Bitcoin is losing its luster with some of its earliest and most avid fans — criminals — giving rise to a new breed of virtual currency.
Privacy coins such as monero, designed to avoid tracking, have climbed faster over the past two months as law enforcers adopt software tools to monitor people using bitcoin. A slew of analytic firms such as Chainalysis are getting better at flagging digital hoards linked to crime or money laundering, alerting exchanges and preventing conversion into traditional cash.
The European Union’s law-enforcement agency, Europol, raised alarms three months ago, writing in a report that “other cryptocurrencies such as monero, ethereum and Zcash are gaining popularity within the digital underground.” Online extortionists, who use ransomware to lock victims’ computers until they fork over a payment, have begun demanding those currencies instead. On Dec. 18 hackers attacked up to 190,000 WordPress sites per hour to get them to produce monero, according to security company Wordfence.
For ransomware attacks, monero is now “one of the favorites, if not the favorite,” Matt Suiche, founder of Dubai-based security firm Comae Technologies, said in a phone interview.
Monero quadrupled in value to $349 in the final two months of 2017, according to coinmarketcap.com, placing it among a number of upstart coins that rose faster than bitcoin, the world’s most valuable digital currency. Bitcoin roughly doubled in the same period, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Monero’s price has climbed another 7 percent so far this year, according to coinmarketcap.com.
In monero’s case, criminals are snapping it up because bitcoin’s underlying technology can work against them. Called blockchain, the digital ledger meticulously records which addresses send and receive transactions, including the exact time and amount — great data to use as evidence. Match an address to a crime and then watch the bitcoin universe carefully, and you can see the funds disappear and reappear in other locations.
Sleuths have developed databases and techniques for digesting that information to eventually nab wrongdoers. Say, for example, a coffee shop in Berkeley is known to have a certain bitcoin address, and a wallet used by an extortionist transfers the same amount there every morning at 9 a.m. Police can stop by and make an arrest.
Started in 2014, monero is very different. It encrypts the recipient’s address on its blockchain and generates fake addresses to obscure the real sender. It also obscures the amount of the transaction.
The techniques are so potent that software that flags coins suspected of being obtained through crime now tags just about anything converted into or out of monero as high risk, according to Pawel Kuskowski, chief executive officer of Coinfirm, which helps exchanges and other companies avoid tainted money. That compares with only about 10 percent of bitcoin, he said.
“What we treat ‘high risk’ is something that’s anonymizing funds,” he said in a phone interview. “How are you going to prove that these funds are not coming from illegal sources?”
Monero is one of many privacy-focused coins, each offering different security features. Its main competitor, Zcash — which isn’t known to have a significant criminal following — can offer even better privacy protection. Instead of creating fake addresses to hide senders, it encrypts their true address. That makes it impossible to identify senders by looking for correlations in addresses used in multiple transactions to pinpoint the real one — a vulnerability for monero. Developers of the coin have made progress in reducing it, though.
Still, Princeton University researchers recently developed a tool that helps them analyze Zcash transactions at least to some extent — but they haven’t been able to crack monero. And Zcash high-security features can’t be used on disposable burner phones, a favorite of criminals eager to stay anonymous.
Developers behind monero say they simply created a coin that protects privacy. Most people use it legitimately — they just don’t want others to know whether they’re buying a coffee or a car, Riccardo Spagni, core developer at monero, said in a phone interview.
“As a community, we certainly don’t advocate for monero’s use by criminals,” Spagni said. “At the same time if you have a decentralized currency, it’s not like you can prevent someone from using it. I imagine that monero provides massive advantages for criminals over bitcoin, so they would use monero.”
Yet criminals are probably only a fraction of monero’s users, according to Lucas Nuzzi, a senior analyst at Digital Asset Research, which provides research to institutional investors.
“As with any disruptive technology, many of the initial use cases revolve around illicit activities,” he wrote in an email. But as everyday people grow concerned about privacy and surveillance, “there is utility in these currencies that go beyond just a means of exchange for illicit goods.”
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Cryptocurrencys year-end rally fails as its investors are finally introduced to the law of financial gravity
Bitcoin lost more than a quarter of its value on Friday as an analyst warned that investors in the cryptocurrency had finally been introduced to the law of financial gravity.
