Bitcoin turned 10 years old, a milestone for a technology that few have used and even fewer understand. Ultimately, the blockchain it wrought could be the biggest change to banking, finance and politics ever — or it could be a dud. The jury is still out, but let’s take a walk down memory lane and see just how the product grew from White Paper to world beater.
You know you’re in trouble when you’ve lost Carlos Matos.
The walking meme made famous by his unbridled enthusiasm for Bitconnect, a cryptocurrency project strongly resembling a Ponzi scheme that shut down its lending and exchange platform in January, is now here to offer some measured words of caution. Namely, stay the hell away from bitcoin.
“Bitcoin Is A Scam,” he tweeted on October 26. “Sell Everything It’s NEVER Going Back Up”
Bitcoin Is A Scam. Sell Everything It’s NEVER Going Back Up
— Carlos Matos (@CarlosMatos80) October 26, 2018
Matos, of course, is best known for promoting a likely scam himself. He launched into meme infamy in October of 2017 after a video of him singing Bitconnect’s praises went viral.
Importantly, this was all before the price of a BCC token shot up to around $437, and then crashed back down to its current price of $.67.
If you haven’t seen the clip, recorded at a Bitconnect gala in Thailand, you should go ahead and watch it now. We’ll wait.
His proclamations of “I love Bitconnect!” were endlessly remixed, and Matos — a self-proclaimed Bitconnect investor — quickly became the face of the project.
Needless to say, none of this worked out so well for him. Even John Oliver took a swing at Matos on Last Week Tonight.
And while Matos surely regrets the day he heard of Bitconnect, you can’t say he didn’t learn anything from the mess he helped create.
Which, to be clear, is that bitcoin is a scam.
People are definitely spending bitcoin, just maybe not the kind of people proponents of cryptocurrency adoption had in mind.
A lengthy indictment from the Justice Department dropped today, accusing seven Russian intelligence officers of conspiring to hack anti-doping agencies around the world in retaliation for their efforts to expose Russian athletic doping. And, at least according to the US officials, the GRU hacking group mined bitcoin to fund its efforts.
“The pool of bitcoin generated from the GRU’s mining activity was used, for example, to pay a United States-based company to register the [phishing] domain wada-arna.org through a payment processing company located in the United States,” reads the indictment. “The conspirators used the same funding structure—and in some cases, the very same pool of funds—to purchase key accounts, servers, and domains used in their anti-doping related hacking activity.”
As a result, the Justice Department is charging the seven Russian officers with “[conspiring] to launder money through a web of transactions structured to capitalize on the perceived anonymity of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.”
Clearly, the GRU officers’ efforts at anonymity failed in the longterm. Their hacking efforts, on the other hand, appear to have largely succeeded.
The indictment lays out how the group stole the medical information of around 250 athletes, and released that information — sometimes in altered form — to “damage the reputations of clean athletes from various countries by falsely claiming that such athletes were using banned or performance-enhancing drugs.”
Interestingly, the officers — operating under guise of a hacking group named Fancy Bear — aggressively courted reporters in an effort to spread their propaganda. The indictment claims they hit up around 116 reporters on Twitter offering access to the hacked and secretly altered docs, and exchanged emails with around 70 reporters.
The list of the GRU’s targets, at least in this specific campaign which reportedly began as earlier as 2014, include organizations based in the U.S., Canada, Switzerland, and Mexico. Specifically, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, the World Anti-Doping Agency, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, the International Association of Athletics Federations, The Court of Arbitration for Sport, and FIFA were all targets.
But there was more. The same hackers also hit a Pennsylvania nuclear energy company, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and the Spiez Swiss Chemical Laboratory. The latter had done work analyzing “the chemical agent connected to the poisonings of a former GRU officer and others in the United Kingdom,” notes the indictment.
Essentially, it reads as if this crew was out for revenge on behalf of the Russian government. It just so happens that bitcoin paved the particular road there.
If you need to carry a substantial amount of cryptocurrency on you at all times, but you just don’t trust the average smartphone, a company called Sikur might have a solution.
