crypto-hack

Cryptocurrency Exchanges Lost More Than $1.5 Billion in 2018

2018 was indeed a monumental period for the cryptocurrency community primarily because of the various highs and lows of the industry as well as the many innovations that we got to see. Some of the most notable occurrences were the loss of funds by a number of exchanges all over the world. It was hard to keep track of the amounts but now, thanks to a Q4 cryptocurrency Anti-Money Laundering report that was published by CipherTrace, a blockchain intelligence agency, it has been revealed that criminals stole a whopping $1.7 billion of cryptocurrency last year. The company further pointed out that cryptocurrency theft is still on the rise despite the freefalling prices of cryptocurrencies as well as the savage bear market that the sector has been subject to.

Of the $1.7 billion that was stolen from the crypto exchanges and wallet providers, $950 million went to hackers. This was 3.6 times more than what was recorded in 2017 which further shows there is one increase in theft despite market drops – the price of bitcoin, for instance, has dropped in value by almost 80 percent. Obviously, this is a very worrying statistic especially for an industry that is trying very hard to achieve mainstream adoption.

The Reasons

As it turns out, many of the existing exchanges have been in operation for no more than two years and most of them do not have sufficient safeguards in place to prevent hackers from stealing their funds. The lack of these safeguards makes it possible for hackers to obtain simple files of cryptographic private keys and each can be worth anywhere between $30 million and $500 million. While this is the case with most companies, it is also worth noting that not all crypto-related businesses are not immature in terms of funding, implementation, and training – the tools and methods used by hackers are also becoming more and more sophisticated which means that even established companies that are considered to have better safeguards can lose funds or data due to hacks.

At least $725 million of the stolen crypto funds came from “inside jobs” which included exit scams, fraudulent Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) and Ponzi Schemes.

Proposed Solutions

According to Dave Jevans, the CEO of CipherTrace and co-chair of the Cryptocurrency Working Group at the APWG.org, the cryptocurrency sector needs to implement huge improvement to their infrastructure and increasing education in order to prevent such kinds of attacks. Such measures could involve the use of robust anti-phishing measures, cold storages as well as data sharing and behavioral analytics. Fortunately, thanks to the global wave of regulations that will be going into effect anytime this year, laundering of digital currencies by hackers and criminals will be much harder to do. Hopefully, it gets better from there.

btc-tax

UK Lawmaker Proposes Tax & Utility Bill Payments in Bitcoin

Eddie Hughes, a Conservative UK Member of Parliament is calling for local authorities in the country to take the lead and begin accepting tax and utility bill payments in bitcoin. According to the politician, bitcoin and the underlying blockchain technology both have great potential but the lack of reliable or adequate information and knowledge in this regard is one of the things that is preventing wider adoption.

“You’re either ahead of the curve or you’re behind the curve,” he said in a recent interview.

In the interview with the Daily Express, the lawmaker pointed out that the country is in a very interesting position especially because it hopes to be seen as a progressive nation. While the United Kingdom is still at crossroads, the decision to adopt the use of cryptocurrencies could prove to be very beneficial in the near future. If this is to happen, people will first have to understand how the transactions work and see how accessible the technology can be – ideally, the technology needs to appear like an app that can be used to make fast, safe and secure payments.

Being that the technology is talked about a lot in, the member of parliament feels that all the other lawmakers have a duty to understand it, something that will then enable them to make more informed decisions pertaining to the technology. Hughes further cited the Royal National Lifeboat Institution which is currently accepting charitable donations through cryptocurrency – this particular use case proves that bitcoin and other digital currencies can be used for many other services as well.

“The state should focus its attention on using blockchain to enable social freedom, to increase efficiency, and to rebuild societal trust,” Hughes stated.

This is, however, not the first time that Hughes has publicly supported cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. Back in July, he wrote a report that called for the state to appoint a ‘Chief Blockchain Officer.’

Is This Possible?

Accepting taxes and utility bills in crypto would definitely be a good start for the crypto community and the country. However, regulators in Europe have been very skeptical about cryptocurrencies especially because digital currencies are very volatile and risky and are often associated with such vices as terrorism, fraud and money laundering. These European regulator’s alarmist entreaties have mounted quite a lot of pressure on the government of various European countries to implement some very stringent regulations that are supposedly meant to protect the public and investors while at the same time preventing the risk of financial instability.

