Edward Snowden’s NSA spying revelations highlighted just how much we have sacrificed to the gods of technology and convenience something we used to take for granted, and once considered a basic human right – our privacy. It is just not just the NSA. Governments the world over are racing to introduce legislation that allows to them to monitor and store every email, phone call and Instant Message, every web page visited, and every VoIP conversation made by every single one of their citizens. The press has bandied parallels with George Orwell’s dystopian world ruled by an all-seeing Big Brother about a great deal. They are depressingly accurate. Encryption provides a highly effective way to protect your internet behavior, communications, and data. The main problem with using encryption is that its use flags you up to organizations such as the NSA for closer scrutiny. Details of the NSA’s data collection rules are here. What it boils down to is that the NSA examines data from US citizens, then discards it if it’s found to be uninteresting. Encrypted data, on the other hand, is stored indefinitely until the NSA can decrypt it. The NSA can keep all data relating to non-US citizens indefinitely, but practicality suggests that encrypted data gets special attention. If a lot more people start to use encryption, then encrypted data will stand out less, and surveillance organizations’ job of invading everyone’s privacy will be much harder. Remember – anonymity is not a crime!
How Secure is Encryption?
Following revelations about the scale of the NSA’s deliberate assault on global encryption standards, confidence in encryption has taken a big dent. So let’s examine the current state of play…
Encryption Key Length
Key length is the crudest way of determining how long a cipher will take to break. It is the raw number of ones and zeros used in a cipher. Similarly, the crudest form of attack on a cipher is known as a brute force attack (or exhaustive key search). This involves trying every possible combination to find the correct one. If anyone is capable of breaking modern encryption ciphers it is the NSA, but to do so is a considerable challenge. For a brute force attack:
A 128-bit key cipher has 3.4 x10(38) possible keys. Going through each of them would thousands of operations or more to break.
In 2011 the fastest supercomputer in the word (the Fujitsu K computer located in Kobe, Japan) was capable of an Rmax peak speed of 10.51 petaflops. Based on this figure, it would take Fujitsu K 1.02 x 10(18) (around 1 billion) years to crack a 128-bit AES key by force.
In 2016 the most powerful supercomputer in the world is the NUDT Tianhe-2in Guangzhou, China. Almost 3 times as fast as the Fujitsu K, at 33.86 petaflops, it would “only” take it around a third of a billion years to crack a 128-bit AES key. That’s still a long time, and is the figure for breaking just one key.
A 256-bit key would require 2(128) times more computational power to break than a 128-bit one.
The number of years required to brute force a 256-bit cipher is 3.31 x 10(56) – which is about 20000….0000 (total 46 zeros) times the age of Universe (13.5 billion or 1.35 x 10(10) years!
Until the Edward Snowden revelations, people assumed that 128-bit encryption was in practice uncrackable through brute force. They believed it would be so for around another 100 years (taking Moore’s Law into account). In theory, this still holds true. However, the scale of resources that the NSA seems willing to throw at cracking encryption has shaken many experts’ faith in these predictions. Consequently, system administrators the world over are scrambling to upgrade cipher key lengths. If and when quantum computing becomes available, all bets will be off. Quantum computers will be exponentially more powerful than any existing computer, and will make all current encryption ciphers and suites redundant overnight. In theory, the development of quantum encryption will counter this problem. However, access to quantum computers will initially be the preserve of the most powerful and wealthy governments and corporations only. It is not in the interests of such organizations to democratize encryption. For the time being, however, strong encryption is your friend. Note that the US government uses 256-bit encryption to protect ‘sensitive’ data and 128-bit for ‘routine’ encryption needs. However, the cipher it uses is AES. As I discuss below, this is not without problems.
Encryption key length refers to the amount of raw numbers involved. Ciphers are the mathematics used to perform the encryption. It is weaknesses in thesealgorithms, rather than in the key length, that often leads to encryption breaking. By far the most common ciphers that you will likely encounter are those OpenVPN uses: Blowfish and AES. In addition to this, RSA is used to encrypt and decrypt a cipher’s keys. SHA-1 or SHA-2 are used as hash functions to authenticate the data. AES is generally considered the most secure cipher for VPN use (and in general). Its adoption by the US government has increased its perceived reliability, and consequently its popularity. However, there is reason to believe this trust may be misplaced.