On Wednesday, Sikur launched the SIKURPhone, a customized variant of a Sony smartphone, its Android enhanced with the secure, crypto-oriented SikurOS software.
SikurOS comes with a cryptocurrency wallet and numerous security-oriented features, such as the ability to remotely wipe the device, and Sikur’s own Secure App Store (launching later this year) which should host only vetted and thoroughly checked apps. A security-oriented chat app and browser are also on board.
The phone comes in two flavors: One is based on Sony’s XZ1, a 5.2-inch smartphone with a Snapdragon 835 chip, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, a 2,700mAh battery and a 19-megapixel camera on the back paired with a 13-megapixel selfie camera.
The other is based on Sony’s mid-range XA2, which has a Snapdragon 630 chip, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, a 23-megapixel rear camera, and 8-megapixel selfie camera, and a 3,300mAh battery.
Neither of these devices are particularly new — Sony launched two more XZ-series flagships after the XZ1 — but their specs are still good enough to hold their own against most modern phones.
If you’ve followed Sikur over the past couple of years, this launch is probably quite confusing. The company’s original SIKURPhone, launched in February 2018, had both its hardware and software built by Sikur. Now, the company appears to have pivoted to building only software which it will deploy on phones made by other manufacturers.
To build the new, Sony-based SIKURPhone, Sikur joined Sony’s Open Devices Program, which allowed the company to built its software on top of Sony’s hardware, the company COO Alexandre Vasconcelos told me via e-mail.
“We are already talking to other manufacturers to port the SikurOS for other devices,” he said.
In its promo materials, Sikur claims that the pivot to software is an advantage, but one could argue that controlling both the hardware and the software can ensure better security. Furthermore, using a Sikur device to store your cryptocurrency, or any sensitive data (Sikur positions the device as a tool for businesses and governments, not just crypto users) means placing trust in a very young company to be able to protect it.
To test the security of its software, Sikur employed the penetration testing company HackerOne which, according to Sikur, was unable to penetrate the SikurOS’ defenses.
“SIKURPhone has a clear separation between hardware and software layers, the solution is very consistent. Even though the hardware/software layers are apart, we plan to run a permanent bounty program so that we keep the high-quality product level,” Vasconcelos said.
The new SIKURPhone devices are already available with Sikur resellers. The recommended price for the XZ1 is $850, while the XA2 costs $650.
As for the original SIKURPhone, it’s still out there and supported for existing customers. “A new version should be available in mid-October, following the same software features that the SIKURPhone is delivering now,” Vasconcelos said.
UPDATE: Sept. 26, 2018, 10:44 a.m. CEST The post has been updated to clear up the confusion between the original SIKURPhone, the new SIKURPhone and the GranitePhone, an earlier Sikur device.
Read more: https://mashable.com/article/sikurphone-xz1/
The cruise ship wasn’t big enough for the both of them.
On September 10, somewhere in the Mediterranean, two well-known rivals in the cryptocurrency space stood awkwardly poolside. A crowd, sporting a mix of cryptocurrency-themed t-shirts and bikinis, lounged nearby on the ship’s upper deck. One man, sweatpants sloshing in the water, steadied a tripod. The Bitcoin versus Bitcoin Cash debate was about to begin.
It only took 37 seconds to spiral out of control.
The CoinsBank Blockchain Cruise, chartered to take cryptocurrency die-hards from Barcelona, to Monaco, to Ibiza, and then back, was in its fourth day, and a highly billed event had managed to drag a few likely hung over attendees out from their below-deck cabins. Jimmy Song, a venture partner at Blockchain Capital LLC, was to argue the relative merits of Bitcoin (BTC). Early Bitcoin adoptee and Bitcoin Cash evangelist, Rover Ver, was to speak on behalf of Bitcoin Cash (BCH).
Bitcoin Cash was born following a 2017 Bitcoin hard fork, and despite BTC’s and BCH’s shared history, the two cryptocurrencies and their respective boosters have become the blockchain’s very own Montagues and Capulets — each disparaging the other at every conceivable opportunity, with both sides lobbing accusations of fraud and deception.
It was perhaps to be expected that the debate wouldn’t go smoothly, but just how quickly it went off the rails surprised even those in attendance.
