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The indictment filed today against 12 Russians accused of, among other things, hacking the DNC and undermining Hillary Clinton’s campaign also notes that the alleged hackers paid for their nefarious deeds with bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. This unsavory application of one of tech’s current darlings will almost certainly be wielded against it by opportunists of all stripes.
It is perhaps the most popular and realistic argument against cryptocurrency that it enables anonymous transactions globally and at scale, no exception made for Russian intelligence or ISIS. So the news that a prominent and controversial technology was used to fund state-sponsored cyber attacks will not be passed over by its critics.
You can expect bluster on cable news and some sharp words from lawmakers, who will also probably issue some kind of public denouncement of cryptocurrencies and call for more stringent regulation. It’s only natural: their constituencies will hear that Russians are using bitcoin to hack the election systems and take it at face value. They have to say something.
But this knee-jerk criticism is misguided and hypocritical for several reasons.
First is that it’s not as anonymous and mysterious as critics make out. The details in the indictment actually provide an interesting example (far from the first) of the limits of cryptocurrency’s ability to obscure its users’ activities.
The painstaking research of the special investigator’s team revealed the approximate amounts and methods involved, and although there is a veneer of anonymity in that addresses are not inherently tied to identities, it is far from impossible to establish ownership. Not that they didn’t try, as the indictment shows:
The Defendants conspired to launder the equivalent of more than $95,000 through a web of transactions structured to capitalize on the perceived anonymity of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.
They also enlisted the assistance of one or more third-party exchangers who facilitated layers transactions through digital currency exchange platforms providing heightened anonymity.
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But the process of laundering, after all, becomes rather difficult when there is an immutable, peer-maintained record of every penny being pushed around. Small slip-ups in the team’s operational security allowed investigators to tie, for example, an email address used to access a given bitcoin wallet with the one used to pay for a VPN.
[U]sing funds in a bitcoin address, the Conspirators purchased a VPN account, which they later used to log into the @Guccifer_2 Twitter account. The remaining funds from that bitcoin address were then used […] to lease a Malaysian server that hosted the dcleaks.com website.
It’s likely that the very same distributed ledger technology that allows for anonymous international payments in the first place also creates an invaluable investigative tool for those savvy enough to take advantage of it. So although bitcoin has its shady side, it’s far from perfect secrecy, especially when exposed to the privileges of a federal investigative team.
The second reason the criticism will be hollow is that it doesn’t provide much in the way of new capabilities for those who wish to keep secret their activities online.
There are established methods used by nation-states and garden-variety hackers and criminals alike that minimize or eliminate the possibility of tracking. Money laundering is performed at huge volumes worldwide and there are shady banks, loopholes and puppet organizations peppered across the globe.
Cryptocurrencies are convenient for paying for things online because there are a number of vendors (dwindling, but they exist) that accept it straight, or if one is not available it is reasonably liquid and can be shifted easily. I feel sure that our own intelligence services are making good use of it.
On that note is the third reason this FUD will be risible: If we are going to address the problem of dark money influencing politics, using bitcoin for hacking activities doesn’t even amount to a rounding error and it is cynical prestidigitation that makes it appear more than such.
I won’t belabor the point, because it is surely topmost in many an American’s mind that cash funneled through Super PACs and offshore accounts, backroom deals and stock trades, favors for lobbyists and corporate “donators” and 20 other forms of pay-for-play in Washington are more of a clear and present danger than a handful of Russian operatives ineffectually obscuring peanuts payments for hosting fees and bribes.
Perhaps the administration would prefer scripture: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”
If anything these indictments are evidence only that cryptocurrency is here to stay, usable by you, or me, or an rival nation-state, or our own — just like any other financial instrument.
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Burn the coins!
Look, cryptocurrency is complicated. We get it. What with all the different coins, tokens, ICOs, exchanges, scams, protocols, and DApps, it’s borderline impossible for the casual observer to keep it all straight.
And so, with that in mind, let us now turn to approximately three combined hours of our elected officials rambling on about the blockchain and our decentralized future.