As it stands, the future of crypto in the UK is even more uncertain thanks to a revelation by the country’s Finance Conduct Authority that it is considering banning crypto-linked derivative products. All these will be looked into in the first quarter of 2019.

bitcoin-price

Bitcoin’s Price Dwindles as Its Dominance Increases

Bitcoin has been on a steep downward trend for the past few weeks. In general, the market has not been very stable with a number of people hoping that it the market will stabilize very soon and bitcoin can regain even a little of the value that it lost in the past month. Both bitcoin and Ethereum, the two most popular cryptocurrencies have had their prices drop by over 40 percent particular because of the rapidly increasing sell pressure and the declining buy pressure. As a result, the crypto market has been struggling to sustain some sort of momentum in a bid to reverse the downward trend but, of course, it might be a while before this happens.

To put this into perspective, when the price of an asset falls significantly without any significant spike in volume, it is representative of a free fall albeit without much sell pressure. This implies that as big sell volumes continue to hit the market, the price of the said asset will be at the mercy of additional sell-offs in the future.

This Is Not the End

Even though bitcoin has undoubtedly had quite a month, it did not take nearly as much a hit as many other digital currencies. In fact, in November, bitcoin’s share of the total cryptocurrency capitalization or rather its dominance saw a notable increase. Over the course of the month, bitcoin’s dominance has spiked from lows of 51 percent in early November to the prevailing 53 percent, something that goes further to prove the digital currency’s appeal to both miners and investors.

Despite the fact that there have been lots of talk about the demise of bitcoin, especially over past two weeks, it is worth noting that the cryptocurrency’s price is still more than what it was last year in the summer. Furthermore, bitcoin has been building quite a loyal customer base over the past decade and there is still a growing appetite for crypto all over the world.

Institutional Investors Are Still Hopeful

It is not only individuals within the crypto community that are still confident about bitcoin. The traditional financial services industry and a number of institutional investors including New York exchange operator, Nasdaq, are still pursuing ventures involving the digital currency. According to Bloomberg, the company on November 27 announced that it is moving forward with its plan to list bitcoin features, a market that it hopes to officially launch in with the first quarter of 2019.

Sources close to the matter have also revealed that the New York exchange has been working closely with the Commodities and Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to receive regulatory approval for its plans to operate as a compliant bitcoin futures market service provider. There is a huge window for success but knowing how shaky the crypto market can get, it remains to be seen just how far these projects will go.

bitcoin-united-states-us-flag

Michigan Bans Use of Crypto as Political Campaign Donations

The Michigan Department of State has formally barred digital currencies from being used as donations for political campaigns. According to a letter that was published last Thursday by the state’s Secretary of State, the law does not recognize crypto and associated virtual assets as political campaign donations because their values cannot be determined with absolute certainty.

This was in response to a letter from William Baker, a Michigan State Legislature candidate, that outlined some of his opinions on why state politicians should be allowed to receive digital currency campaign donations from their supporters. In the letter, Baker points that cryptocurrencies are a valid way to receive payments and donations and thus political campaigns should be no exceptions. He however also acknowledged that there were such issues as recording the value and utilization of these digital currencies that still need to be resolved.

“With some modest record keeping, donations of digital currencies can be an additional method of raising funds for political campaigns in the coming years, just as the internet first allowed political based websites to collect credit card donations roughly twenty to twenty-five years ago,” Baker’s letter read.

As it stands, Michigan politicians are allowed to accept non-monetary political campaign donations, which, much like most digital currencies rarely hold and a precise or value.

State Department Disagrees

The Michigan Secretary of State, Ruth Johnson, responded to Baker’s letter by stating that bitcoin and other digital currencies may not be used to make political campaign donations simply because “the value of these crypto assets is not fixed, and their volatility makes it impossible to assign an exact dollar value to them in administrative terms.”

“In the context of a contribution under the MCFA, an ascertainable monetary value is one that is exact, precise, and certain or can be determined with certainty. Where it cannot be determined the exact or precise dollar amount for a contribution made with Bitcoin at the time it is given, there can be no ascertainable monetary value,” an excerpt from the Michigan State Department’s letter read.

The State Department’s letter further compared digital currencies, more so bitcoin, to a security – it quoted legal precedents which effectively restricted the use of any financial assets save for those held by banking institutions for use in campaigns. Still, the department did acknowledge that bitcoin is analogous to a security, that is, both cannot be used “in and of themselves to purchase goods or services”, something that many crypto enthusiasts consider to be a highly contestable claim.