Song, cowboy hat atop his head and microphone in hand, attempted to introduce the format of the event — a “Lincoln-Douglas style debate” — but was soon interrupted by Ver.
Shouts of “no Roger” emanated from the crowd, as Ver told the audience to “calm down.”
It quickly spun out from there, with Song repeatedly telling Ver to “sit down” as Ver angled for the microphone.
“Do you want to debate me or not,” Song demanded. “OK then sit down,” he repeated as he stood behind the podium.
Bickering over whether or not Ver would get a one-minute introduction before the official start of the debate continued on, with Song addressing the crowd and Ver shouting at the top of his lungs.
They heatedly yelled over each other as the crowd jeered.
Three minutes had passed, and things were not going well. And then someone handed Ver a mic.
You better believe Song wasn’t having that, and so he stormed offstage saying he was “refusing to do the debate.”
Finally with the stage all to himself, Ver attempted to speak but was immediately shouted down by an angry, shirtless man yelling from the pool. And that’s all just the first five minutes. The video is over 40 minutes long.
In the end, despite all the bullshit, one clear consensus did manage to emerge: If these people are the future of finance, then we should all pray for a return to the past.
There is a documentaryiQiyi, China’s Netflix equivalent, about a Chinese bitcoin enthusiast who attempts to survive 21 days by merely living on 0.21 bitcoin, or $1,300, without any help or donations.
He You Bing is traveling and carrying nothing with her, and she has to retrieve food, housing, and basic necessities all through bitcoin transactions done on her phone. Interestingly, she is also doing this challenge in some of China’s largest cities including Beijing and Shenzhen.
Her name is something of a nom de guerre – a nickname, with “You Bing” directly translating to “having a disease,” and the whole name alludes to the girl’s over-enthusiasm for bitcoin.
It’s a fascinating time for making this attempt. In the last few weeks, there have been numerous reports of China’s crypto bans – including Beijing and Shenzhen banning public cryptocurrency-related speeches, events, or activities, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. Also included in the purported ban were a number of WeChat media accounts that promoted cryptocurrencies, which have been permanently blocked. Furthermore, Beijing blocked access to the websites of over 120 offshore exchanges in the mainland and banned large crypto purchases through popular Chinese payments platforms Alipay and WeChat transactions.
Given the sheer number of these bans, readers who live outside of China may be led to think that there is a bleak outlook for the cryptocurrency environment on mainland China. But He You Bing’s Bitcoin challenge reveals a refreshing perspective on the crypto awareness of people living in these local cities as well as the power of WeChat. $1,300 may not sound like much for 21 days of travel in the U.S., but in China, where a cheap meal costs just $1, it can go a long way. The real question is, will people accept bitcoin?
Finding acceptance with bitcoin
Through daily video-log like documentaries, Bing is filmed running around asking different business vendors whether they accept bitcoin. The vendors, varying from small hole-in-the-wall eateries to employees from large chain stores like Uniqlo, express their reactions that are telling of their preconceived notions, or lack thereof, of bitcoin and cryptocurrency. Similar to the U.S., people’s attitudes vary from ignorance and distrust to welcoming. It’s eye-opening to see how different Chinese people think about bitcoin.
On the first day of her challenge, Bing arrives in Beijing, where she wants to go to an amusement park. The entrance fee is 2 Chinese Yuan, or around 30 cents in USD, but the park didn’t accept bitcoin. Bing also asked several fast food restaurants whether they accepted bitcoin so she could buy food, but neither of them did.
As she approaches these vendors, rather than paying in bitcoin, she often has to explain what a bitcoin is in the first place, and finds very little success along the way. One feat on her first day is that she was able to find an unlocked Ofo bike, a dockless bike that can be unlocked and paid for with one’s cellphone. With it, she biked around in an attempt to reach out to more vendors. By the end of the first day, Bing didn’t succeed in finding a food place that accepted bitcoin, and she subsisted on four packets of ketchup and food samples from a supermarket. She slept in a 24-hour McDonald’s on her first night.
