verge

This week's Bitcoin crash was all about fraud and regulation
The Verge
Cryptocurrencies have had a rough week: the value of bitcoin plunged to a mere 50 percent of its 2017 peak, and other currencies, such as Ethereum, Ripple, and Litecoin have seen double-digit losses compared to their heights from last year. Tuesday ...
Cryptocurrency Investors Worry, Wait After Bitcoin Price DropNPR
Bitcoin: Dead Cat Bounce Or Bottom In Place?Forbes
Cryptocurrency prices edge higher with ripple bouncing back 65% after 'severe' sell-offCNBC
Fortune -The Guardian -Bloomberg -Bloomberg
all 1,247 news articles »

Posted on 18 January 2018 | 7:35 am

“Bitcoin Laundering” Study: Where Do Criminals Turn to Mask Illicit Cryptoassets?

Bitcoin laundering study

A recent study (PDF) from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance and blockchain analytics company Elliptic explored the “bitcoin laundering” ecosystem. In the study, Elliptic’s forensic analysis of the Bitcoin blockchain and other publicly available data were used to track the flows of illicit funds from 2013 to 2016.

“This study aimed to identify where individuals turn in order to cash out or transmit bitcoins (BTC) acquired from illicit entities and to discover typologies for criminals ‘laundering’ bitcoins,” the report says.

The study describes bitcoin laundering as a special type of money laundering that exists within the Bitcoin network where a user moves some bitcoins to a new address in a manner that obscures the original source of funds. The conversion of bitcoins into fiat currency on exchanges that lack adequate anti-money laundering (AML) and know-your-customer (KYC) policies can also fall under the category of bitcoin laundering.

In addition to describing the common mechanisms for bitcoin laundering and explaining that this sort of activity is a small percentage of all transactions sent to exchanges and other conversion services, the study also offers some recommendations for law enforcement in terms of preventing the masking of illicit funds on the Bitcoin network.

It should go without saying that any study related to the dark web or illicit use of the Bitcoin network needs to be taken with a grain of salt because avoiding detection is the whole reason for a criminal to use these sorts of platforms in the first place.

The Bitcoin Laundering Ecosystem

Much of the study, which is titled “Bitcoin Laundering: An Analysis of Illicit Flows Into Digital Currency Services,” revolves around the use of “conversion services.” Conversion services are basically platforms where users convert bitcoins to fiat currency (a Bitcoin exchange) or another cryptocurrency (a cryptoexchange), or move the bitcoins to another Bitcoin address accessible to the user. This results in a flow of funds that cannot be viewed or traced directly on the public blockchain.

According to the study, darknet markets are the main source of funds that are sent to conversion services in bitcoin laundering attempts.

Additionally, the number of illicit services that could be the source of “dirty bitcoins” sent to a conversion service increased fivefold from 2013 to 2016. Having said that, the study finds that the sources of illicit funds entering conversion services are quite centralized.

“Only a small number of entities account for the majority of illicit activity in our sample,” the study says. “Nine of the 102 illicit entities were the source of more than 95 percent of all laundered bitcoins in our study. All nine were darknet marketplaces.”

bitcoin-laundering_Figure1.png

While exchanges are the most commonly used type of conversion service, bitcoin mixers and gambling sites have much more illicit funds coming into their platforms as a percentage of their overall transactions. As potential conduits for bitcoin laundering, these two types of conversion services benefit from concealing their country of operations and avoiding enforcement of AML regulations.

“Fewer than 10 percent of all transactions overall passed through unknown jurisdictions ... while 52 percent of illicit laundering went through them,” the study says.

Much like the sources of illicit funds, the conversion services where these funds are sent are also highly centralized, the study finds. The data indicates that 97 percent of illicit transaction volume at mixers and gambling sites goes through three different entities. Additionally, two platforms in Europe account for half of all illicit transfers that go into exchanges.

Not Much Bitcoin Laundering Activity Overall, and It’s on the Decline

Another notable aspect of the study is that the data indicates a low level of bitcoin laundering as a percentage of all payments sent to conversion services.

“The amount of observed Bitcoin laundering was small (less than one percent of all transactions entering conversion services),” notes the study.

The report clarifies that the actual volume of illicit Bitcoin transactions sent to conversion services is “almost surely to be significantly larger” than what the data in the study shows because intermediate transactions are not counted. In other words, the report only covers transactions made directly from an illicit source, such as a darknet market, to a conversion service.

