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What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a digital crypto-currency with no single point of failure due to its decentralized peer-to-peer architecture. The source code is publicly available and changes to the reference Bitcoin client are made via concensus within the community. Advantages of Bitcoin include irreversible transactions (i.e. no possibility of chargebacks as with credit cards), pseudo-anonymous, limited and fixed inflation, near instant transactions, multi-platform, no double-spend and little to no barriers to entry and more. It was created by an anonymous person known as Satoshi Nakamoto. Find out more at WeUseCoins.com.

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Posted on 22 January 2018 | 4:24 pm

This is what determines the price of Bitcoin - Popular Science


Popular Science

This is what determines the price of Bitcoin
Popular Science
For example, consider Coinbase.com— a popular hub, or brokerage, for people who want to buy or sell Bitcoin. If you purchase there, the entity selling you the cryptocurrency is actually Coinbase itself. Coinbase.com has a sister site, called GDAX ...

and more »

Posted on 22 January 2018 | 4:08 pm

Study Suggests 25 Percent of Bitcoin Users Are Associated With Illegal Activity

Study Suggests 25 Percent of Bitcoin Users Are Associated With Illegal Activity

In a newly published paper on the use of bitcoin for illegal activity, researchers from the University of Sydney, the University of Technology Sydney and the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga indicate that a quarter of all bitcoin users are associated with illegal activity.

The use of bitcoin for illicit purposes has long been the most controversial aspect of the cryptoasset, although it has taken a back seat to speculation around the bitcoin price over the past few years.

In addition to estimating the scale of illegal activity involving bitcoin, the research paper also claims this sort of activity accounts for a significant portion of bitcoin’s intrinsic, underlying value.

Methodology

In the paper, which was co-authored by Sean Foley, Jonathon R. Karlsen and Tālis J. Putniņš, publicly available information is used as the basis to identify an initial sample of users involved in illegal activity on the Bitcoin blockchain. Seizures of bitcoin by law enforcement, hot wallets of darknet markets, and Bitcoin addresses on darknet forums are used here, in addition to the trade networks of users who were identified in this data set.

Additionally, the researchers use a formula of their own creation to detect users likely to be involved in illegal activity by analyzing the entire public blockchain up until the end of April 2017. The formula for detecting criminals on the blockchain involves a wide variety of metrics such as transaction count, transaction size, frequency of transactions, number of counterparties, the number of darknet markets active at the time, the extent the user goes to conceal their activity and the degree of interest in bitcoin in terms of Google searches at the time.

“Bitcoin users that are involved in illegal activity differ from other users in several characteristics,” the paper says. “Differences in transactional characteristics are generally consistent with the notion that while illegal users predominantly (or solely) use bitcoin as a payment system to facilitate trade in illegal goods/services, some legal users treat bitcoin as an investment or speculative asset. Specifically, illegal users tend to transact more, but in smaller transactions. They are also more likely to repeatedly transact with a given counterparty. Despite transacting more, illegal users tend to hold less bitcoin, consistent with them facing risks of having bitcoin holdings seized by authorities.”

The paper also notes that bitcoin transactions between illegal users are three to four times denser, meaning those users are much more connected to each other through their transactions. This is consistent, the paper says, with illegal users taking advantage of bitcoin’s use as a medium of exchange, while legal users tend to view the cryptoasset as a store of value.

The Scale of Illegal Activity on the Bitcoin Network

As with any research into the activities of criminals on the internet, it’s important to take the findings of this study with a grain of salt. Remember, this is a study on the activities of those who do not wish their activities to be discovered in the first place.

For example, another study Bitcoin Magazine reported on last week indicated a much lower level of illegal activity — albeit limited to the concept of bitcoin laundering — on the Bitcoin network than what was found in the study being reported on today.

Having said that, here are the levels of illegal activity on the Bitcoin network, according to the study:

  • 24 million illicit users, which is 25 percent of all users
  • 36 million illicit transactions per year, which is 44 percent of all transactions
  • $72 billion worth of illicit transactions per year, which is 20 percent of the dollar-value of all transactions
  • $8 billion in illicit bitcoin holdings at the time of the study
  • 51 percent of all bitcoin holdings throughout bitcoin’s history have been illegal in nature

The study compares Bitcoin’s black market to the markets for illegal drugs in the United States and Europe. In the United States, this market is worth $100 billion per year. In Europe, the market is 24 billion euros on an annual basis.

“While comparisons between such estimates and ours are imprecise for a number of reasons (and the illegal activity captured by our estimates is broader than just illegal drugs), they do provide a sense that the scale of the illegal activity involving bitcoin is not only meaningful as a proportion of bitcoin activity, but also in absolute dollar terms,” the paper says.

More Takeaways from the Paper

While the amount of illegal activity taking place on the Bitcoin network appears to be relatively large, the paper indicates that the prevalence of this sort of activity has been declining since 2015 as more mainstream users have entered the market due to the interest in bitcoin as a store of value or speculative asset.

The paper notes that the illegal activity involving bitcoin is inversely correlated to the number of searches for “bitcoin” on Google.

“Furthermore, while the proportion of illegal bitcoin activity has declined, the absolute amount of such activity has continued to increase, indicating that the declining proportion is due to rapid growth in legal bitcoin use,” says the paper.

The paper also indicates that privacy-focused altcoins, such as Monero and Zcash, may be cutting into bitcoin’s role as the currency of the online black market.

The paper notes that it’s currently unclear if bitcoin is leading to an increase in black market activity or if this is simply offline activity moving onto the internet.

“By providing an anonymous, digital method of payment, bitcoin did for darknet marketplaces what PayPal did for [eBay] — provide a reliable, scalable, and convenient payment mechanism,” the paper adds.

