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.

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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.

blockchain-speed

Conflux Raises $35 Million into New Blockchain Protocol

The cryptocurrency industry, despite having existed for well over a decade and culminated into several innovations, is still in its nascent stage. Needless to say, there have been some very high moments for the industry as well as some very low lows, but cryptocurrency enthusiasts are in no mood to give up their optimism for a bullish future.

Still, we have to acknowledge the fact that the crypto market has been on a downward slope for a better part of this years, a bearish trend that is still going on. One of the major factors that go against digital currencies, more specifically bitcoin which is the flag bearer of the cryptocurrency world, is the sluggish nature of the underlying blockchain technology which makes its an infeasible choice for a real-world ledger. Even though developers have been working round the clock to solve this problem, it remains to be one of the most significant stumbling blocks to the wider adoption of cryptocurrencies.

Well, things, in this regard, are about to change for the better.

Enter Conflux

In a bid to provide the much-needed solution to the problem, a group of university professors and researchers have raised a whopping $35 million for Conflux, a non-profit foundation that will support the development of a new and improved blockchain network. The Conflux project which is being backed by a Sequoia China and a number of Chinese Internet Companies claims to be able to overcome a key limitation of the existing blockchain – this limitation is rooted in the fact that protocols like bitcoin’s can only add a single block to the blockchain at any given time. The addition of multiple blocks at the same time results in the creation of a fork which leads to competing chains.

Conflux’s solution involves the utilization of a system that allows users to simultaneously work on blocks and put them in the chain. This new system will also be able to maintain a decentralized consensus method that prevents any entity from taking control of the blockchain. The general idea is to make the entire blockchain scalable.

In essence, Conflux serves to fulfill Etheruem’s promise of allowing the users to create an execute the so-called “intelligent contracts” in a distributed blockchain library. Unfortunately, even though Ethereum boasts of being a powerful technology, it still suffers from the same speed scaling issues that have hampered the growth of bitcoin up until now.

“Contrary to popular belief, true decentralization isn’t sacrificed to increase throughput, highlighting Conflux as the first example that achieves the best of both worlds. By weaving a Directed Acylic Graph data structure into Conflux’s Proof of Work consensus algorithm, tests on its testnet has achieved a throughput of at least 6,500 Transactions Per Second (TPS), while supporting at least 20,000 nodes,” said the foundation’ press release.

Private blockchains have been able to overcome the aforementioned scaling problems but this has been at the expense of decentralization since they were only able to do this by relying on central authority. Conflux, on the other hand, promises to offer the best of both worlds, that is, both speed and decentralization.

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.

whirl

Socially Driven Crowdfunding Comes to the Blockchain

Following years of extensive research and one and a half more of development through legal vetting, an A-list team of blockchain, non-profit and crowdfunding experts is proud to launch WHIRL, the global market’s first ever blockchain-powered consumer crowdfunding platform. According to Roel Wolfert (Bancor, VISA) and Martijn Hekman (World Vision, United Nations), WHIRL aims to give the world a whole new way of financing dreams and obligations through the introduction of a revolutionary incentive system designed to maximize success and also encourage charity. Like other revolutionary blockchain-based projects, this one is expected to a great leap forward for the crypto community.

How Does It Work?

WHIRL has been described as a “what goes around comes around” kind of system owing to its unique karma-based model – in fact, the system’s reward concept is literally referred to as a Karma. The platform is not only socially driven but is also deeply rooted in traditional crowdfunding, that is, where individuals, groups organizations come together in a bid to pool resources towards their projects.

WHIRL can reportedly be used to finance any type of venture; ranging all the way from personal goals to medical bills, business ventures, and even scientific endeavors. People can, therefore, get funding by participating in charity instead of taking out loans or sourcing for funds from family and friends. While this makes it a cut above the rest since it is pegged onto the blockchain network, there is more to it than meets the eye.

The platform utilizes a fair and transparent queue system which limits the number of listed campaigns at any given time. Its blockchain is powered by WRL tokens and the concept of Karma, a reward system that supports and facilitates the giving economy within WHIRL. With these, it is able it is able to guarantee a 100 percent success rate to all projects listed under a campaign. However, only those with a history of contribution are allowed to create fundraising campaigns.

Contributions are tracked through the issuance of Karma points – 7 to 20 Karma points are awarded for every dollar contributed on any campaign listed on WHIRL. Consequently, there is a threshold number of points required to launch a campaign and based on the number of points accumulated, the size and duration of the campaign is determined. In addition to this, the campaigns also go into a transparent queue based on the order of submission.

So Many Birds, One Stone

WHIRL is poised to take care of a number of unattended needs in the crowdfunding market which has stagnated over the past decade due to fraud, oversaturation and, of course, the declining rate of success of crowdfunding campaigns. By listing only a limited number of campaigns at any given time and incentivizing backers with a fair and transparent system, the platform definitely takes care of most of these problems.

In addition to that, WHIRL supports 12 cryptocurrencies (including BTC, BCH, DASH, and ETH) at the moment, something that by itself already sets it apart from many other crowdfunding platforms – it also has plans to add more digital currencies in the future. This is great for the crypto community as a whole since it will aid further proliferation of digital currencies into the mainstream market.