The main takeaway from the letter is that the crypto campaign donations are effectively illegal in Michigan mostly because of the reasons stated above and because the reporting requirements do not allow for multiple recordings that are required to capture various values that are likely to be held by digital assets at various points in the process.  These include such issues as the date of receipt by the candidate, the date of sale to the donor as well as the date of record on a campaign statement.

uk-crypto

UK Regulator Considering Ban on Sale of Crypto Derivatives

On October 29, the United Kingdom’s Cryptoassets Taskforce released a report that detailed its proposal for changes to some of the crypto regulation and raised a number of concerns over the way digital currencies and associated assets are used and traded. The taskforce which was launched earlier this year in March comprises the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Bank of England (BOE) was tasked with regulating and supporting cryptocurrency-related technologies.

Due to the lack of a widely accepted definition of crypto assets as well the variations in the value and rights that they bestow their holders with, the task force developed a framework that classifies crypto assets into three categories – that is, crypto assets for investment, for use as a means of exchange and for supporting capital raising and the development of decentralized networks through ICOs.

The report explained that, due to their extremely high volatility, failure in use as a unit of account and poor acceptance, crypto assets that are meant to be used as a means of exchange cannot be considered to money or currency. On the other hand, if the crypto assets are used as an investment they would reportedly have the potential to widen access to new investment ventures. However, the report went on to acknowledge that at the current market state, these cryptocurrency assets also have the potential to expose users to varying degrees of risks including illicit or criminal activities.

As for the so-called Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) the report stated they are very promising ventures especially because most of them present several opportunities that would be great for supporting innovation and competition, addressing certain financing gaps, improving efficiency as well as the creation of a new investor and customer base.

The FCA To Act

With all these in mind, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is reportedly mulling over a potential ban on the sale of crypto derivatives specifically because it believes that digital currencies hold no intrinsic value.

“Given concerns identified around consumer protection and market integrity in these markets, the FCA will consult on a prohibition of the sale to retail consumers of all derivatives referencing exchange tokens such as Bitcoin (BTC), including CFDs, futures, options and transferable securities. The proposed prohibition would not cover derivatives referencing crypto assets that qualify as securities, however CFDs on securities would remain subject to [the European Security and Market Authority’s] temporary restrictions and any future FCA proposals to implement permanent measures in relation to CFDs,” a statement by the FCA reads.

The regulator is also reportedly expecting to launch a wide consultation into whether or not the ban will be a good idea within the first quarter of 2019. Hopefully, the United Kingdom will not go the “Indian route” by completely banning crypt, a move that would be quite devastating considering how deep-rooted digital assets are in the region.

liquid

Blockstream’s Liquid Network Launches for the BTC Blockchain

One of the major setbacks for the mainstream adoption of cryptocurrencies has been the difficulty and slow nature of crypto settlements, especially where large volumes of these digital assets are involved. There have of course been attempts at fixing this problem with the so-called sidechains that promise faster transactions but the pace of the developments has not been as reassuring as many people had hoped for. The Lightning Network, for instance, has managed to gain quite a lot of traction in the past several months but its use of nodes with limited capacities has been quite detrimental to its growth, to say the least.

Now, Blockstream, a San Francisco-based blockchain technology company may have finally found a solution to the problem. Referred to as the Liquid Network, the company’s new bitcoin sidechain is set to revolutionize the crypto space by allowing for faster and more secure digital currency and asset settlements with an emphasis on the larger volume settlements. The sidechain which will be connecting institutions, crypto exchanges, and even brokers partnered with 20 exchanges at launch, a move that is certainly bound to improve its standing in the crypto space and speed up its adoption at the same time.

“Liquidity across exchanges is definitively not there yet. With the advent of Liquid — with faster settlement times — we should be able to improve it by making it faster and easier to transfer,” Samson Mow, Blockstream’s Chief Strategy officer said.

How It Works

According to Samson Mow, the members of the Liquid Network and the exchanges will be the main providers of liquidity since they will be the ones responsible for keeping a balance of L-BTC that they would, in turn, allow their users to swap. The Liquid Network’s design is a bit of a twist of the original concept of the sidechain which was initially pitched as a means for trustless swaps – Blockstream’s spin requires the intermediaries to execute the swaps themselves.

“When someone wants to move BTC to the Liquid sidechain,” Mow went on to explain. “they send it to a unique peg-in address. When someone is ready to move their money back to the Bitcoin blockchain, they can make a peg-out transaction that will tell the [Liquid members] to send Bitcoin to the desired address.”

Contrary to what many people would assume, the Liquid Network is not a replacement of the Lightning Network. In fact, in the blog post that announced the launch of the project, Blockstream clarified that the Liquid Network is capable of adding the Lightning Network as a second layer which makes the two technologies complimentary as both of them are vital to the crypto ecosystem.

bitcoin-usd-trading

Institutional Investors Making Huge OTC Crypto Purchases

While most of the world expected the bitcoin ETF to be the tipping point that would allow institutional money to come into the cryptocurrency market, it seems like the institutional investors have once again had their way despite the uncertainty that looms over the BTC ETF. In fact, according to recent OTC Trade Data, these institutional investors now dominate bitcoin markets with high volume trades. Yes, that is right – institutional investors are becoming more and more involved in the $220 billion cryptocurrency market than many people may realize and this is perhaps because they have been using back-doors for the purchases.