“We should prohibit US persons from buying or mining cryptocurrencies.”
“This hearing will shed light on the promise of digital assets and the regulatory challenges facing this new asset class,” committee chairman Rep. K. Michael Conaway of Texas (R-Texas) explained. “Our committee has a deep interest in promoting strong markets for commodities of all types, including those emerging through new technology.”
But that wasn’t the only fun to be had today. Later in the afternoon, the House Financial Services Committeemet to “examine the extent to which the United States government should consider cryptocurrencies as money and the potential domestic and global uses for cryptocurrencies.”
And what did we learn from this esteemed group? Well, for starters, that bitcoin’s got to go.
“We should prohibit U.S. persons from buying or mining cryptocurrencies,” Rep. Brad Sherman of (D-Calif.) blasted from the podium. “Mining alone uses electricity which takes away from other needs and-or adds to the carbon footprint. As a store, as a medium of exchange, cryptocurrency accomplishes nothing except facilitating narcotics trafficking, terrorism, and tax evasion.”
Did you catch that? Mining uses electricity, and therefore should be banned.
But not everyone agreed with Sherman. Conaway, in his closing statements, seemed to argue in favor of bitcoin — at least as opposed to more privacy-focused cryptocurrency like Monero or Zcash.
“As long as the stupid criminals keep using bitcoin, we’ll be great,” he observed when commenting on the pseudonymous nature of bitcoin.
Rep. Rick Allen: “We’re creating another money supply here as I see it. I just don’t know how that works. Our dollar sets the mark for the world. I can’t visualize how this would work.” #CryptoCongress
Other fun gems include Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) admitting that “there’s a lot of things here that don’t make much sense to me.” And yet, Peterson actually seemed to have some relevant statistics at hand, like the fact that “over 80 percent of the initial coin offerings are scams.”
Good on you, Peterson.
Over all, the two hearings painted a picture of our elected officials attempting to wrap their heads around this brave new cryptoworld. And hey, that’s a good thing. Everyone has to start somewhere.
Yes, friends, it’s time to join the hordes of true believers on Twitter and Reddit in celebration. And while you’re at it, you definitely want to ignore the fact that last December, bitcoin briefly hit $19,000, which means that the current price is less than half of that. But you’re not going to let a little thing like context get in the way of your fun, right?
Right. Let’s start things off with r/Bitcoin, which celebrated the destruction of the so-called “7k wall.”
And there’s definitely nothing remotely ironic about this roller coaster that only goes up.
Also, it isn’t a party without bitcoin choking out Warren Buffett!
Twitter also dropped some of the old-time favorites.
Meanwhile, presidential candidate John “I’ll eat my own dick on TV if Bitcoin doesn’t hit $1,000,000 by 2020″ McAfee has been surprisingly quiet about this rally, but we should expect celebratory comments from him any time now.
bitcoiners look at this sort of thing and think “this is good. this proves that bitcoin is good. this really proves the detractors wrong. this is natural and organic. satoshi please strip the flesh from my bones” pic.twitter.com/BsvRCXWDxx
Bitcoin is moving up, and it’s taking 99 of its best friends along for the ride. In the last 24 hours, every one of the top 100 coins by market cap was in the green, with 84 of them posting gains of over 5 percent. At the time of writing, Bitcoin was sitting at $7,310, up 14 percent in the last 7 days and up almost 10 percent in the last 24 hours.
CoinMarketCap Top 100
Bitcoin itself crossed the $7,000 mark for the first time in the last month, an indication — but no sure sign — that it might be shaking off a summer slump that’s seen prices plunge below $6,000 on more than one occasion. Bitcoin is quickly moving back toward early June norms around $7,500, though may meet resistance at $7,750. In March, Bitcoin dipped below the $10,000 mark and it’s been unable to mount a rally back above that level in the months since.
screenshot via CoinMarketCap
They may not last, but mid-July’s gains aren’t just a Bitcoin story. Out of the top 100 coins, 24 coins made double-digit gains in the last 24 hours, including 0x and Zcash, two coins recently tapped by Coinbase as potential assets that the platform is “exploring.” Big Bitcoin jumps normally lead the charge for altcoin growth, though seeing its peers so uniformly follow suit isn’t something you see every time the most prominent coin’s price shoots up.