The study also indicates a decrease in illicit Bitcoin transaction volume going to conversion services over time.

bitcoin-laundering_Figure2.png

“It is likely that illicit bitcoins fell as a percentage of total volume entering conversion services due to the cryptocurrency’s increasing popularity as a speculative investment as well as new laundering techniques,” the study says. “The drop may also reflect better AML/CFT compliance by conversion services, including the use of blockchain analysis services to determine customers’ source of funds.”

The study later adds, “Our study, the first of its kind, indicates that while most types of conversion services have received some bitcoins from illicit activity, the vast majority of the funds they receive do not appear to be illicit.”

Recommendations for Law Enforcement That Will Likely Fall Short

The report offers recommendations for law enforcement in terms of what they can do to combat the effectiveness of bitcoin laundering.

First, the study says proper KYC and AML policies need to be enforced on the bitcoin mixers and gambling sites that allow for anonymous usage. It notes that the three conversion services that account for 97 percent of bitcoin laundering on these types of platforms should be targeted by financial authorities.

“The fact that most mixers and gambling sites hide their location of operations indicates they probably seek to evade the basic regulations in place to uphold transparency and financial integrity standards in most jurisdictions,” adds the study.

Of course, it should be noted that targeting these sorts of services will become nearly impossible as they become more decentralized over time. Decentralized platforms like JoinMarket, TumbleBit and ZeroLink remove the ability for authorities to clamp down on bitcoin mixing in an effective manner, as these solutions act more as software than services.

Second, the report also calls for increased AML and KYC compliance at European exchanges.

“Many large European Bitcoin exchanges do implement robust AML policies,” says the study. “However, this is out of choice rather than obligation, and there are some who choose not to, possibly to attract business from criminals.”

The study adds that the European Union is already moving in the right direction via an update of their 2015 Anti-Money Laundering Directive to include fiat-to-cryptocurrency exchanges, but in the view of the authors of the paper, crypto-to-crypto exchanges must also be regulated in this manner.

Again, it needs to be pointed out that more problematic technology — at least from law enforcement’s point of view — is on the horizon in the form of decentralized cryptoexchanges. Through the use of cross-chain atomic swaps via the lightning network, users will be able to instantly trade between different cryptoassets without the need for a trusted third party.

Third, the study calls for a sort of propaganda campaign against the use of darknet markets by criminals and the general public at large.

“Law enforcement should increase customer skepticism about [darknet market] sites’ integrity and reduce the perceived security of such platforms by exposing their vulnerabilities publicly,” says the study.

The report adds that law enforcement should make it well known that they’re lurking on these darknet markets to further shake confidence in them.

Darknet markets are another area of the Bitcoin ecosystem that are becoming more decentralized through platforms such as OpenBazaar. While illicit activity on the OpenBazaar network appears to be limited at this time, it could potentially explode in popularity as a reaction to law enforcement’s hypothetical campaigns against the centralized darknet markets.

Fourth, the report praises the decision by financial authorities in the United States to regulate exchanges as Money Service Businesses. The authors of the paper would like to see this sort of policy rolled out worldwide.

Last, the study notes the need to prevent the illicit use of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to get around economic sanctions imposed by the United States or other nations.

“In addition to mitigating illicit finance risks like criminal money laundering, there will likely be a need to develop strategies to counter state actors aiming to use cryptocurrencies to circumvent U.S., EU, and UN sanctions.”

Recently, there have been reports of North Korea, Russia and Venezuela all looking into separate mechanisms for avoiding economic sanctions through the use of cryptocurrencies.

This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Posted on 18 January 2018 | 2:52 am

Hyperledger’s Behlendorf: 2018 Will Bring Breakthrough Blockchain Developments

hyperledger_behlendorf.png

Brian Behlendorf is confident that 2018 will be a peak year, not only for Hyperledger — the international consortium of companies and organizations developing open source, permissioned blockchain technology — but also for blockchain technology in general as businesses and governments recognize the potential power of distributed ledgers and smart contracts.

“2018 will be the year that Hyperledger and blockchain come into their own. Projects demonstrating real world solutions, like Change Healthcare, that will enable healthcare systems to better and more efficiently process claims and payments, will launch this year.”

Hyperledger, founded in 2015, incubates and promotes blockchain technologies for business, including distributed ledgers, client libraries, graphical interfaces and smart contract engines.

Their 200 members include leading companies in finance, banking, Internet of Things, supply chains, manufacturing and technology development.  