Many people believe that the next bitcoin bull run will be entirely driven by institutional investment which will be encouraged by the acceptance of a bitcoin ETF such as the those that are currently in the works at the United States Securities Exchange Commission.

The Current Situation

While some crypto market data analysts and providers estimate that the daily trading volumes of bitcoin are at around $4 billion, ShapeShift’s Coincap.io has revealed that the actual trading volume of bitcoin falls at around $2.7 billion. Coincap.io further revealed that, for most of the large-scale investment companies, institutions, and retail traders, the global crypto market has not reached enough liquidity to process the multi-billion-dollar trading orders. In other words, major digital asset trading platforms could liquidate large orders but it may have a large impact on the short-term price movement of cryptocurrencies.

Over the Counter (OTC) Trading

A number of high-net-worth individuals have been buying into cryptocurrencies and considering the amounts that they have been spending, it is safe to assume that these “individuals” are institutions or are at least part of them. As mentioned above, a peek into recent OTC trading data reveals a huge interest in bitcoin from these supposed institutional investors.

“Bloomberg reports that in April, daily OTC trades varied anywhere between $250 million and $30 billion, while exchanges only handled about $15 billion daily in that time by contrast. Corroborating this, Circle Financial CEO Jeremy Allaire confirmed that his company is seeing a triple-digit increase in OTC volumes. By contrast, according to data from CryptoCompare, exchange trade volumes are down 80 percent from their peaks at the same time as the increasing popularity of OTC,” reads Cryptoglobe’s comment on the issue.

This over-the-counter crypto market has facilitated between $250 million an $30 billion in digital currency trades per day in April, according to researchers. But, why is this happening?

Well, as it turns out, large digital currency traders like private sales simply because exchanges can move coin prices. Private sales are more appealing since the trading parties can fix the price in advance instead of having to worry about the fluctuations that are rife in the crypto market. Also, exchanges sometimes limit the number of coins that can be traded and this is certainly not ideal for large traders.

ny-crypto

NY AG Says Crypto Exchanges Are at Risk of Manipulation

The New York Attorney General’ office on September 18 published a report that says that cryptocurrency exchanges are vulnerable to conflicts of interests, manipulation as well as many other consumer risks. The 32-page “Virtual Markets Integrity Report” highlights concerns that exchanges are not doing much to protect investors.

Launched in April, the “Virtual Markets Integrity Initiative” kicked off when Eric T. Schneiderman, the then-New York Attorney General, sent letters to thirteen cryptocurrency exchanges requesting information on their operations, internal controls as well as other key issues.

“The New York State Office of the Attorney General (the “OAG”) launched the Virtual Markets Integrity Initiative to protect and inform New York residents who trade in virtual or “crypto” currency. As a medium of exchange, an investment product, a technology, and an emerging economic sector, virtual currency is complex and evolving rapidly. The OAG’s Initiative, however, proceeds from a fundamental principle: consumers and investors deserve to understand how their financial service providers operate, protect customer funds, and ensure the integrity of transactions,” reads the statements from the Attorney General’s office.

“The industry has yet to implement serious market surveillance capacities, akin to those of traditional trading venues, to detect and punish suspicious trading activity.”

The Key Findings

The study found that the absence of accepted methods of auditing virtual assets has resulted in the lack of a consistent and transparent approach to the independent auditing of digital currencies trade on the exchanges. This, therefore, puts the customers’ funds in the various exchanges at risk of theft or cyber-attacks.

“New Yorkers deserve basic transparency and accountability when they invest – whether on the New York Stock Exchange or on a cryptocurrency platform,” Barbara Underwood, New York’s current Attorney General said in a statement. “Many virtual currency platforms lack the necessary policies and procedures to ensure the fairness, integrity, and security of their exchanges.”

One of the more bizarre revelations was that only four cryptocurrency exchanges have mechanisms for market manipulation detection and prevention in place. The four exchanges – HBUS, Coinbase, Gemini and Bittrex – are therefore the safest options for crypto investors.

On the flip side, the report went on to refer three major New York crypto exchanges – Gate.io, Binance, and Kraken – to authorities over charges of violation of state law for allowing trading on the part of New Yorkers.