According to the paper, this use case is the underlying value of the bitcoin asset.

“Our paper contributes to understanding the intrinsic value of bitcoin, highlighting that a significant component of its value as a payment system derives from its use in facilitating illegal trade.”

In addition to implications the online black market could have on the valuation of the bitcoin asset (a claim that is highly speculative as the bitcoin price has continued to see tremendous gains in the face of declining use for illicit payments), the paper adds that this realization also has ethical implications: those who choose to speculate on the bitcoin price may question whether they wish to provide liquidity for a payment system that enables illegal online transactions.

This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Posted on 22 January 2018 | 3:36 pm

Bitcoin broker Coinbase booked $1 billion in revenue last year — so the company has told hovering VCs to back off - Recode


Recode

Bitcoin broker Coinbase booked $1 billion in revenue last year — so the company has told hovering VCs to back off
Recode
Coinbase, the bitcoin trading broker that has exploded in popularity as cryptocurrencies surge and nose dive, has encountered an unusual problem for a Silicon Valley startup: Too many investors are trying to get in. The six-year-old company crossed $1 ...

and more »

Posted on 22 January 2018 | 2:23 pm

Coinbase Taps Twitter Vet to Bolster Customer Support Team

Coinbase has added Twitter's former vice president of operations and user services to its team in an effort to improve its customer service.

Posted on 22 January 2018 | 1:10 pm

Vanguard chief: You will never see a bitcoin fund from us - CNBC.com - CNBC


CNBC

Vanguard chief: You will never see a bitcoin fund from us - CNBC.com
CNBC
Vanguard CEO Tim Buckley may think highly of blockchain technology, but he isn't planning on investing in bitcoin anytime soon.

and more »

Posted on 22 January 2018 | 10:59 am

Op Ed: Here’s What Paul Krugman Got Wrong in His Bitcoin Tweetstorm

Op Ed: Here’s What Paul Krugman Got Wrong in His Bitcoin Tweetstorm

Like many other mainstream economists, Paul Krugman has long-shown a complete disdain for Bitcoin. In late 2013, he went as far as to write a piece titled “Bitcoin Is Evil” for his column in The New York Times.

Moral objections to bitcoin are one thing, but Krugman also does not see much utility in the cryptoasset at all. While he has been able to express his hatred for Bitcoin quite clearly, his technical criticisms of bitcoin as a new type of asset and store of value leave something to be desired.

In a tweetstorm on Sunday, January 21, 2018, Krugman illustrated his ignorance on the usefulness and utility of bitcoin around the world.

Starts Out Well Enough With the Digital Gold Analogy

Krugman’s tweetstorm started out well enough. In fact, the opening tweets were likely some of the nicest things the Nobel Laureate has ever had to say about bitcoin.

“As I see it, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are in effect like digital gold coins, in the sense that they can't be counterfeited ... Cryptocurrencies use cryptographic techniques plus distributed storage to create non-material entities that are nonetheless impossible to fake,” tweeted Krugman.

Digital gold is still the best analogy to sum up the digital asset’s value proposition, and the utility of bitcoin should become more apparent as the world moves deeper into a cashless society. In a cashless society, bitcoin would become the last financial bastion of freedom in a world where the global financial system is under complete control of governments.

The Avoidance of Trusted Third Parties in Payments Is a Big Deal

After those tolerable first few tweets, Krugman goes off the rails with the claim that online payments that don’t involve a trusted third party aren’t that important.

“Cryptocurrency lets you make electronic transactions; but so do bank accounts, debit cards, Paypal, Venmo etc. All these other methods involve trusting a third party; but unless you're buying drugs, assassinations, etc. that's not a big deal,” tweeted Krugman.

First all of all, there’s no reason to bring morals into an exploration of bitcoin’s utility. Either people will use it or they won’t. Whether you like what they’re doing is a different matter. Bitcoin’s use in darknet markets, ransomware, online gambling and other fringe areas cannot be ignored. Utility is utility.

Secondly, not everyone has access to PayPal, Venmo, and other online payment platforms. These options are centralized and permissioned. They’re also highly regulated, which means plenty of people fall through the cracks and cannot gain access to them.

Online freelancers in Venezuela take bitcoin because their government and payment platforms like PayPal have failed them.

Interesting post on /r/Bitcoin from a Redditor who compares the different options for storing value in Venezuela.

"I know a lot of people who sold everything they could to leave the country and took their money to bitcoins through @LocalBitcoins."
https://t.co/dvmxu4ozhV pic.twitter.com/R3egCdmoLa

— Kyle Torpey (@kyletorpey) December 1, 2017
Krugman goes on to point out the clunkiness of Bitcoin as it exists today, and he’s generally correct on this front. But this does not mean there’s no utility here. In fact, the opposite is true: There is so much utility that it has become difficult to scale the system to all of the people who want to use it.

Complaining about the lack of cheap, user-friendly payments on Bitcoin today is analogous to someone in 1995 complaining that the internet doesn’t have Netflix. Just give it a minute. Payment layers are currently being built on top of the base Bitcoin blockchain, with the Lightning Network being the most obvious example.

The Claim That Bitcoin Has Nothing to Backstop Its Value

Krugman then turned to the often-used argument that bitcoin lacks any sort of underlying value. This should come as a surprise, since he just laid out how it is useful for illicit digital payments.

“Meanwhile, what backstops a cryptocurrency's value? Paper money is ultimately backed by governments that will take it in payment of taxes (and central banks that will reduce the monetary base in case of inflation). Gold is actually useful for some things, like filling teeth and making pretty jewelry; that's not most of its value, but it does provide a tether to reality, along with a 5000-year history,” tweeted Krugman.