“2017 was a milestone year for Hyperledger both for new members and for new technical breakthroughs. In 2017 we doubled our membership, gaining companies like American Express, Cisco, Daimler and Baidu, and we’re expecting more companies and organizations to join in 2018,” said Behlendorf.

“On the technical side, 30 companies and more than 100 developers contributed to the launch of the first production ready Hyperledger blockchain framework called Hyperledger Fabric,” he added.

According to Behlendorf, an important part of Hyperledger’s mandate is to also help educate and train the workforce for the many new blockchain opportunities coming in 2018.

“We’re happy to have launched our new Resource Center, and our online blockchain course is a great success with more than 45,000 enrolled and an average of 2,500 new enrollments per week.”

Hyperledger Blockchain Frameworks

In 2018, Hyperledger will start launching a number of frameworks and platforms that are currently in incubation.

“Interoperability in a multi-blockchain world will be the major focus in 2018. A number of Hyperledger projects are exploring integrations among one another including Hyperledger Sawtooth and Burrow and Indy, Composer and Quilt.”

Behlendorf expects that 2018 will also see some experimentation with different levels of permissioned access to blockchain networks.

He noted that permissioned and permissionless is more of a spectrum than a binary notion, and an important question is what the cost to join a node to a network is in any blockchain platform.

By reducing the cost of joining a networked ledger, Hyperledger hopes to enable new use cases and ways to solve problems.

“Hyperledger was started by a set of developers very focused on modest-sized permissioned ledgers, so that’s where the initial work has been, but there’s no hard limit to that. So we’re happy to look at options that make it easier, perhaps even to full permissionless frameworks,” said Behlendorf.

“I should note that our projects including Hyperledger Indy (for identity), Hyperledger Burrow (for smart contracts), Hyperledger Quilt (for interoperability) and Hyperledger Composer and Cello (developer tools) are agnostic about consensus mechanisms and would work fine with permissionless approaches,” he added.

Expect to see the following Hyperledger launches in 2018:

Quilt will offer interoperability between ledger systems by implementing ILP, which is a payments protocol designed to transfer value across distributed and non-distributed ledgers.

Sawtooth is a blockchain platform for creating and managing distributed ledgers. Sawtooth includes Proof of Elapsed Time (PoET) and a new consensus algorithm that is maintained without a central authority. It was originally proposed by Intel.

Iroha is a business blockchain framework for infrastructure projects that require the use of distributed ledger technology. It includes a chain-based Byzantine Fault Tolerant consensus algorithm. Soramitsu, Hitachi, NTT DATA and Colu originally proposed this framework.

Burrow is a smart-contract creator with a permissioned smart-contract interpreter included.

Indy is a distributed ledger with a decentralized identity designed to create independent digital identities between blockchains.

Composer is an open development tool set designed to make it easier to integrate existing business systems with the blockchain.

This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Posted on 17 January 2018 | 3:21 pm

Qtum Forges Ahead with Development of Its x86 Virtual Machine and Expanded Network

qtum_dev.jpg

Qtum is on the move with the announcement of a partnership with Baofeng to begin running 50,000 full Qtum nodes and an upcoming x86 VM to support multiple languages for smart contracts.

Qtum is a hybrid of Bitcoin and Ethereum that is based on proof-of-stake consensus instead of proof of work, and is compatible with existing Ethereum contracts as well as Bitcoin gateways. Supporting the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) wasn’t enough for Qtum co-founder Jordan Earls, who has been working on an x86 Virtual Machine for the Qtum system.

Earls comments that a great reason to build a x86 VM is to add more programming language support for smart contracts, his favorite being Rust. The overall list of objectives is much bigger though:

  • Programming Language Support
  • Standard Library
  • Optimized Gas Model
  • Unlock the full power of the Account Abstraction Layer (AAL)
  • New possibilities for smart contracts
  • First-Class Oracles
  • Blockchain Analysis
  • Alternative Data Storage
  • Explicit Dependency Trees
Bitcoin Magazine spoke with Earls with some more in depth questions about some of those items:


Bitcoin Magazine: What proof of concept or scalability testing have you done for the VM?

Jordan Earls: We have a very rough proof of concept we completed a few months ago where we integrated a prototype x86 VM into the Qtum network. This success is what led us to pursue this plan. We are confident that the x86 VM will be more scalable than the EVM, but we are thus far unsure how much. We are designing the VM and all of its APIs and other aspects to be scalable. We are making a big shift in the smart contract world where we actually reward smart-contract developers (in the form of cheaper gas costs) for limiting the features their smart contract has access to, and we are confident it will be faster than current EVM technology.  