So why is the price up? Potentially all or none of these reasons:
Yesterday, Coinbase shared the news that U.S. regulators will open the door for the exchange to list tokens that are categorizes as securities.
Last week, Coinbase announced it was exploring the addition of Cardano, Basic Attention Token, Stellar Lumens, Zcash and 0x.
The major Japanese financial firm SBI Holdings just opened its doors to traders on a cryptocurrency exchange based in the country.
As with any price shift, headlines in one part of the world are just a single rumble among the many invisible international seismic signals sending coins up or down on a given day. As one reads the tea leaves, it’s worth remembering that correlation ≠ causation when it comes to big price moves. Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the tea.
Disclosure: The author holds a very small position in some cryptocurrencies, mostly because it seemed like a fun idea back in 2013 and then she forgot about it. Regrettably, it is not enough for a Lambo.
Nothing quite captures the excitement of bitcoin like a proposed exchange-traded fund.
I mean, just say it out loud. Bitcoin ETF. It’s sexy, right? And if public comments submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission in favor of the latest would-be fund are any indication, it’s also goddamn lit.
But before this party pops off, some background: As Coindesk reported in late June, the SEC is considering allowing the creation of a bitcoin ETF. The fund, the brainchild of investment firm VanEck and blockchain startup SolidX, would allow futures exchange Cboe BZX Exchange, Inc. to list and trade SolidX Bitcoin Shares.
According to the Cboe filing statement, “the Trust will invest in bitcoin only.” One share will be roughly equivalent to 25 bitcoin, notes CryptoSlate, and only accredited investors will get to play with this particular bag.
The SEC, which has shut down previous attempts to create bitcoin ETFs, decided to open this proposal up for public comment. And the comments, well, they’re pretty great.
Take this one, from someone who listed their name as Laosy Guesses.
Yes, ETFs are so lit, my dude.
Or how about this comment from Alex Hales, which suggests he’s hoping the SEC’s approval will pump up the price of bitcoin. Pump and dump for the win.
And then there’s this guy, who seems to think that our long, national nightmare is soooo close to being over — assuming the SEC approves bitcoin ETFs.
We shouldn’t overlook the simple and often effective appeal to ego. Our man Rahsaan has that covered. “You’ll be regarded as financial visionaries,” he tells the SEC. “Please,” he begs, “take us under your wing.”
Yes, spread out those wings, dear SEC — but not for any fans of Bitcoin Cash. This party is for institutional bitcoin investors only.
Of course, if flattery doesn’t work, there’s always the opposite approach: Let the SEC know you think it’s garbage.
Unfortunately for our commenting friends, we don’t yet know whether or not the SEC will approve a bitcoin ETF this time around. But we do know one thing for sure: Whatever the SEC decides, it’s going to be liiiiiiiiiit.
The weekend is offering some respite for Bitcoin investors.
The bellwether of the cryptocurrency world rose 8 percent to $6,338.22 as of 5:30 p.m. in New York on Saturday, according to Bitstamp prices. The gain, which comes after the digital asset crashed through the $6,000 threshold last week for the first time since February, means the token has still lost about two-thirds of its value since reaching a record high of nearly $20,000 in December.
Saturday’s rise marks a pause from the jarring decline through most of 2018. It follows the increase of more than 1,400 percent last year as Bitcoin exploded onto the mainstream. The peer-to-peer currency developed after the 2008 global financial crisis traded at as little as 30 cents at the end of 2010.
While it’s difficult to identify specific catalysts for Bitcoin’s decline, the bursting of a speculative bubble may be at the heart of the matter as questions about the long-term viability of the virtual currency and price manipulation abound.