The second day, Bing foraged for food. She grabbed fruits from wild trees. Her food intake for the second day consisted of some fruits on a tree and someone else’s leftover burger at a McDonald’s. She ended up getting a stomach ache and threw up, sleeping in another 24-hour McDonald’s.
Bing was becoming hopeless by the third day. She was on the the verge of fainting and the filmmakers sent her to a hospital. At this point, the challenge had gathered some attention, and supporters were able to contact the filmmakers. They then brought Bing food and she paid for it by bitcoin. On the third night, she slept in an art gallery.
It’s not the currency, it’s the community
Bing’s story soon spread and people started finding her through WeChat where they would offer to exchange bitcoin to fiat. At that point, the challenge would have become too easy, so the filmmakers changed the rules so that Bing had to transact offline and exchange Bitcoin with people in real life.
On the sixth day, Beijing was having the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Summit, so the filmmakers moved to Shenzhen to continue the challenge. The audience started getting suspicious of the filmmakers, asking whether they were related to scam projects. The filmmakers said that they were approached by crypto projects but that they declined them. By then, six support groups in WeChat had been created to support Bing, with every WeChat group having 500 people (500 is the max number of people one can have in a WeChat group). These chatroom participants included bitcoin believers, real estate agents, and advertising salesmen.
Despite the current ban on crypto activities, the documentary shows that bitcoin is alive and well in China within digital communities, albeit not prevalent in the physical world. Most of Bing’s days are documented on iQiyi. And her encounters are telling of what is actually happening in China when it comes to cryptocurrency and mobile technology adoption. Notably, Bing was able to get through living in China simply through her phone. The power of WeChat brought her supporters directly to her.
By day seven, Bing got in contact with some of her WeChat supporters and was able to purchase face wash from them. The next day, she found a restaurant that accepted bitcoin. She got someone to buy her clothes at Uniqlo by exchanging bitcoin with them and then also found someone who was willing to book a hotel for her by exchanging bitcoin.
Gradually, Bing’s bitcoin challenge started a small movement, where her supporters would also approach shops to ask whether they accepted bitcoin and relay the information to her.
On a daily basis, the filming team recorded how many business and pedestrians Bing reached out to and the number of successful bitcoin transactions she made. From the initial ten days to now, Bing has gradually gained confidence. She now has a strategy on how to find people to exchange her bitcoins and what to exchange them for. Over time, the number of inquiries Bing did increased from ten to twenty a day to over a hundred per day. The number of successful transactions was still only a handful a day, however.
Bing’s story continues, and she is now at day 19. She and the filmmakers have migrated to the southern city of Guangzhou. As she assimilates into this new lifestyle, Bing found people to exchange Bitcoin to fiat with her to purchase her train tickets, her hotel rooms, and her meals. Nonetheless, more often than ever, the pedestrians and small business vendors she approached were ignorant, skeptical, and did not want to be part of the filming.
Finding utility in bitcoin
Recently, China Daily covered Bing’s challenge. The documentary has gotten some media attention in China, and companies and institutions have asked to donate and sponsor the filmmakers. They have claimed that they have turned them all down.
In the last year, the narrative around bitcoin has gradually centered on becoming a “store of value” in the U.S. given the increasing transaction costs on the blockchain. Bitcoin transaction prices have increased from 30 cents at the beginning of 2017 to $40 at end of 2017 during the peak of bitcoin prices. As a result of such large fluctuations in fees, transactions no longer happened as frequently as before. Bitcoin’s transaction cost is now back down to about 60 cents this year.
However, as the market has come down in the last few months, bitcoin has once again become a “safe haven” for individuals to go to, and as a result, bitcoin now makes up more than 56% of the total cryptocurrency market cap, up from 34% at the beginning of January 2018.
Bing still gets people suspecting that she is trying to scam them. Since the rise of crypto prices and bitcoin reaching almost as high as $20,000 at the end of 2017, there have been numerous scam coins coming out everywhere. In China, there are often obscure and random coins that appear with no real value-add, no relationship to any blockchain, and are devised purely to fool non-savvy citizens who think they can make a quick buck. In fact, one of the purposes of Beijing’s ban on commercial venues hosting cryptocurrency events was aimed at purging coins from scamming the public.