Bitcoin Magazine: What are you doing to address the problem with x86 programming in general, where they assume near infinite memory and CPU time being available?

Jordan Earls: We think smart contract development crossed with this x86 paradigm will resemble something similar to real-time or embedded programming, where there are various constraints that developers must always be optimizing for.  

We foresee the same kind of design optimizations happening in the smart contract world as happen in the embedded world, and, for the first time, Qtum's blockchain will allow for these small optimizations to be directly rewarded for all users of the smart contract.

We know these optimizations are not cheap for smart contract developers to spend their time on, so we need to reward developers for taking such steps to keep the Qtum blockchain running smoothly and efficiently.

Bitcoin Magazine: What are some of the advantages with the Standard Library that will help keep smart contract code tight?

Jordan Earls: Currently in Ethereum, if you want to do a simple operation, like testing if two pieces of text are equal, you need to write your own code to do it.

This is a problem for a number of reasons: Developers in a secure context should rely on existing code that's been tested and verified, if possible. A naive implementation of this function will be slow, but a more complex and optimized implementation could have security problems. Deploying this code with your contract means another 100 bytes or so of wasted code that every node in the ecosystem now has to worry about.

Qtum will provide a standard library of functions that contract developers can rely on to have reasonable gas costs, secure and validated implementation and an easy to use interface. This means less bloat on the blockchain, easier to write and understand smart contracts and even a faster blockchain (since these functions can be optimized with native code).

Bitcoin Magazine: What about executable size? These x86 programs tend to be quite large.

Jordan Earls: This is true but also misleading. If I write a C program that just prints "hello world," about 8kB of that is going to just be the number "0." This is because x86 processors (as well as many others including ARM) benefit from a thing called "alignment." The important thing for Qtum is that the wasted bytes doing alignment can be discarded without performance impact. This immediately brings down that C program build to ~1-2kB.

We can reduce even more because we don't need all the baggage required by a standard program for Windows: We have our own "operating system" for smart contracts, so only a dozen or so bytes of actual setup code is wasted.

We have done some actual physical tests with these configurations to compare what an x86 smart contract might look like compared to an EVM smart contract. Our findings indicate that x86 programs are around 10–20 percent smaller than their EVM equivalent and, in many cases, significantly more so. And this was done without the standard library concept that was discussed above. We are not worried about getting usable executable sizes from x86 programs.

Bitcoin Magazine: So the language compiler has to be modified to support the VM? What kinds of modifications?

Jordan Earls: Only minor modifications need to be made. The language compilers do support our x86 VM already, but the Qtum smart contract environment is different from a traditional operating system like Windows or Linux. So, basically, the only big modification we have to make is to tell the language how to communicate with our smart-contract operating system.

Bitcoin Magazine: Is QTUM going to provide language packages or libraries to support the VM so people can just use those?

Jordan Earls: C and C++ will be the first languages we support "out of the box" because they tend to be the easiest due to the way they are designed. We also plan to support Rust. Go should easily be possible. For interpreted languages like Python and Perl, it becomes more complex and we must do research to ensure that they can be supported in an efficient and secure manner.

Bitcoin Magazine: Is this going to impact the development of your eSML smart contract language?

Jordan Earls: We are continuing to research the eSML approach and will decide at a later point if it is still a requirement to achieve our goals. We prefer to not do more work if it won't have a tangible benefit to our ecosystem.


Helping to support all this growth is the partnership announced on January 4, 2018, with Chinese video portal giant, Baofeng. With the help of Baofeng, the Qtum network will be boosted to 50,000 full network nodes, making it the most decentralized blockchain platform with the largest number of nodes with more than Bitcoin and Ethereum combined. The increased size of the Qtum system should provide for improved security, stability and speed, all of which will provide a solid base for the upcoming x86 VM later this year.

Earls projects that the x86 will be integrated into the Qtum main network in Q3 of 2018 but hopes to have a prototype to test with before Q2.