Bitcoin was “very much” a bubble, Robert Shiller, the Nobel laureate economist whose warnings about dot-com mania proved prescient, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s Tom Keene on June 26. Last year’s surge was “not a rational response.”
To hear the San Francisco-based cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase tell it, they’ve turned over a new leaf. Sure, SEC documents revealed scores of customer complaints against them — ranging from allegations of fraud to negligence — but those were in the (very recent) past. These days, insists the company in a series of blog posts and statements to Mashable, Coinbase is a different animal.
But over the course of 2018 its customers have deluged the Better Business Bureau with complaints. Maybe they missed the memo?
The precursor to the Better Business Bureau was founded in 1912 by a Boston ad executive. The organization’s early form was the so-called National Vigilance Committee; their goal was to curb misleading advertising. Today, you may know the Better Business Bureau as the organization that rates businesses across the US and acts as a public clearing house for consumer complaints. It’s often the last recourse for people who feel they’ve been screwed over by a company but don’t have the resources to pursue legal action.
When it comes to Coinbase, the Bureau has received quite a few of those complaints — enough to give them an “F” rating based on “the total number of positive, neutral, and negative reviews posted.”
These complaints are recent. In contrast to the documents Mashable obtained following a FOIA of the SEC, the tales of poor customer service and frozen funds are not from the time of “unprecedented growth” as described by a May 18, 2018, blog post written by VP of operations and technology Tina Bhatnagar.
“In 2017, the cryptocurrency space experienced a profound uptick in mainstream awareness and growth,” she wrote at the time. “As part of that, consumer demand for our services increased by 40x and we experienced transaction volumes in November and December of that year that grew by 295%.”
Coinbase wouldn’t make the same mistake twice, she assured us. And yet.
Of the 1,155 Coinbase customer complaints available on the BBB site, there are a substantial amount from this year.
“My account disabled to log in on Nov 19th,” reads one complaint from April. “I filed a case report to CoinBase but it is never resolved up to now. I have money in my CoinBase account and have been waiting for 5 weeks to refreeze it. I cannot withdraw the money and trade Cryptocurrency.”
That complaint was far from unique.
“I wired $14000 (USD) to coinbase over a month and a half ago to purchase Bitcoin and the money hasn’t been processed into my account or returned,” reads another one from April. “I’ve opened up a ticket within coinbase 2 weeks after wiring the money but they have not given me any idea why the funds have not posted to my account.”
How about a few more, all from May of this year, for good measure:
Sent wire transfer 4 months back and haven’t received it in my **** account. Have called the **** support number numerous times and am still waiting for them to email me back with an update.
Coinbase froze my account. I can not access my funds to settle pymnt. I have asked coin base to unfreeze my account so i can make payments from my accouny.
I have been attempting to withdraw my funds from Coinbase since January 3rd, 2018. I have been back and forth with the technical team since then but they abruptly stop replying. I recently have talked to the support team on the phone twice but they mention I can’t escalate or speak to anyone else…regarding this issue. My money is stuck in limbo in their system and I have received no solution or answers.
in December 2017 I placed an order of $2000 dollar on coinbase, they however double charged me for another $2000 dollar which they refuse to refund me for. It’s been over 3 months and their support still wont acknowledge this. I’ve tried to get the money back via my bank but they say coinbase is…claiming the transaction was authorized (of course they would say that), and so I’m stuck with $2000 missing.
Again, these are not claims made late-2017 while Coinbase was experiencing a surge in new customers and activity. Rather, these are from a time when the value of bitcoin is down — along with interest in cryptocurrency in general.
A quick look at Google Trends puts this downturn into perspective.
According to Forbes, Coinbase generated $1 billion in revenue last year. Some of that, if the company is to be believed, was put toward beefing up its support staff following what can only be described as a tumultuous 2017.
It clearly has a few more hires to make. But hey, Coinbase will get there eventually. It promises.
The world's second-most popular cryptocurrency isn't an investment vehicle, at least according to the Securities and Exchange Commission. William Hinman, the agency's director of the division of corporate finance, said Thursday that ether—the currency that powers the Ethereum network—shouldn't be regulated in the same way as stocks and bonds.