The report has attracted an equal measure of support and criticism from the crypto exchanges and other stakeholders of the industry. Still, it is going to be a while before we finally see the ramifications of these findings.

BTC-lightning-network

The Lightning Network Hits 100 BTC and 12K Channels

Even though the price of bitcoin has been facing a bear market lately and the innovative Lightning Network is still facing some issues, the latter is growing bigger by the day. Bitcoin’s Lightning Network became bigger than ever before this month when its capacity finally crossed the 100 BTC mark (about $73,000). This can partly be attributed to the fact that bitcoin has managed to grow its popularity immensely – this has, in turn, lead to the hastening of the development progress of the off-chain payment protocol in the past few months.

The proposed second-layer scaling solution which was as low as 3 BTC at the beginning of the year has shown a great deal of promise not just for bitcoin enthusiasts but for the cryptocurrency community as a whole. While getting to the 100 BTC mark took a relatively short time (a little over half a year), getting to that point was certainly not an easy task. The Lightning Network first hit 50 BTC capacity back in July this year which seemingly pointed to the fact that the network is finally scaling the way it was intended.

More Nodes and Channels

Also, the total network capacity of 101.7 BTC is contributed to by 3,350 nodes and more than 12,000 channels. The number of nodes has increased by 11 percent in the past 30 days with the capacity and number of channels going up 4 and 7 percent respectively. Reports from the past month reveal that recent experimentation on the network account has influenced certain accounts to markedly increase their individual capacity to process payments.

As mentioned earlier, July was a pivotal escalation point for the network – overall capacity shot up 85 percent when compared to the month of June. There is still a lot more that has to be done in terms of the node count before the Lightning Network is at full speed but from the looks of it, everything is certainly headed in the right direction.

Dealing with Scaling Problems

All of the mentioned improvements are indications that many developers and crypto enthusiasts are committed to ensuring that the Lightning Network is a success – some of them include SatoshiLabs and Bitrefill who have been working diligently to improve the network. Unfortunately, we may have to cope with a few discrepancies which will hopefully be addressed as development progresses.

One of the most prominent of these issues is the user-friendliness of the network, or rather its non-user-friendly nature. To put this into perspective, many of the transactions on the network still fail and this affects the overall usability and outlook of the network. Hopefully, this should be fixed sooner than later if mainstream adoption is the ultimate goal. Till then, so far so good.

premierleague-bitcoin

eToro Signs Bitcoin-funded Sponsorship Deals with EPL Clubs

Bitcoin is making yet another entry into the mainstream world through sports. Soon, teams and clubs may be able to buy football players using bitcoin thanks to recent sponsorship deals between seven English Premier League clubs and renowned online trading platform, eToro.

The Premier League Clubs – Tottenham Hotspur, Leicester City, Southampton, Cardiff City, Brighton, Newcastle United and Crystal Palace – are set to begin participating in cryptocurrency trials on Monday and this will be facilitated by eToro. The goal of the trials is to have bitcoin being used in place of the pound sterling for player transfers in the Premier League. The online trading platform also paid the clubs (in bitcoin) to have them participate in the trials.

The sponsorship deal will also see eToro appear on in-game advertising boards at the homes of all the seven clubs as well as within their advertising spaces.

“As a global multi-asset platform where you can purchase the world’s biggest crypto assets alongside more traditional investments, we are excited to be partnering with so many Premier League clubs and make history by being the first company ever to pay for a Premier League partnership in bitcoin,” Iqbal V. Gandham, UK Managing Director at eToro.

In most of the sponsorship and partnership deals with sports clubs, the extent of digital currency involvement is often limited to payment. However, eToro believes that the blockchain will have a pretty significant impact on the future of various sports operations very soon.

“The blockchain technology that underpins cryptocurrencies like bitcoin brings transparency, which we believe can improve the experience for everyone who loves the ‘beautiful game’, from fans being targeted by ticket touts, or a club negotiating a transfer, we believe that blockchain will revolutionize the world of football,” Gandham explained.

The move certainly marks another huge milestone for blockchain and digital currency integration in mainstream football. As is stands there have been a couple of experiments that bear similarities to this one such as the one in Turkey where, in January, Harunustaspor hired a professional player for Bitcoin. The clubs involved in the eToro sponsorship deal are also quite excited about the new venture and the path it could take from here on out.

“We are pleased to welcome eToro to the club as an Official Partner, it is exciting to be working with such an innovative industry leader. Much like Leicester City, eToro is an ambitious brand with a significant global reach and we look forward to working together throughout the season,” Jonathan Gregory, the commercial director for Leicester City said.