“Cryptocurrencies have none of that,” Krugman continued. “If people come to believe that Bitcoin is worthless, well, it's worthless. Its price rise has been driven purely by speculation — by what Robert Shiller calls a natural Ponzi scheme, in which early entrants make money only [because] others buy in.”

If bitcoin is useful for permissionless digital payments, then it has the same sort of underlying utility that the U.S. dollar has in the form of tax payments.

Additionally, the U.S. dollar would also become worthless if people woke up one morning and came to believe that it was worthless.

Of course, all of this misses the point anyway. How much of the value of all the U.S. dollars in the world comes from its use in tax payments? How much of the value of all the gold in the world comes from its use in electronics? Not much.

Krugman misses that storage of value is also a form of utility, and bitcoin is the most uncensorable, unseizable store of value the world has ever seen. You can walk around with a passphrase in your head that can unlock access to thousands of bitcoins, and no one would be the wiser. Not to mention there is no centralized party that can inflate the supply.

The Point of Market Manipulation

Krugman also touched on the high potential for manipulation in the bitcoin market, pointing to a paper regarding the manipulation of the bitcoin price by now-defunct bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox, as an example.

This is another claim with some basis in reality, but it ignores the massive amounts of manipulation and lack of transparency in the traditional financial system, which is what led to the creation of bitcoin in the first place.

Through the use of cryptographic proofs, bitcoin has the potential to become much more transparent and trustless than the traditional financial system. Bitcoin’s monetary policy is already much more transparent than what goes on at the Federal Reserve. There’s a reason someone put up a “Buy Bitcoin” sign while Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen spoke against the need for further audits of the central bank.

Bitcoin exchanges are highly centralized institutions, which opens the door for manipulation. However, these exchanges have also become much more regulated over time. Today, it’s far more difficult to run an exchange at the level of incompetence that was found at Mt. Gox.

The potential for market manipulation should decline as the technology around bitcoin improves. Eventually, more trades may take place on decentralized exchanges, where it’s impossible to fudge the numbers.

In his last tweet from his thread on Sunday, Krugman said it’s unclear if the Bitcoin blockchain — or any blockchain for that matter — is useful.

Around $3 billion worth of bitcoin has been transacted on the Bitcoin network per day this year, according to Blockchain; $75 million worth of bitcoin per day was the norm the day Krugman first published an article on the subject.

Krugman’s arguments, as well as arguments from other well-known economists, have not changed much since 2013, but the Bitcoin network has continued to grow. It’s possible that Krugman and his colleagues are unable to comprehend the usefulness of bitcoin as an asset because it does not fit into the regulated, controlled environment they’ve built their economic and political worldviews around.

Bitcoin cannot be tamed, and they hate that.


This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Posted on 22 January 2018 | 10:32 am

China Moves to Crack Down on Digital Currency Pyramid Schemes

China's public security ministry says it will take aim at pyramid schemes in the country, including those that purportedly involve cryptocurrencies.

Posted on 22 January 2018 | 10:00 am

Canadian Research Body Pilots Ethereum in Transparency Push

The National Research Council of Canada is trialing the ethereum blockchain for recording government contracts.

Posted on 22 January 2018 | 9:00 am

The View From the Bitcoin Bubble - The New York Times - New York Times


New York Times

The View From the Bitcoin Bubble - The New York Times
New York Times
A Times tech reporter explains how he ended up on the cryptocurrency beat — and what a strange assignment it's been since then.
Can You Really Make Money Mining Bitcoins?Motley Fool

all 9 news articles »

Posted on 22 January 2018 | 8:58 am

Criminals Drop Bitcoin for Other Cryptocurrencies - Fortune


Fortune

Criminals Drop Bitcoin for Other Cryptocurrencies
Fortune
Bitcoin is the world's most popular digital currency but, in the crypto community, complaints are growing: Bitcoin takes too long to process transactions, the fees are too high, it's expensive, and too volatile. One sign of this discontent is reports ...
Bitcoin Price Tanks Over The WeekendInvestopedia (blog)
Bitcoin Hurt By Lack Of Viable Pricing Model And The Ghostbusters Stairs SyndromeForbes
Don't Try To Catch The Bitcoin KnifeSeeking Alpha
The Conversation AU -North Bay Business Journal -Express.co.uk
all 99 news articles »

Posted on 22 January 2018 | 8:03 am

This Long-Time Wall Street Analyst Says Bitcoin Could Fall to $1000 - Fortune


Fortune

This Long-Time Wall Street Analyst Says Bitcoin Could Fall to $1000
Fortune
Bitcoin's well-documented plunge of the past month could just be a precursor of what's to come, according to one well-respected Wall Street veteran. Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group, says the cryptocurrency could fall ...
Bitcoin To Drop As Low As $1000 This Year, Wall Street CIO PredictsCointelegraph (Bitcoin, Cryptocurrency and Blockchain News)
90% of bitcoin's value could get wiped out, Wall Street veteran Peter Boockvar warnsCNBC
CNBC's Dan Nathan: Bitcoin Cash Will Overtake Bitcoin SoonThe Merkle

all 23 news articles »

Posted on 22 January 2018 | 7:35 am

Huobi Is Launching a Token, But It's 'Not an ICO'

China-based crypto exchange Huobi has announced that it will issue its own token based on the ethereum ERC-20 standard.

Posted on 22 January 2018 | 7:00 am

What a Facebook Blockchain Token Might Look Like

If Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg really wants to experiment with decentralized systems, a publicly issued crypto-token would be hell of a way to do it.

Posted on 22 January 2018 | 6:00 am

Bitcoin Defends $11,000 Mark and Eyes Move Higher

Bitcoin is stuck in a narrow range currently, but a breakout may lie ahead, the price charts indicate.