In the latest illustration of bitcoins volatility, it slumped to below $11,500 at one point on Friday touching $11,159 having started the week at a record high close to $20,000 and in its biggest weekly fall since 2013. However, by 5pm London time it was trading at $12,800 as the currency endured a see-saw day.
It is a sudden reversal of bitcoins upward trajectory this year, having started 2017 at $966, and sparked warnings that investors need to beware that they are not risking a rerun of the 17th century tulip bubble.
Bitcoin trades on a number of exchanges and one, Coinbase, was reported to have suspended transactions temporarily while there was also a temporary halt of the new futures contract which allows investors to take bets on the value of the digital currency at a predetermined point in the future on the Chicago Board Options Exchange while it waited for the price to stabilised.
Two futures contracts have been launched this month, which were regarded as taking a step towards legitimising digital currencies at a time when regulators are stepping up their surveillance of products linked to the new technology.
Fridays slump was said to have been fuelled by the founder of another cryptocurrency selling his holdings. Charlie Lee, founder of Litecoin, said he was selling his holdings to avoid a conflict of interest that he faces when talking about the price of the currency which could appear to benefit him.
Jasper Lawler, head of research at London Capital Group, said this decision was probably the root-cause of the insecurity thats been felt across the cryptocurrency space.
Bitcoin investors were introduced to the law of gravity over the last 24 hours Long term holders will be used to this level of volatility but newer crypto traders could be permanently put off, said Lawler.
The exponential price rise seen recently needs new investors to sustain it. In a bubble market its known as the bigger fool theory; you can buy high as long as there is a fool willing to buy it off you even higher, he added.
Charles Hayter, founder and chief executive of industry website CryptoCompare, said: A manic upward swing led by the herd will be followed by a downturn as the emotional sentiment changes. A lot of traders have been waiting for this large correction.
Sir Howard Davies, chairman of RBS, has likened investing in bitcoin to Dantes Inferno Abandon hope all ye who enter here while Jamie Dimon, the head of JP Morgan, has talked about bitcoin as being worse than tulip mania, which took place in the Netherlands in the 1630s, when bulb prices reportedly rose more than 1,000% in a month.
Analysts said the dramatic moves in the runup to the end of 2017 meant that it was difficult to predict what would happen in the new year when trading volumes are expected to rise.
Lukman Otunuga, research analyst at financial firm FXTM, said: The aggressively bearish price action witnessed this week may prompt investors to start questioning if bitcoin will recover from the selloff or remain depressed moving into the new year.
Regulators have been sounding a cautious note about bitcoin, which is not regulated and is controlled by a network of computers that update all transactions which take place on a variety of trading platforms around the world. It only exists digitally and is mined using mathematical equations.
While the Bank of England has said it is not a risk to financial stability, governor Mark Carney told MPs this week that he expected international regulators will discuss cryptocurrencies and the potential future role of central bank digital currencies.
The Financial Conduct Authority has issued warnings about initial coin offerings (ICOs) which use cryptocurrencies to raise funds for startup businesses. Investors in ICOs pay in cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and receive a coin in return, rather than shares in the company.
Andrew Bailey, chief executive of the FCA, has said bitcoin is not a really currency but more like a commodity.
A Long Island woman stands accused of trying to launder bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to ISIS, according to an indictment unsealed Thursday by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. Zoobia Shahnaz, a 27-year-old American citizen, was charged with bank fraud and money laundering, and according to the indictment, she tried to travel to Syria. She was arrested on Wednesday. Bridget Rhode, the U.S. attorney, said Shahnaz tried to put thousands of dollars into the coffers of terrorists.
Blockchain poses as big a threat to banks as Facebook and Amazon did to conventional media firms
Humanitys earliest, truly transformative general purpose technologies were the ability to cross-fertilise plants and cross-breed animals. Suddenly, it made more sense to farm than to hunt and gather. The surge in agricultural output meant humans could do other things than worry about survival; they could live in cities. Human civilisation began.
The story of the subsequent millennia has been how some 30 general-purpose technologies of equal power, ranging from the printing press to the steam engine, have driven similar leaps in transforming our economy, our lives and our civilisation. Today, we are living through another.