His statements follow similar ones made in April by SEC chair Jay Clayton about bitcoin. Taken together, the two sets of remarks provide the clearest understanding of how the regulatory agency views the cryptocurrency market. In essence, when a cryptocurrency becomes sufficiently decentralized, as the widely popular bitcoin and ether have, the agency no longer views it as a security. In contrast, smaller initial coin offerings, or ICOs, are almost always securities in the SEC's eyes. That distinction matters, because securities are subject to the same regulations as normal stocks.
“Based on my understanding of the present state of ether, the Ethereum network, and its decentralized structure, current offers and sales of ether are not securities transactions,” Hinman said at Yahoo's All Market Summit: Crypto in San Francisco. "And, as with bitcoin, applying the disclosure regime of the federal securities laws to current transactions in ether would seem to add little value."
'Current offers and sales of ether are not securities transactions.'
William Hinman, SEC
Joe Lubin, a cofounder of Ethereum and the founder of CosenSys, a major Ethereum application company, says he is grateful for the SEC's decision. "We applaud the clarity provided by Director Hinman and the SEC today," Lubin said in a statement. "Ether and other next-generation consumer utility tokens will continue evolving the web towards networks that are more fair, secure, and evenly distributed. ConsenSys looks forward to continuing to engage with regulators around the globe to promote responsible adoption of this transformative technology."
Hundreds of different developers run applications on top of the Ethereum network and contribute to its code. A similar number, if not more, help to develop Bitcoin. "The network and the software development is sufficiently decentralized that there isn't a discernible third party upon whom we would really expect investors to be reliant," says Peter Van Valkenburgh, the director of research at Coin Center, a think tank focused on policy issues facing blockchain technology. That's an important distinction from traditional securities, like Apple or Microsoft stock, in which you're betting on a specific company's efforts to develop products and services and generate income.
The SEC's Hinman notably stopped short of declaring that the initial investments made in ether weren't securities. It's possible that investments made early, before the currency became truly decentralized, could still be viewed as traditional investment vehicles. "The director was pretty clear to not be definitive about that activity," says Van Valkenberg, who also suggests that this indicates the people who got in first—and have likely made the most money—could someday face regulation.
Hinman also said that other cryptocurrencies may become "sufficiently decentralized" in the future, to the point where "regulating the tokens or coins that function on them as securities may not be required." But this doesn't mean all cryptocurrencies can evade scrutiny from US regulators. The SEC has held that most so-called token sales and ICOs are likely subject to regulation, because they generally power a single startup's product or application. ICOs are opportunities for investors to purchase the tokens that power a blockchain startup, typically before its product has gone live.
Complicating the issue: Many tokens run on top of the Ethereum network itself. So while buying and trading ether is not seen as making a traditional investment, buying and selling specific tokens that run on top of that network would be.
The SEC has ramped up its enforcement efforts against fraudulent ICO schemes in recent months. In December, the agency's new cyber unit announced it had filed its first ever complaint, against the cryptocurrency PlexCorps, for allegedly swindling customers out of $15 million. A month later, it halted one of the largest ICOs ever, for the Dallas-based startup AriseBank.
This doesn't mean all cryptocurrencies can evade scrutiny from US regulators.
In February, the SEC told the Senate's Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs that it was open to "exploring with Congress, as well as our federal and state colleagues," whether to regulate cryptocurrency exchanges, websites that allow customers to convert and trade different coins for a fee.
And then in April, the agency charged the two founders behind an ICO that raised over $32 million, for allegedly selling fraudulent and unregistered investments. The scheme had received endorsements from professional boxer Floyd Mayweather and music producer DJ Khaled.
Owners of bitcoin and ether, however, now appear safe from that sort of close scrutiny. That doesn't mean that investing in either cryptocurrency is necessarily safer. Researchers at the University of Texas found that a price manipulation campaign may have partially accounted for an increase in bitcoin's price last year, for example. All that the SEC's declarations really say is that you're betting on an entire ecosystem, rather any one player.