Posted on 22 January 2018 | 5:10 am

Korean Crypto Exchange Korbit Halting Deposits from Non-Citizens

South Korea's Korbit exchange has informed users that non-citizens will soon not be able to deposit Korean won for trading.

Posted on 22 January 2018 | 4:10 am

How bitcoin could change the world -- even if it crashes - CBS News


CBS News

How bitcoin could change the world -- even if it crashes
CBS News
The price of digital currencies like bitcoin, litecoin, ethereum, ripple and others have been all over the map in recent months, soaring over 1,000 percent before falling sharply amid government intervention in Asia. The get-rich-quick appeal of ...

and more »

Posted on 22 January 2018 | 3:15 am

IMF Calls for International Cooperation on Crypto

The IMF has voiced concerns over the risks involved with cryptocurrencies and has called for global talks and cooperation.

Posted on 22 January 2018 | 3:00 am

Opera Browser Adds Cryptocurrency Miner Protection for Smartphones

The Opera web browser is now protecting smartphones from cryptocurrency miners embedded in websites, the company says.

Posted on 22 January 2018 | 2:00 am

Indian State Partners With Fund To Launch Blockchain Ecosystem

The Indian state of Andhra Pradesh announced a partnership with Covalent Fund to kickstart a blockchain ecosystem at its Fintech Valley Vizag.

Posted on 22 January 2018 | 12:00 am

How Nigerians Beat Bitcoin Scams - Bloomberg - Bloomberg


Bloomberg

How Nigerians Beat Bitcoin Scams - Bloomberg
Bloomberg
The country's embrace of the cryptocurrency has led to some old-school precautions against fraud.

and more »

Posted on 21 January 2018 | 10:16 pm

Contortions for Compliance: Life Under New York's BitLicense

New York passed the BitLicense in a vacuum. Now state and federal laws are catching up, often with poor coordination, causing a compliance nightmare.

Posted on 21 January 2018 | 5:40 am

Lightning Network May Not Solve Bitcoin's Scaling 'Trilemma'

It isn’t possible to have decentralization, a fixed money supply and sufficient liquidity for an efficient payments system, says Frances Coppola.

Posted on 20 January 2018 | 5:20 am

Battle-Testing Lightning: Schools Start Contest to Secure Bitcoin’s Layer 2

Organizers hope a new competition will spur security advances for Lightning, but also steer bitcoin debates in more constructive directions.

Posted on 20 January 2018 | 4:30 am

Bitcoin Price Analysis: Potential Bearish Continuation Sets Up Lower Lows

Bitcoin Price Analysis

Shortly after a sharp drop from the mid $14,000 to the lower $9,000s, bitcoin saw a strong bounce to the upper $11,000s. At the time of this article, bitcoin appears to be consolidating and is ready to make its next move:

fig1

Figure 1: BTC-USD, 1 Day Candles, Macro View

In the previous BTC market analysis, we discussed the distribution trading range the market fell out of as it reached for lower support boundaries. Ultimately, it found support on the macro 50% retracement values near $10,000. Once it broke south of the trading range, the price fell sharply and with high volume:
fig2

Figure 2: BTC-USD, 15 Minute Candles, Current Support and Resistance Levels

After bouncing off the macro 50% values, the market rallied and ultimately tested the linear trendline shown in Figure 1. Now, after several failed attempts to break the linear trendline’s resistance, the market finds itself in a consolidation pattern where it decides where it will move next.

fig3

Figure 3: BTC-USD, 60 Minute Candles, Potential Bear Flag

One possibility to keep a close eye on is this potential, strong bear flag. After finding support on the macro 50%, the subsequent rally saw decreasing volume throughout the length of the movement. This sort of price action could potentially lead to a bearish continuation with a measure move between $4000 and $5000 — a price target of approximately $6,000 – $7,000. If a drop of this magnitude continues the downtrend, we can expect to find support on the 61% macro Fibonacci retracement values shown in Figure 1.

It’s important to note that bitcoin has a penchant for breaking upwards when all signs say “down,” so tread lightly and wait for confirmation of the move. Confirmation of the bear flag breakout would show a pretty obvious outlier in volume, combined with wide price spread.

Summary:

  1. Bitcoin recently saw a steep drop in price where it ultimately found a local bottom in the low $9,000s.
  2. Since it bottomed out, it has seen a rally on decreasing volume which leaves the door open for a bearish continuation.
  3. If the bearish continuation continues, expect support on the 61% macro retracement values.

Trading and investing in digital assets like bitcoin and ether is highly speculative and comes with many risks. This analysis is for informational purposes and should not be considered investment advice. Statements and financial information on Bitcoin Magazine and BTC Media related sites do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BTC Media and should not be construed as an endorsement or recommendation to buy, sell or hold. Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results.


This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Posted on 19 January 2018 | 2:48 pm

Venezuela Blasts 'False' White Paper for Oil-Backed Cryptocurrency

Venezuelan officials have denied claims that the petro token's white paper has been released, calling such claims "false information."

Posted on 19 January 2018 | 2:30 pm

Report: India's Government Sends Tax Notices to Cryptocurrency Traders

India has sent tax notices to tens of thousands of cryptocurrency owners within its borders.

Posted on 19 January 2018 | 12:15 pm

Bulgaria Joins 'International Operation' Against OneCoin

Bulgaria's government has revealed it is part of an international crackdown of OneCoin.

Posted on 19 January 2018 | 11:15 am

What is Ripple?

ripple101.jpg

By Shawn Gordon

What is Ripple? Technically speaking, is Ripple a cryptocurrency in the mold of Bitcoin? The short answer is probably “no,” but that doesn’t stop it from often being lumped into that same category.