Digitisation is, if anything, even more powerful: it is a meta general-purpose technology. No area of human activity will be left untouched by the translation of the physical into digital data. Already, it has created astonishing new capacities: the chances are that you are reading this on a smartphone or tablet. But the adventure is only just beginning. Everything from banking to health is about to experience similar transformations.
Last week, the growing impact of blockchain and the price of one of the crypto-currencies it underwrites bitcoin hit the front pages. Regulators stopped the US stock market trading in the Crypto Company (a tiny penny stock whose main asset is its name) after its shares jumped 2,000%, so that it briefly, and stunningly, joined the Fortune 500 with a value of $12bn. As extraordinary, when the Long Island Iced Tea Corp yet to make a profit announced that it was changing its name to Long Blockchain Corp, its shares jumped 500%. The price of bitcoin itself $1,000 at the start of the year briefly hit $19,000 per coin last week before falling to $11,000 and then recovering to $14,000 yesterday. A crazy wildness, emulating every financial bubble in history, has settled on US investors.
But bubbles dont come out of nowhere. Peoples animal spirits are sparked by something real that collectively captures their imagination: blockchain and crypto-currencies are that something. Blockchain is a foundational digital technology that rivals the internet in its potential for transformation. To explain: essentially, blocks are segregated, vast bundles of data in permanent communication with each other so that each block knows what the content is in the rest of the chain. However, only the owner of a particular block has the digital key to access it.
So what? First, the blocks are created by miners, individual algorithm writers and companies throughout the world (with a dense concentration in China), who want to add a data block to the chain. There is no government or central direction; no permission is needed to create a block and unless the law is broken, no government, regulator or police authority can close the block down.
Just as the web once promised freedom, so does blockchain. The chain is self-policing. Anyone who attempts to launch an exchange of data outside the protocols of the chain will immediately be spotted by the other blocks and the exchange will be aborted. Suddenly, the world has acquired a system for the fast, trusted exchange of vast amounts of data without intermediaries or supervision.
In the way that Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google (the Fangs) replaced conventional media and communication companies, that prospect faces banks, insurance companies and many public services. Our health data can be given to the whole chain for it to assess, rather than an individual doctor, and the chain can then assess and price an insurable risk. No intermediary is safe. No wonder investors are salivating at the prospect of old, analogue organisations being driven out of business and mega fortunes being made by the companies replacing them, perhaps by the Crypto Company or Long Blockchain Corp. If you had bought Facebook 13 years ago you would now be very rich.
The entrepreneurs sued Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg years ago, and they invested their (supposedly) meagre payouts wisely
Name: Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss.
Also known as: The Winklevii.
Age: 36 and 36.
Appearance: Handsome, enormous, similar.
Because theyre identical twins? Yup. You might remember them from The Social Network in 2010.
Vaguely. So theyre actors, are they? No. Theyre venture capitalists and entrepreneurs. In 2008, they rowed for the US at the Beijing Olympics, finishing sixth. In the film, Armie Hammer played both of them as a kind of two-man master race. As one of them put it in a memorable line of dialogue, Im 6ft 5, 220 pounds and theres two of me.
Nice. But why make a film about them? Because they were at Harvard with Mark Zuckerberg, who they later sued, claiming he stole their idea for a website that they called Harvard Connection, but which he called the Facebook. (Dramatic music.)
And did he? Steal the idea, I mean? Oh, God, thats just too complicated to get into. The Winklevii launched numerous lawsuits about it, and got about $65m (48m) worth of Facebook stock, which wasnt much at the time.
Oh, yeah. Sure. These guys probably spend $65m on lunch. In fact, they spent $11m of it on bitcoin, so theyve probably cheered up a bit.
Bitcoin. Theres a word I dont understand. Its a crypto-currency.
Theres another one. Think of it as an electronic token, which can be owned and traded. Like normal money, it has value because other people consider it valuable. The number of bitcoins in circulation is strictly controlled by a clever bit of software that nobody can hack, called the blockchain.
Thank you. And the Winklevoss twins like having lots of bitcoins, do they? Im sure they do at the moment. In March 2013, they bought about 100,000 of them, when each coin was worth roughly $120. After a strong year, and a wild couple of weeks, each bitcoin is now worth lets see $11,826.
Holy moly! Thats right. Not counting the value of their other investments, the Winklevoss twins have just become the worlds first bitcoin billionaires. Apart from Satoshi Nakamoto, bitcoins mysterious inventor, of course.