The United States National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) developed and/or certified AES, RSA, SHA-1 and SHA-2. NIST works closely with the NSA in the development of its ciphers. Given the NSA’s systematic efforts to weaken or build backdoors into international encryption standards, there is every reason to question the integrity of NIST algorithms. NIST has been quick to deny any wrongdoing (“NIST would not deliberately weaken a cryptographic standard”). It has also has invited public participation in a number of upcoming proposed encryption-related standards in a move designed to bolsterpublic confidence. The New York Times, however, has accused the NSA of introducing undetectable backdoors, or subverting the public development process to weaken the algorithms, thus circumventing NIST-approved encryption standards. News that a NIST-certified cryptographic standard – the Dual Elliptic Curve algorithm (Dual_EC_DRGB) had been deliberately weakened not just once, but twice, by the NSA destroyed pretty much any existing trust. That there might be a deliberate backdoor in Dual_EC_DRGB had already been noticed before. In 2006 researchers at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands noted that an attack against it was easy enough to launch on ‘an ordinary PC.’ Microsoft engineers also flagged up a suspected backdoor in the algorithm. Despite these concerns, where NIST leads, industry follows. Microsoft, Cisco, Symantec and RSA all include the algorithm in their products’ cryptographic libraries. This is in large partbecause compliance with NIST standards is a prerequisite to obtaining US government contracts. NIST-certified cryptographic standards are pretty much ubiquitous worldwide throughout all areas of industry and business that rely on privacy (including the VPN industry). This is all rather chilling. Perhaps because so much relies on these standards, cryptography experts have been unwilling to face up to the problem.
Perfect Forward Secrecy
One of the revelations in the information provided by Edward Snowden is that “another program, code-named Cheesy Name, was aimed at singling out SSL/TLS encryption keys, known as ‘certificates,’ that might be vulnerable to being cracked by GCHQ supercomputers.” That these certificates can be “singled out” strongly suggests that 1024-bit RSA encryption (commonly used to protect the certificate keys) is weaker than previously thought. The NSA and GCHQ could therefore decrypt it much more quickly than expected. In addition to this, the SHA-1 algorithm widely used to authenticate SSL/TLS connections is fundamentally broken. In both cases, the industry is scrambling fix the weaknesses as fast as it can. It is doing this by moving onto RSA-2048+, Diffie-Hellman, or Elliptic Curve Diffie-Hellman (ECDH) key exchanges and SHA-2+ hash authentication. What these issues (and the 2014 Heartbleed Bug fiasco) clearly highlight is the importance of using perfect forward secrecy (PFS) for all SSL/TLS connections. This is a system whereby a new and unique (with no additional keys derived from it) private encryption key is generated for each session. For this reason, it is also known as an ephemeral key exchange. Using PFS, if one SSL key is compromised, this does not matter very much because new keys are generated for each connection. They are also often refreshed during connections. To meaningfully access communications these new keys would also need to be compromised. This makes the task so arduous as to be effectively impossible. Unfortunately, it is common practice (because it’s easy) for companies to use just one private encryption key. If this key is compromised, then the attacker can access all communications encrypted with it.
OpenVPN and PFS
The most widely used VPN protocol is OpenVPN. It is considered very secure. One of the reasons for this is because it allows the use of ephemeral keys. Sadly this is not implemented by many VPN providers. Without perfect forward secrecy, OpenVPN connections are not considered secure. It is also worth mentioning here that the HMAC SHA-1 hashes routinely used to authenticate OpenVPN connections are not a weakness. This is because HMAC SHA-1 is much less vulnerable to collision attacks than standard SHA-1 hashes. Mathematical proof of this is available in this paper.
The Takeaway – So, is Encryption Secure?
To underestimate the NSA’s ambition or ability to compromise all encryption is a mistake. However, encryption remains the best defense we have against it (and others like it). To the best of anyone’s knowledge, strong ciphers such as AES (despite misgivings about its NIST certification) and OpenVPN (with perfect forward secrecy) remain secure. As Bruce Schneier, encryption specialist, fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and privacy advocate famously stated,
“Trust the math. Encryption is your friend. Use it well, and do your best to ensure that nothing can compromise it. That’s how you can remain secure even in the face of the NSA.”