What is Ripple?

Originally released in 2012 as a subsequent iteration of Ripplepay, Ripple is a real-time gross settlement system (RTGS), currency exchange and remittance network. Using a common ledger that is managed by a network of independently validating servers that constantly compare transaction records, Ripple doesn't rely on the energy and computing intensive proof-of-work used by Bitcoin. Ripple is based on a shared public database that makes use of a consensus process between those validating servers to ensure integrity. Those validating servers can belong to anyone, from individuals to banks.

The Ripple protocol (token represented as XRP) is meant to enable the near instant and direct transfer of money between two parties. Any type of currency can be exchanged, from fiat currency to gold to even airline miles. They claim to avoid the fees and wait times of traditional banking and even cryptocurrency transactions through exchanges.

How Is It Fundamentally Different From Bitcoin?

It is the validating servers and consensus mechanism that tends to lead people to just assume that Ripple is a blockchain-based technology. While it is consensus oriented, Ripple is not a blockchain. Ripple uses a HashTree to summarize the data into a single value that is compared across its validating servers to provide consensus.

Banks seem to like Ripple, and payment providers are coming on board more and more. It is built for enterprise and, while it can be used person to person, that really isn't its primary focus. The main purpose of the Ripple platform is to move lots of money around the world as rapidly as possible.

Thus far, Ripple has been stable since its release with over 35 million transactions processed without issue. It is able to handle 1,500 transactions per second (tps) and has been updated to be able to scale to Visa levels of 50,000 transactions per second. By comparison, Bitcoin can handle 3-6 tps (not including scaling layers) and Ethereum 15 tps.

Ripple’s token, XRP, isn't mined like Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin and many other cryptocurrencies. Instead, it was issued at its inception, similar in fashion to the way a company issues stocks when it incorporates: It essentially just picked a number (100 billion) and issued that many XRP coins.

What is XRP and What’s It Used For?

As a technology, the Ripple platform may have real value and real history that validate the claims they make for its efficacy. The XRP token itself, however, seems to have negligible use cases. In fact, Ripple had planned to phase it out — at least, until fevered interest in cryptocurrencies began to take off in 2016. Nevertheless, as CNBC noted today, if Ripple hits $6.57, its market capitalization will be bigger than Bitcoin’s.

There are 100 billion XRP tokens that were issued by the Ripple company. At the moment, the company promises that this is the total number of XRP that there will ever be (though, technically, there is nothing to stop them from issuing more tokens in the future). Ripple’s hub-and-spoke design positions XRP in the middle as a tool that is fungible with any currency or digital asset, such as frequent flyer miles. Ripple can settle a payment in 3.5 seconds through XRP and have it available and spendable. The use of XRP is totally independent of the Ripple network in general; that is, banks don't actually need XRP to transfer dollars, euros, etcetera which is what many small investors might be missing when they are buying the token.

What Is Ripple’s Value Proposition?

The value here is the Ripple network itself and its ability to move assets around the world quickly, rather than in the XRP token.

Banks are able to use the Ripple software to shift money between different foreign currencies. Currently, this is typically accomplished using SWIFT, a system that is cumbersome and relies on the banks having separate accounts in every country they work in. Ripple says it has signed up more than 100 banks (compared to SWIFTs 11,000 financial institutions) including American Express.

So Why All the Hype?

While Bitcoin has seen a dramatic rise in price over the course of 2017, the end of the year saw the cryptocurrency almost breaking $20,000. As the price drove higher, we saw a massive increase in price for a large number of altcoins, with Litecoin jumping from $50 to nearly $400, Ethereum doubling, NEM and EOS going up by a factor of five, and the list goes on and on. The fear of missing out has driven many investors wild and “lower-priced” currencies are attractive to new investors who mistakenly think that the high price of an entire BTC puts the currency out of their reach.

Add to all the hype the rumors that had been swirling on social media through December 2017, that Coinbase was going to list Ripple, which caused the price to surge, which in turn prompted Coinbase to address the rumors in a more generic fashion in this blog post on January 4, 2018:

“As of the date of this statement, we have made no decision to add additional assets to either GDAX or Coinbase. Any statement to the contrary is untrue and not authorized by the company.”

ripple chart jan19

The Coinbase announcement caused a big drop in Ripple, back to around the same levels as before the rumors began. SInce then, Ripple has both dipped dramatically and recovered, as have many other volatile cryptocurrencies. While Coinbase doesn’t support Ripple, there are a number of ways for people to acquire Ripple, should they still want to.

Words of Caution

There has been a lot of ink used on criticizing Ripple as well. The complaint from Bitcoin and other blockchain enthusiasts is that Ripple’s centralized control is in direct contrast to the ideals and advantages of decentralized blockchains like Bitcoin.

Ripple also maintains a trusted Unique Node List (UNL) that is meant to protect against potentially malicious or insecure validating servers. It is the UNL that controls the network rules, presenting a conundrum: On the one hand, it protects against problematic validators, but, in theory, a regulating body or government could come in and force a change that isn't necessarily desirable or is downright invasive. Furthermore, because of a FinCEN violation and fine in 2013, Ripple has updated its policies and will only recognize and recommend gateways that are in compliance with financial regulations.

New York Times reporter Nathaniel Popper commented on Twitter that he has yet to find a bank that anticipates using the XRP token in any meaningful way. Ripple’s CEO, Brad Garlinghouse, has denied Popper’s claims stating, “Over the last few months I’ve spoken with ACTUAL banks and payment providers. They are indeed planning to use xRapid (our XRP liquidity product) in a serious way.” However, as Popper points out, even the banks that he contacted at Ripple’s suggestion were non-committal in their plans to implement Ripple anytime soon.