Bing will continue and finish her bitcoin challenge, but the greater challenge is on all of us in the blockchain community to continually improve this technology for broader consumption.
Proponents of Bitcoin and its competing cryptocurrency Bitcoin Cash, which was created as a “fork” of Bitcoin’s code and history, aren’t exactly in love with each other. Social media channels are full of squabbles over which coin is better and which one is more deserving of the “Bitcoin” name.
But one Bitcoin Core developer — meaning, a person who develops code for Bitcoin — rose above the petty quarrels and did a big favor for Bitcoin Cash.
In April, Cory Fields discovered what he describes as a “critical vulnerability” in Bitcoin Cash, and alerted Bitcoin Cash developers which implemented a fix before a malicious actor could exploit it.
After Fields had noticed a suspicious change in Bitcoin Cash’s code, it took him “less than 10 minutes” to find the bug, which was serious enough to cause a chain split, which (if unintentional) can cause huge damage to a cryptocurrency.
But it wasn’t just a simple matter of finding the bug and reporting it. “This was a bug in publicly-available, open-source software; any number of people could have already discovered it. There was nothing to stop anyone else from making the same discovery and taking advantage of it before a fix could be fully deployed,” he wrote in a Medium post published Friday.
“Suppose that I privately disclosed the bug using my name — only for someone else to find it independently and exploit it anonymously the next day,” he wrote. “…billions of dollars could have been lost as a result of this exploit. People have been killed for much less. So not only was anonymity important, I considered it a necessity for my safety.”
Fields decided to report the bug anonymously, and luckily, he was able to reach Bitcoin Cash’s dev team before anyone else had noticed the bug (or, at least, had time to exploit it).
Bitcoin ABC (the name of Bitcoin Cash’s software implementation) has posted an incident report after the bug was fixed in May, and promised it would take “several actions in order to prevent such an event from occuring again,” as well as set up a formal bug bounty system.
Fields’ move was lauded by several notable cryptocurrency figures, including Civic CEO Vinny Lingham who tweeted that “Responsible and ethical behavior by everyone in the community, regardless of ideological beliefs, should be applauded.” Vitalik Buterin, the co-founder of Ethereum, retweeted Lingham’s tweet.
Once the second most valuable cryptocurrency, Bitcoin Cash has dropped to fourth place by market cap according to CoinMarketCap, and is roughly eleven times smaller than Bitcoin. And while there’s still a lot of friction between fans of Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash, Fields’ example shows that it’s still possible to help each other out to the ultimate benefit of all.
Recent news that Starbucks has partnered with Microsoft, the International Exchange, and a few other companies to launch a cryptocurrency venture called Bakkt has fueled reports that Starbucks is getting ready to start accepting Bitcoin in its stores.
Speaking to Motherboard, however, the company has stated that this is not true.
“Customers will not be able to pay for Frappuccinos with bitcoin,” a Starbucks spokesperson told the outlet, refuting a CNBC story published Friday.
Starbucks’ press release, dated Aug. 1, said Bakkt will be a “regulated, global ecosystem for digital assets” that will enable customers and institutions “to buy, sell, store, and spend digital assets on a seamless global network.”
But Bakkt will initially only let users trade and convert Bitcoin into fiat currencies, which (obviously) can be used at Starbucks.
Being the first significant foray the cryptocurrency space by Starbucks, as well as a platform that will likely bring Bitcoin to the attention of mainstream users, Bakkt is a boon for cryptocurrency proponents. But right now, it appears Starbucks is more interested in helping customers turn bitcoins into dollars than actually using them for purchases at its stores.
A Starbucks spokesperson told Motherboard that the company will “continue to talk with customers and regulators as the space evolves,” but it appears that directly spending Bitcoin or any other cryptocurrency at Starbucks is still ways off.
Bitcoin’s price has been on the decline since late July, when it hit a two-month high of $8,340 according to CoinMarketCap. Right now, Bitcoin is trading at $6,993 with a market capitalization of $120 billion.
Disclosure: The author of this text owns, or has recently owned, a number of cryptocurrencies, including BTC and ETH.