Remember too that the NSA is not the only potential adversary. However, most criminals and even governments have nowhere near the NSA’s ability to circumvent encryption.
The Importance of End-to-end Encryption
End-to-end (e2e) encryption means that you encrypt data on your own device. Only you hold the encryption keys (unless you share them). Without these keys, an adversary will find it extremely difficult to decrypt your data. Many services and products do not use e2e encryption. Instead they encrypt your data and hold the keys for you. This can be very convenient, as it allows for easy recovery of lost passwords, syncing across devices, and so forth. It does mean, however, that these third parties could be compelled to hand over your encryption keys. A case in point is Microsoft. It encrypts all emails and files held in OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive), but it also holds the encryption keys. In 2013 it used these to unlock the emails and files of its 250 million worldwide users for inspection by the NSA. Strongly avoid services that encrypt your data on their servers, rather than you encrypting your own data on your own machine.
Although strong encryption has recently become trendy, websites have been using strong end-to-end encryption for the last 20 years. After all, if websites were not secure, then online shopping or banking wouldn’t be possible. The encryption protocol used for this is HTTPS, which stands for HTTP Secure (or HTTP over SSL/TLS). It is used for websites that need to secure users’ communications and is the backbone of internet security. When you visit a non-secure HTTP website, data is transferred unencrypted. This means anyone watching can see everything you do while visiting that site. This includes your transaction details when making payments. It is even possible to alter the data transferred between you and the web server. With HTTPS, a cryptographic key exchange occurs when you first connect to the website. All subsequent actions on the website are encrypted, and thus hidden from prying eyes. Anyone watching can see that you have visited a certain website, but cannot see which individual pages you read, or any data transferred. For example, the BestVPN.com website is secured using HTTPS. Unless you are using a VPN while reading this web page, your ISP can see that you have visited www.bestvpn.com, but cannot see that you are reading this particular article. HTTPS uses end-to-end encryption. It is easy to tell if you visit a website secured by HTTPS – just look for a locked padlock icon to the left of the main URL/search bar. There are issues relating to HTTPS, but in general it is secure. If it wasn’t, none of the billions of financial transactions and transfers of personal data that happen every day on the internet would be possible. The internet itself (and possibly the world economy!) would collapse overnight. For a detailed discussion on HTTPS, please see here.
An important limitation to encryption is that it does not necessarily protect users from the collection of metadata. Even if the contents of emails, voice conversations, or web browsing sessions cannot be readily listened in on, knowing when, where, from whom, to whom, and how regularly such communication takes place can tell an adversary a great deal. This is a powerful tool in the wrong hands. For example, even if you use a securely encrypted messaging service such as WhatsApp, Facebook will still be able to tell who you are messaging, how often you message, how long you usually chat for, and more. With such information, it would be easy to discover that you were having an affair, for example. Although the NSA does target individual communications, its primary concern is the collection of metadata. As NSA General Counsel Stewart Baker has openly acknowledged,
“Metadata absolutely tells you everything about somebody’s life. If you have enough metadata, you don’t really need content.“
Technologies such as VPNs and Tor can make the collection of metadata very difficult. For example, an ISP cannot collect metadata relating to the browsing history of customers who use a VPN to hide their online activities. Note, though, that many VPN providers themselves log some metadata. This should be a consideration when choosing a service to protect your privacy. Please also note that mobile apps typically bypass any VPN that is running on your device, and connect directly to their publishers’ servers. Using a VPN, for example, will not prevent WhatsApp sending metadata to Facebook.
Identify Your Threat Model
When considering how to protect your privacy and stay secure on the internet, carefully consider who or what worries you most. Defending yourself against everything is almost impossible. And any attempt to do so will likely seriously degrade the usability (and your enjoyment) of the internet. Identifying to yourself that being caught downloading an illicit copy of Game of Thrones is a bigger worry than being targeted by a crack NSA TAO teamfor personalized surveillance is a good start. It will leave you less stressed, with a more useable internet and with more effective defenses against the threats that really matter to you. Of course, if your name is Edward Snowden, then TAO teams will be part of your threat model… I will discuss steps you should take to help identify your threat model in an upcoming article on BestVPN.com. In the meantime, this article does a good job of introducing the basics.