According to the Financial Times, of the 18 banks and financial services companies publicly linked to Ripple, most of them stated that they “had not yet gone beyond testing” while a few had moved on to using Ripple’s systems “for moving real money.” However,  not one of the 16 companies that responded had used the XRP token.


This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Posted on 19 January 2018 | 10:15 am

Cornell IC3 Researchers Propose Solution to Bitcoin’s Multisig “Paralysis” Problem

Cornell IC3 Researchers Propose Solution to Bitcoin’s Multisig “Paralysis” Problem

Owning cryptocurrency comes with its own set of challenges. One of the biggest of those challenges is managing the private keys that enable you to spend funds. Lose your private keys, and your money is gone.

In a business environment, a common way to manage funds owned by multiple people is via what’s called a multisignature (multisig) address, a type of smart contract requiring two or more parties to sign off on a transaction to move the funds. 

This can be problematic, however. Let’s say you have a three-of-three multisig that requires you and two business partners to sign off on a transaction. If one person dies, disappears or becomes incapacitated, those assets become frozen — a risk some might feel uncomfortable with when dealing with tens of thousands of dollars or more.   

One way to ameliorate that risk might be to opt for a two-of-three multisig, where only two instead of all three individuals need to sign off on a transaction. But that’s not a complete solution either. Two players could conspire against the other one and run off with the money.

What now? If your funds are on the Ethereum blockchain, you could write a smart contract that would allow you to free the funds if one person in your trio disappeared.

However, Bitcoin with its limited scripting language makes things more difficult. “This seems like an unsolvable problem if you think about the traditional tools,” said Ari Juels, a professor at Cornell Tech and co-director of the Cornell Initiative for Cryptocurrencies and Contracts (IC3).

Paralysis Proofs

In a paper titled “Paralysis Proofs: How to Prevent Your Bitcoin from Vanishing,” researchers Fan Zhang, Phil Daian, Iddo Bentov and Ari Juels from the IC3 outline how to deal with what happens when a party is unable, or unwilling, to sign off on a multisig transaction in Bitcoin. The solution involves a combination of blockchain technology and trusted hardware — Intel SGX, in this case.   

Trusted hardware allows you to run code inside a protected enclave. Even a computer’s own operating system is unable to access data inside an enclave, so if your computer were to be hacked, the code in the enclave would remain secure.

IC3’s solution proposes replacing a trusted third party, such as a lawyer or a bank, who would put money in an escrow, with a trusted hardware solution that retains control of a master key to the funds.  

If one of the three people in the contract dies, the other two initiate a “paralysis proof.” That proof is based on a challenge sent to the missing third person. If the missing person responds to the challenge, the money stays put. If the missing person does not respond, the trusted hardware releases the funds to the remaining two players.  

Trusted hardware is only part of the solution, however. If the third person were to try and respond to the challenge request with an indication she is still alive, conceivably, the other players could intercept that message. To ensure that does not happen, the second half of IC3’s solution involves sending the message via the blockchain, which provides a tamper-proof and censorship-resistant medium.    

“By combining these two [methods], we can achieve the exact properties we’re after,” Juels explained to Bitcoin Magazine. “We can enable trusted hardware to determine whether or not somebody is alive, and there is no way to prevent a relevant message from getting transmitted if it is coming through the blockchain.”   

How It Works

Put simply, this is how to achieve a paralysis proof as outlined by the IC3 researchers:

  • Two players suspect a third is dead, so they post a challenge on the blockchain. The challenge consists of a tiny “dust” UTXO that the third person must spend within a certain period of time, say 24 hours, to prove she is alive.
  • The two players also get a “seize” transaction they may post to the blockchain later to collect the funds, if the third person does not respond to the challenge.
  • If the third person sends back a response by spending the UTXO, the game is over; the two others are not able to take control of the funds.  
  • Alternatively, if the third person does not return an “alive” signal by spending the UTXO before the time-out, then the two others can use the “seize” transaction to take control of the funds.  

This not the only use case for a paralysis-proof system. Juels thinks the solution would work well in any situation that called for a controlled access to private keys that could not otherwise be maintained on a blockchain. “It is actually a very general scheme you could use for lots of other purposes,” he said.   

For instance, a paralysis-proof system could be used as a dead man’s switch for control over the release (or decryption) of leaked information or a journalist’s raw materials. It could also be used in numerous ways to control daily spending limits from a common pool of money or as a conditioned expenditure based on an outside event (as reported by an oracle), like a student getting good grades or a salesperson meeting a sales quota.   

“Basically, you can a rich set of conditions around the expenditure of money using the fact that a trusted hardware kind of acts like a trusted third party,” said Juels.

This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Posted on 19 January 2018 | 9:07 am

Blockstream Releases Lightning Charge, Launches Test E-Commerce Store

Blockstream Releases Lightning Charge, Launches Test E-Commerce Store

Following the release of the first Bitcoin Lightning Network white paper, published in February 2015, developers have been working on Lightning Network implementations to enhance the throughput and usability of the Bitcoin network. For an overview, see this three-part series on “Understanding the Lightning Network.”

In December 2017, lightning developers ACINQ, Blockstream and Lightning Labs, announced the 1.0 release of the Lightning protocol and the world’s first Lightning test payments on the Bitcoin mainnet across all three implementations. The standardization and deployment of the Lightning Network’s second-level, off-chain payment layer is expected to result in instant bitcoin transactions, improved scalability and lower fees, enabling fast and cheap micropayments.

Blockstream’s implementation of the Lightning spec, c-lightning, is a low-level technology designed to implement the Lightning spec without added complexity. At the same time, Blockstream realizes that developer tools are needed to unlock the power of Lightning for advanced applications, such as those that integrate with credit card companies and with existing online payment systems.