Please dont explain who he is. Well, there are lots of intriguing theories
Do say: Theyre not billionaires theyre half a billionaire each!
Dont say: Just $73bn to go and theyll catch up with Zuckerberg.
Economists have claimed that Bitcoin is just the beginning of the cryptocurrency boom. If you went all-in after seeing Sheldon get hyped on Bitcoin on Big Bang Theory, maybe it’s time for you to expand your horizons and invest in a cryptocurrency you believe will succeed. Ripple is a great place to start, and it’s different enough from Bitcoin that it could break through the uncertainty held by big banks. In fact, many major financial institutions have already gotten on board with Ripple, and many will follow.
Ripple is like Bitcoin’s younger sister who went to business school: She’s corporate-minded, forging her own space in the crypto world, and everything she talks about sounds legit. According to Coinmarketcap.com, Ripple is the fourth-ranked cryptocurrency in the world, with a market cap of $29 billion.
If you’re looking to add a little Ripple to your life in 2018, here’s everything you should know before diving in. As you’ll see in the video below, not even Ripple can explain Ripple in under two minutes, so strap in!
What is Ripple?
Ripple is the name of both the cryptocurrency (symbol: XRP), and an open payment network in which the currency is transferred. Ripple’s system aims to enable people to break free of the “walled gardens” that financial networks create with fee structures, currency exchanges, and processing delays. Bitcoin also aims to do this with blockchain technology, but Ripple takes it a step further and uses completely different tech.
Instead of working on a public blockchain, like Bitcoin, Ripple works with a network of nodes that are actually participating banks and financial institutions. In doing so, Ripple’s blockchain isn’t public; it operates on a completely internal ledger called the “Enterprise blockchain.”
This decidedly less-centralized, less-cyberpunk attitude is what has made Ripple so popular with investors and large companies. Early investors included Pantera Capital, Google Ventures, IDG Capital Partners, and Santander InnoVentures.
For a more detailed explanation of how Ripple’s technology works, Coindesk has broken it down by comparing the system to an ancient Arabic banking method called “hawala.” Without getting in too deep, if I want to send money to my friend Jane, I log into my preferred Ripple gateway or site, deposit money into it, and instruct the site to release funds to Jane via her preferred gateway. Jane collects her funds.
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How else is Ripple different from other cryptocurrencies?
In order for bitcoins to come into existence, they had to be mined, and there will only be a maximum of 21 million bitcoins (BTC). XRPs, on the other hand, have never been mined; they were simply issued by the founders of Ripple Labs (Jed McCaleb, Arthur Britto, and Chris Larsen). The founders released 100 billion XRP at once, and kept 20 percent for themselves to “incentivize market maker activity to increase XRP liquidity and strengthen the overall health of XRP markets.” Retaining the bulk of one’s company’s shares while going public is a standard business practice, but this naturally polarized the crypto-mining community. As a result, the founders agreed they would be selling their shares at a mediated rate over several years, in hopes that it will help stabilize the currency.
Ripple is also known for its instant payments because of the immediate validation by Ripple nodes. Compared to BTC, XRP is able to perform 1,000 transactions per second, compared to 3 transactions per second when trading Bitcoin. International transactions are confirmed in 10 minutes on average using BTC, but if you use Ripple, international transfers only take 3 seconds.
The Ripple network is designed to work for B2B transactions. It works with most bank’s risk and privacy requirements, and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Know Your Customer (KYC) compliances are built into every transaction. Ripple also considers itself a full end-to-end payment service by handling foreign currency exchange conversions and calculating the cost of the transaction down to the nearest cent.
Another advantage to investing in Ripple: Because Bitcoin is decentralized and Ripple has the centralized Ripple system, it’s unlikely they will be rivals.
The pros and cons of investing in Ripple
Although mostly internal, a substantial number of financial institutions have already begun collaborations with XRP. “We’ve reached the stage where a significant number of these banks are moving to commercial production,” Ripple CEO Chris Larsen told Coindesk in a 2016 interview about the currency. “What’s significant here is the space is moving beyond experimentation and moving into actually deploying Ripple’s blockchain.”