This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Posted on 17 January 2018 | 12:09 pm

Bitcoin Price Analysis: Bitcoin Sees Lower Lows as It Drops Below Historic Support

Bitcoin Price Analysis

Over the last couple months, we’ve been tracking a potential Distribution Trading Range at the top of bitcoin’s market cycle. Today, we have received higher confidence that bitcoin may have topped out. At around 3:00 p.m. EST, bitcoin broke through the bottom of the trading range and is now seeing aggressive selling as long positions begin to close and short positions begin to open. Today marks the first day of lower lows since bitcoin topped out around $20,000:

Figure_1.JPGFigure 1: BTC-USD, 4-Hour Candles, Distribution Trading Range

Bitcoin managed to blow through several milestones including both the parabolic and the linear trends. The linear and parabolic trends have been guiding trends for the last three years, and today bitcoin has broken parabolic support. It could get ugly:

Figure_2.JPGFigure 2: BTC-USD, 1-Day Candles, Macro Trend

What was once strong support has now become resistance as bitcoin scrambles to find a bottom. We can see quite clearly there is a line of support around $10,000 where the macro Fibonacci retracement values for the 50% retracement line exist. Any downward continuation will likely be supported in the interim. However, it’s fair to say that bitcoin is beginning a new downward trend. As stated earlier, today marks the first day of lower highs and lower lows — i.e., a downtrend.

So where does the bottom lie? That remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that there was a systematic distribution of bitcoin from large players to the masses; and now we are beginning the next phase of the market cycle — the markdown phase. Will it be a sustained markdown? It’s too early to tell at the moment, so we will have to play it by ear.

Bitcoin is a long-time fan of violent drops and violent bounces, so it’s unclear how this downtrend will terminate. For now, I highly recommend traders stay away from smaller time frames and focus more on the macro view of things.

As we come to test the macro 50% retracement values, it’s important to view how the market responds and see how the volume reacts. If we don’t see strong follow-through on a bounce from the 50%, there could be a strong bearish continuation in its future. Volume is your friend and confirms the trend. If you don’t see strong volume following an upward bounce, it’s entirely possible you could get stuck in a bull trap — and no one wants that.

Bull traps are designed to lure aggressive bulls into long positions prematurely to create liquidity for the bearish investors in the market. If you are unsure of what direction the market is moving, there is nothing wrong with sitting out.

Summary:

  1. A potential markdown phase is under way as bitcoin sees aggressive selling pressure.

  2. Today marks the first day of lower lows in weeks and marks a potential macro downtrend.

  3. Support will likely be found at the $10,000 values, which coincide with the 50% macro Fibonacci retracement values.


Trading and investing in digital assets like bitcoin and ether is highly speculative and comes with many risks. This analysis is for informational purposes and should not be considered investment advice. Statements and financial information on Bitcoin Magazine and BTC Media related sites do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BTC Media and should not be construed as an endorsement or recommendation to buy, sell or hold. Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results.

This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Posted on 16 January 2018 | 3:18 pm

Bitcoin tops $10,000 milestone

Posted on 29 November 2017 | 2:30 am

Bitcoin price climbs over $4,000

Posted on 14 August 2017 | 1:16 am

Bitcoin reaches new all-time high: $3,000

Posted on 12 June 2017 | 1:06 am

CRYENGINE now accepts Bitcoin

Posted on 29 March 2017 | 1:24 am

Consulting firm EY Switzerland accepts Bitcoin

Posted on 26 November 2016 | 12:47 am

Bitcoin Trading Bots

There have been a wide variety of situations in which algorithmic trading programs have proven to be beneficial for investors. However, investors who only trade a cryptocurrency can also take advantage of bitcoin trading bots. Through bitcoin bot trading, traders can become more flexible and prompt, minimize errors and process information more rapidly. At this… Read More »

Posted on 8 November 2016 | 6:20 pm

Steam accepts Bitcoin

Posted on 29 April 2016 | 1:09 am

Major Magazine Publisher to Accept Bitcoin Payments

Posted on 18 December 2014 | 12:43 pm

Microsoft accepts Bitcoin

Posted on 11 December 2014 | 5:06 am

Mozilla accepting Bitcoin

Posted on 20 November 2014 | 1:55 pm

PayPal and Virtual Currency

Posted on 23 September 2014 | 9:52 pm

Wikimedia Foundation Now Accepts Bitcoin

Posted on 30 July 2014 | 3:14 pm

German Newspaper "taz" accepts Bitcoin

Posted on 22 July 2014 | 1:32 pm

airBaltic - World’s First Airline To Accept Bitcoin

Posted on 22 July 2014 | 11:03 am

January 19, 2018 -
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