Blockstream is releasing the Lightning Charge complementary package for c-lightning to make it simpler to build sophisticated applications on top of c-lightning.

“Web developers will be able to work with c-lightning through their normal programming techniques, and they’ll also get expanded functionality such as currency conversion, invoice metadata, streaming payment updates and webhooks,” reads the Blockstream announcement. “Together, these additions make it easy for developers to use c-lightning to create their own, independent web-payment infrastructures.”

Lightning Charge is a micropayment processing system written in node.js. It exposes the functionality of c-lightning through its REST API, which can be accessed through JavaScript and PHP libraries, both of which have also been released through the Elements Project.

"Lightning Charge makes integration with the Lightning Network much simpler, since it bridges the needs of application developers and the underlying infrastructure, to provide a simple and extensible way to accept Lightning payments," Blockstream developer Christian Decker said in conversation with Bitcoin Magazine.

“Since the introduction of Lightning Charge, less than 48 hours ago, we have seen a dramatic interest in the Lightning Network, both on the user as well as the developer side,” Decker added. “We have gotten a lot of feedback, and the mainnet network has doubled in the number of participants."

The desired effect of the Lightning Charge launch was to reach a wider audience, get early feedback from future users and to showcase what will be possible in a not-so-distant future, and I think we have achieved that goal.

Israeli entrepreneur Nadav Ivgi, founder of Bitrated, worked with Blockstream developers to create Lightning Charge. “Together with him we built this new code, or this immediate piece of software that provides this nicer to use interface,” said Decker.

“So far the development for Lightning has been mostly on the network side of things. It’s been very much this close-knit group of people that are building it and are trying to build the infrastructure. Infrastructure is nice to have. But if nobody can actually use it then it’s not worth much, right?”

To test Lightning Charge, Blockstream is launching the Blockstream Store, a working e-commerce site that allows users to make small purchases of stickers and t-shirts. “By offering an early demonstration of this cutting-edge technology, we hope to bring Lightning to life with real-world functionality, providing a way for you to test Lightning and become a part of the micropayment revolution,” states the Blockstream announcement.

The Blockstream Store, built on WordPress and WooCommerce, connects with Lightning Charge and c-lightning through a WooCommerce Lightning Gateway, which Blockstream also released as part of the Elements Project.

The only way to purchase the items in the Blockstream store is with a Lightning payment. A disclaimer warns that, although the products sold in the store are real, this store is for testing and demonstration purposes only.

“Lightning is still very new and contains known and unknown bugs,” reads the disclaimer, adding that users may lose funds.

"We believe this is an important step towards a full rollout of the network as a whole, however we’d like to remind users that the Lightning Network is still experimental and that testnet is to be preferred for testing before making the jump to mainnet," Decker told Bitcoin Magazine.

This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Posted on 18 January 2018 | 10:37 am

“Bitcoin Laundering” Study: Where Do Criminals Turn to Mask Illicit Cryptoassets?

Bitcoin laundering study

A recent study (PDF) from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance and blockchain analytics company Elliptic explored the “bitcoin laundering” ecosystem. In the study, Elliptic’s forensic analysis of the Bitcoin blockchain and other publicly available data were used to track the flows of illicit funds from 2013 to 2016.

“This study aimed to identify where individuals turn in order to cash out or transmit bitcoins (BTC) acquired from illicit entities and to discover typologies for criminals ‘laundering’ bitcoins,” the report says.

The study describes bitcoin laundering as a special type of money laundering that exists within the Bitcoin network where a user moves some bitcoins to a new address in a manner that obscures the original source of funds. The conversion of bitcoins into fiat currency on exchanges that lack adequate anti-money laundering (AML) and know-your-customer (KYC) policies can also fall under the category of bitcoin laundering.

In addition to describing the common mechanisms for bitcoin laundering and explaining that this sort of activity is a small percentage of all transactions sent to exchanges and other conversion services, the study also offers some recommendations for law enforcement in terms of preventing the masking of illicit funds on the Bitcoin network.

It should go without saying that any study related to the dark web or illicit use of the Bitcoin network needs to be taken with a grain of salt because avoiding detection is the whole reason for a criminal to use these sorts of platforms in the first place.

The Bitcoin Laundering Ecosystem

Much of the study, which is titled “Bitcoin Laundering: An Analysis of Illicit Flows Into Digital Currency Services,” revolves around the use of “conversion services.” Conversion services are basically platforms where users convert bitcoins to fiat currency (a Bitcoin exchange) or another cryptocurrency (a cryptoexchange), or move the bitcoins to another Bitcoin address accessible to the user. This results in a flow of funds that cannot be viewed or traced directly on the public blockchain.

According to the study, darknet markets are the main source of funds that are sent to conversion services in bitcoin laundering attempts.

Additionally, the number of illicit services that could be the source of “dirty bitcoins” sent to a conversion service increased fivefold from 2013 to 2016. Having said that, the study finds that the sources of illicit funds entering conversion services are quite centralized.

“Only a small number of entities account for the majority of illicit activity in our sample,” the study says. “Nine of the 102 illicit entities were the source of more than 95 percent of all laundered bitcoins in our study. All nine were darknet marketplaces.”

bitcoin-laundering_Figure1.png

While exchanges are the most commonly used type of conversion service, bitcoin mixers and gambling sites have much more illicit funds coming into their platforms as a percentage of their overall transactions. As potential conduits for bitcoin laundering, these two types of conversion services benefit from concealing their country of operations and avoiding enforcement of AML regulations.

“Fewer than 10 percent of all transactions overall passed through unknown jurisdictions ... while 52 percent of illicit laundering went through them,” the study says.