Predictably though, both ether and bitcoin prices spiked Thursday, likely in response to the news.
Expert Explains One Concept in 5 Levels of Difficulty – Blockchain
Blockchain, the key technology behind Bitcoin, is a new network that helps decentralize trade, and allows for more peer-to-peer transactions. WIRED challenged political scientist and blockchain researcher Bettina Warburg to explain blockchain technology to 5 different people; a child, a teen, a college student, a grad student, and an expert.
With the prices of bitcoin and ether on a steady downward trend, the Securities and Exchange Commission today provided hodlers with a flash of hope: Neither of the cryptocurrencies are considered securities.
So reports CNBC, which notes that the SEC’s head of the Division of Corporate Finance, William Hinman, delivered the news at the San Francisco Yahoo All Markets Summit: Crypto conference. If the SEC had decided differently, then exchanges and markets would likely have faced some serious regulation.
And, well, no one in cryptoland likes regulation.
The announcement was celebrated by big names in both the Ethereum and Bitcoin space.
Oh, also, it had quite the effect on price. Coindesk shows both ether and bitcoin spiking on the news.
But all this doesn’t mean the SEC is washing its hands of the entire emerging industry. According to Hinman, many ICOs are in fact securities and will be on the receiving end of SEC regulatory action.
Interestingly, Yahoo News reports Hinman as explaining that simply calling something a coin or a token makes no difference in the eyes of his agency. More important is the extent of decentralization involved in the network in question.
“Over time,” CNBC quotes him as saying, “there may be other sufficiently decentralized networks and systems where regulating the tokens or coins that function on them as securities may not be required.”
So, you know, better hype up your blockchain project’s decentralized attributes now. It may save you from the SEC’s wrath later.
The prices of Bitcoin, Ethereum, and all other major cryptocurrencies have experienced big drops in the last 24 hours, following the news that South Korean cryptocurrency exchange Coinrail has been hacked.
In a statement on its website Monday, Coinrail said that hackers stole up to 30% of the coins from its storage.
According to Coinrail, the hackers struck on June 10 and made away with a number of different cryptocoins, including the recently launched Pundi X (NPXS), which makes roughly two thirds of Coinrail’s trading volume. Korea’s Yonhap estimated that a total of 40 billion won ($37.2 million) of coins went missing.
Coinrail is a fairly small exchange with roughly $2.5 million in daily volume according to CoinMarketCap. “(Coinrail) is a minor player in the market and I can see how such small exchanges with lower standards on security level can be exposed to more risks,” Reuters quoted Kim Jin-Hwa, a representative at Korea Blockchain Industry Association, as saying. Coinrail said it is cooperating with the police investigating the hack and said it will release an announcement with more details as soon as possible.
The cryptocurrency markets tumbled sharply following the news, with Bitcoin dropping from $7,240 to $6,752 in less than two hours, with the current price being $6,794. The second largest cryptocurrency by market cap, Ethereum, dropped from $570 to $511 before recovering slightly to $533.
Other major cryptocurrencies experienced a similar drop. EOS, the fifth largest currency by market cap, had it worst of all: It plummeted 15% in the last 24 hours, and is currently trading at $11.2. EOS’s price drop is notable as this cryptocurrency is currently in the process of launching its main blockchain network (also known as mainnet) after having raised a reported $4 billion in a year-long initial coin offering (ICO), dwarfing all similar crowdfunding efforts.
The Coinrail theft is the fourth major cryptocurrency exchange hack this year. In January, $400 million worth of cryptocurrency was stolen from Japanese exchange Coincheck, and in February, $200 million worth of cryptocurrency went missing from Italian cryptocurrency exchange Bitgrail. In April, cryptocurrency exchange Coinsecure said some $3.3 million worth of Bitcoin were stolen from its wallet.
The total market cap of all cryptocurrencies has descended below $300 billion for the first time since early April; it currently stands at $297 billion.