 

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.

finma

Swiss Regulator Imposes 800% Risk Coverage on Crypto Trading

The Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority, otherwise known as FINMA, has instructed Swiss banks that are dealing in crypto assets to apply an 800 percent risk weighting the market value of said assets when “calculating loss-absorbing capital buffers. The news of this was delivered in a confidential letter that the regulator recently sent to swissinfo.ch.

What It Means

As per the terms of the regulator’s new requirements, securities dealers and banks will be required to assign a flat risk weight of 800 percent – which will be used to cover both market and credit risks – against digital assets. Therefore, considering bitcoin’s current value or price ($6,000), the banking institutions would be required to value each of the coins on their books at $48,000 when making decisions regarding adequate levels of buffer. This is regardless of whether the positions are held in a trading or banking book.

Even though FINMA has openly allowed banks in the country to trade bitcoin and other crypto assets, the regulator has not made any effort to integrate cryptocurrencies into the country’s liquidity ratios or Base III capital requirements. Risk weightings are a measure of an asset’s volatility as well as their potential to compromise the capital base of any given bank. Naturally, a higher risk weighting is largely an indication of skepticism – the higher the risk weighting, the lesser amount of the asset that a bank should hold.

“FINMA has recently received an increasing number of enquiries from banks and securities dealers holding positions in crypto assets and are subject to capital adequacy requirements, risk distribution regulations and regulations for the calculation of short-term liquidity ratios,” the letter, dated October 15, reads.

This move is an indication that FINMA is clearly still very skeptical of digital currencies despite the fact that some of them have steadily stabilized over the past year. Bitcoin, for instance, has been priced at around $6,000 over the past few months.

Not So Surprising Positive Reactions

It is undeniable that the asset class is extremely volatile but there is a lot of great signs with more and more banks all over the world offering crypto related products. Switzerland happens to be one of the few places where banks and trading products have been in business for quite a while. SEBA Bank, one of the Swiss banks that is hoping to win a license to operate full banking services to bridge fiat currencies and crypto.

“It’s encouraging to see banks no longer turning down the increasing number of client requests for crypto services but asking for guidance and providing their input along the way,” the Bitcoin Association of Switzerland stated. “This is the Swiss financial center’s first step towards moving into the next decade where assets are no longer held in single, central custody but instead are held on the blockchain.”

FINMA’s new regulations are certainly going to present a new set of hurdles for banks hoping to offer crypto trading services but with such positive reactions, something good may eventually come of it.

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.

google-crypto

Google Ends Cryptocurrency Advertisement Ban

Barely five months after it rolled an advertisement policy that banned cryptocurrency advertisements, Google has decided to lift ban with plans to allow regulated cryptocurrency exchanges to buy ads in the United States and Japan. This new policy is scheduled to be rolled in October 2018 and will require the advertisers to apply for certifications within the specific countries within which their ads will be circulated.

The rapid growth in the popularity of cryptocurrencies has been great for the industry but it has also attracted additional scrutiny. For instance, in the United States, the Securities and Exchange Commission recently created a Cyber Unit tasked with handling online financial crimes to begin investigating companies that had stakes in the crypto or blockchain industry. The Cyber Unit also issued several subpoenas and charged a number of firms for alleged cryptocurrency fraud. Similar and even worse crackdowns have also been seen in other countries including China and India.

Widespread Rollout

Even though the digital currency boom has been a great source of wealth and excitement, it has been accompanied with quite a number of negative aspects that include spawned fraud as well as high-profile scams, both of which resulted from the lack of well-defined regulatory frameworks. It is for this particular reason that for a better part of the first of the year that many of the world’s leading tech giants – Google, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat among others – moved to crack down on crypto-related advertising in a bid to stop some of the criminal activities associated with crypto. Unfortunately, the restrictions also affected legitimate crypto-related business and this is perhaps why some of the companies, namely Facebook and Google, have taken a step back.

“We don’t have a crystal ball to know where the future is going to go with cryptocurrencies, but we’ve seen enough consumer harm or potential for consumer harm that it’s an area that we want to approach with extreme caution,” Google’s Scott Spencer cited in June during the company’s original crypto ad ban.

The Updated Policy

While the tech giant’s updated ad policy will apply ton advertisers all over the world, the advertisements will only be allowed to run in Japan and the United States – hopefully, this will also change soon. Furthermore, as mentioned earlier the advertisers will be required to apply for certifications from each of the countries that they wish to advertise in (which are now only Japan and the U.S.) to have their ads served in those countries.

“The Google Ads policy on Financial products and services will be updated in October 2018 to allow regulated cryptocurrency exchanges to advertise in the United States and Japan. Advertisers will need to be certified with Google for the specific country in which their ads will serve. Advertisers will be able to apply for certification once the policy launches in October. This policy will apply globally to all accounts that advertise these financial products. For more details, see About restricted financial products certification. The Financial products and services page will be updated once the policy goes into effect,” Google wrote.

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.