In November, it was announced that American Express and Santander would team up with Ripple Labs to experiment with faster cross-border payments by routing transactions through Ripple’s platform. These two institutions represent only a fraction of the companies that have already (publicly) signed on to partner with Ripple. Deloitte, Mitsubishi Financial Group, UBS, Royal Bank of Canada, Western Union, and Accenture have all joined forces with the platform in the last two years.
While XRP’s validation by big banks definitely puts it ahead of other alt-currencies, it’s also one reason people may be wary to invest in XRP in the first place. Cryptocurrency’s utopian roots support decentralization and a removal of big brother. Many existing crypto investors are suspicious of Ripple’s attachment to these big institutions and placement of the Ripple platform as the central bank of XRP.
Then there’s the fact that researchers at Purdue University found security vulnerabilities in Ripple’s platform that could put 50,000 wallets at risk. Still, these system flaws haven’t prevented angel investors like Google from getting involved, so it’s up to you if you want to take the risk.
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How to invest in Ripple
After an influx of subscribers to the r/Ripple subreddit this month, one moderator commented, “To answer the most frequently asked question in the past couple of days: we don’t know of a reputable exchange that verifies immediately or without a SSN that we can recommend. Most exchanges have very stringent Know Your Customer rules in place, requiring various forms of ID and 48hrs+ to verify you.”
So, if you’re looking to buy XRP totally anonymously, you’ll have to wait until technology catches up to your stealth ways.
Bitstamp is a great site for trading EUR, USD, and bitcoins to XRP by using a SEPA deposit (if you’re paying in euros) or a wire transfer. After going through a couple rounds of verification, you’ll be able to deposit funds into your Bitstamp account. You can then purchase XRP by selecting the correct market for your currency and completing an order. It’s that simple!
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So how does a betch get some of that friend’s Bitcoin money? Here is a quick guide to wtf it is and how you can jump on the crypto train.
WTF is Bitcoin?
Unlike a physical coin that is stored in your car’s cupholder and worth absolutely nothing (parking meters don’t even want that shit anymore), Bitcoin is a decentralized currency that is stored on the internet and worth thousands. It’s not tied to a government, which means while Trump decreases the value of the dollar by being a terrible and entirely incompetent president, smart people all over the world are turning to Bitcoin and its cryptocurrency protégés to protect the future of the world’s economy.
Where TF Does Bitcoin Come From?
Bitcoins live on the blockchain, a magical place where information is shared but can’t be falsified (aka a world without identity theft or The Fat Jewish), and they are created by developers who mine for coins online. It’s virtual mining for engineers, so they get rich instead of the black lung, Pop. It’s harder to mine a Bitcoin than it is to print a Benjamin, so again—worth more than the dollar. (TBH, I don’t totally get this part, but I also don’t know where “the internet” or my need to listen to the new Taylor Swift album comes from—I just know that it’s real and has seriously improved my quality of life.)
WTF Can I Use It For?
Wtf do adults use their Google stock for? To rub it in Yahoo! stockholders’ faces and to put money in something that will actually gain value over time (your savings account ain’t doing the trick, honey). You can also book your next vacation on Expedia or buy your next couch on overstock.com and say, “This hotel room only cost me 1/30th of a Bitcoin,” or something equally obnoxious.
Should You Fucking Buy It?
I’m a Betches writer, not a finance expert, but if you weren’t lucky enough to have a techie boyfriend give you Bitcoin as a breakup gift when it was worth $300 like I was, it might be a bit late to invest. Shit’s at an all-time high, and some think the Bitcoin bubble is about to burst—but if your FOMO is stronger than you are fiscally conservative, you can get in on the game here.
I Can’t Fucking Afford That!
Yeah, me neither. Lucky for us, cryptocurrency (not unlike the LBD) isn’t going out of style, and new and improved versions are popping up all the time. So if you caught the crypto bug, or you want to play with your money like plays with our emotions, may I suggest putting Ethereum on your Christmas list. It’s like Bitcoin but arguably smarter and at $457 a piece, definitely more affordable (P.S. its value has grown over 6,000% in one year).
Think of it this way: Bitcoin is Beyoncé today and Ethereum is Beyoncé of Destiny’s Child. Sure, everyone worships her now, but it’d be a lot cooler if you knew she would be queen back when she was asking if we could pay her bills.