Much like the sources of illicit funds, the conversion services where these funds are sent are also highly centralized, the study finds. The data indicates that 97 percent of illicit transaction volume at mixers and gambling sites goes through three different entities. Additionally, two platforms in Europe account for half of all illicit transfers that go into exchanges.

Not Much Bitcoin Laundering Activity Overall, and It’s on the Decline

Another notable aspect of the study is that the data indicates a low level of bitcoin laundering as a percentage of all payments sent to conversion services.

“The amount of observed Bitcoin laundering was small (less than one percent of all transactions entering conversion services),” notes the study.

The report clarifies that the actual volume of illicit Bitcoin transactions sent to conversion services is “almost surely to be significantly larger” than what the data in the study shows because intermediate transactions are not counted. In other words, the report only covers transactions made directly from an illicit source, such as a darknet market, to a conversion service.

The study also indicates a decrease in illicit Bitcoin transaction volume going to conversion services over time.

bitcoin-laundering_Figure2.png

“It is likely that illicit bitcoins fell as a percentage of total volume entering conversion services due to the cryptocurrency’s increasing popularity as a speculative investment as well as new laundering techniques,” the study says. “The drop may also reflect better AML/CFT compliance by conversion services, including the use of blockchain analysis services to determine customers’ source of funds.”

The study later adds, “Our study, the first of its kind, indicates that while most types of conversion services have received some bitcoins from illicit activity, the vast majority of the funds they receive do not appear to be illicit.”

Recommendations for Law Enforcement That Will Likely Fall Short

The report offers recommendations for law enforcement in terms of what they can do to combat the effectiveness of bitcoin laundering.

First, the study says proper KYC and AML policies need to be enforced on the bitcoin mixers and gambling sites that allow for anonymous usage. It notes that the three conversion services that account for 97 percent of bitcoin laundering on these types of platforms should be targeted by financial authorities.

“The fact that most mixers and gambling sites hide their location of operations indicates they probably seek to evade the basic regulations in place to uphold transparency and financial integrity standards in most jurisdictions,” adds the study.

Of course, it should be noted that targeting these sorts of services will become nearly impossible as they become more decentralized over time. Decentralized platforms like JoinMarket, TumbleBit and ZeroLink remove the ability for authorities to clamp down on bitcoin mixing in an effective manner, as these solutions act more as software than services.

Second, the report also calls for increased AML and KYC compliance at European exchanges.

“Many large European Bitcoin exchanges do implement robust AML policies,” says the study. “However, this is out of choice rather than obligation, and there are some who choose not to, possibly to attract business from criminals.”

The study adds that the European Union is already moving in the right direction via an update of their 2015 Anti-Money Laundering Directive to include fiat-to-cryptocurrency exchanges, but in the view of the authors of the paper, crypto-to-crypto exchanges must also be regulated in this manner.

Again, it needs to be pointed out that more problematic technology — at least from law enforcement’s point of view — is on the horizon in the form of decentralized cryptoexchanges. Through the use of cross-chain atomic swaps via the lightning network, users will be able to instantly trade between different cryptoassets without the need for a trusted third party.

Third, the study calls for a sort of propaganda campaign against the use of darknet markets by criminals and the general public at large.

“Law enforcement should increase customer skepticism about [darknet market] sites’ integrity and reduce the perceived security of such platforms by exposing their vulnerabilities publicly,” says the study.

The report adds that law enforcement should make it well known that they’re lurking on these darknet markets to further shake confidence in them.

Darknet markets are another area of the Bitcoin ecosystem that are becoming more decentralized through platforms such as OpenBazaar. While illicit activity on the OpenBazaar network appears to be limited at this time, it could potentially explode in popularity as a reaction to law enforcement’s hypothetical campaigns against the centralized darknet markets.

Fourth, the report praises the decision by financial authorities in the United States to regulate exchanges as Money Service Businesses. The authors of the paper would like to see this sort of policy rolled out worldwide.

Last, the study notes the need to prevent the illicit use of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to get around economic sanctions imposed by the United States or other nations.

“In addition to mitigating illicit finance risks like criminal money laundering, there will likely be a need to develop strategies to counter state actors aiming to use cryptocurrencies to circumvent U.S., EU, and UN sanctions.”

Recently, there have been reports of North Korea, Russia and Venezuela all looking into separate mechanisms for avoiding economic sanctions through the use of cryptocurrencies.

This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Posted on 18 January 2018 | 2:52 am

Bitcoin tops $10,000 milestone

Posted on 29 November 2017 | 2:30 am

Bitcoin price climbs over $4,000

Posted on 14 August 2017 | 1:16 am

Bitcoin Trading Bots

There have been a wide variety of situations in which algorithmic trading programs have proven to be beneficial for investors. However, investors who only trade a cryptocurrency can also take advantage of bitcoin trading bots. Through bitcoin bot trading, traders can become more flexible and prompt, minimize errors and process information more rapidly. At this… Read More »

Posted on 8 November 2016 | 6:20 pm

Major Magazine Publisher to Accept Bitcoin Payments

Posted on 18 December 2014 | 12:43 pm

Microsoft accepts Bitcoin

Posted on 11 December 2014 | 5:06 am

Mozilla accepting Bitcoin

Posted on 20 November 2014 | 1:55 pm

PayPal and Virtual Currency

Posted on 23 September 2014 | 9:52 pm

Wikimedia Foundation Now Accepts Bitcoin

Posted on 30 July 2014 | 3:14 pm

German Newspaper "taz" accepts Bitcoin

Posted on 22 July 2014 | 1:32 pm

airBaltic - World’s First Airline To Accept Bitcoin

Posted on 22 July 2014 | 11:03 am

January 22, 2018 -
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