Use FOSS Software
The terrifying scale of the NSA’s attack on public cryptography, and its deliberate weakening of common international encryption standards, has demonstrated that no proprietary software can be trusted. Even software specifically designed with security in mind. The NSA has co-opted or coerced hundreds of technology companies into building backdoors into their programs, or otherwise weakening security in order to allow it access. US and UK companies are particularly suspect, although the reports make it clear that companies across the world have acceded to NSA demands. The problem with proprietary software is that the NSA can fairly easily approach and convince the sole developers and owners to play ball. In addition to this, their source code is kept secret. This makes it easy to add to or modify the code in dodgy ways without anyone noticing. The best answer to this problem is to use free open source software (FOSS). Often jointly developed by disparate and otherwise unconnected individuals, the source code is available to everyone to examine and peer-review. This minimizes the chances that someone has tampered with it. Ideally, this code should also be compatible with other implementations, in orderto minimize the possibility of a backdoor being built in. It is, of course, possible that NSA agents have infiltrated open source development groups and introduced malicious code without anyone’s knowledge. In addition, the sheer amount of code that many projects involve means that it is often impossible to fully peer-review all of it. Despite these potential pitfalls, FOSS remains the most reliable and least likely to be tampered with software available. If you truly care about privacy you should try to use it exclusively (up to and including using FOSS operating systems such as Linux).
Steps You Can Take to Improve Your Privacy
With the proviso that nothing is perfect, and if “they” really want to get you “they” probably can, there are steps you can take to improve your privacy.
Pay for Stuff Anonymously
One step to improving your privacy is to pay for things anonymously. When it comes to physical goods delivered to an actual address, this isn’t going to happen. Online services are a different kettle of fish, however. It is increasingly common to find services that accept payment through Bitcoin and the like. A few, such as VPN service Mullvad, will even accept cash sent anonymously by post.
Bitcoin is a decentralized and open source virtual currency that operates using peer-to-peer technology (much as BitTorrent and Skype do). The concept is particularly revolutionary and exciting because it does not require a middleman to work (for example a state-controlled bank). Whether or not Bitcoins represent a good investment opportunity remains hotly debated, and is not within the remit of this guide. It is also completely outside of my area of expertise! You can read the full article on BestVPN.com.
A number of VPN providers now accept payment via Bitcoin, but which is the best one? In certain circumstances, remaining anonymous is important. When you pay for services from your bank account, you create a trail that leads straight to your door. Bitcoin allows you to store your money outside the banking system. You don’t need to attach any personal details to the “wallet” that stores your money. Instead, a code identifies your value store. However, you can easily destroy that anonymity if you create a trail into and out of your wallet. Receiving payments into your wallet can also give away your identity. However, if you can’t make or receive payments without giving away your identity, what good is Bitcoin?
How Can I Keep My Bitcoin Wallet Anonymous?
You can keep your Bitcoin wallet anonymous with a little planning. Firstly, you need to create a pseudonym by which you can be recognized without giving your identity away. You create lots of pseudonyms in your life on the internet without any difficulty. The usernames that you select when signing up for services or social media platforms are essentially pseudonyms. However, these usernames are usually linked to some real-world form of identification. You can create webmail accounts without giving any personal details. You can then use those relatively anonymous email addresses to access services. The next step is to prevent anyone tracing your Bitcoin payments through your IP address. This can be achieved using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). When you connect to websites through a VPN, your transactions are identified by the VPN server’s IP address, not yours. VPN companies own thousands of IP addresses. They cycle through them regularly. Most successful VPNs also have millions of customers. That makes it very difficult to trace your activities. One weak point in the privacy that VPN services offer is that the VPN company itself can keep track of your activities. It can identify you through its cross-reference between your allocated IP address and your real IP address. If your VPN keeps that information on file, a court order can force it to hand it over to the authorities. The simple solution to this is to pick a VPN service that keeps no logs. You can read more tips on how to mask your identity when using Bitcoin further on in this article. However, first take a look at the five best VPNs for Bitcoin payments. For any VPN to qualify for this list, it has to keep no records of customers’ activities, provide unbreakable encryption, and accept anonymous Bitcoin payments. Remember to create a pseudonym to use with your Bitcoin account. Also, don’t forget that you have to protect your identity when collecting payments as well as when paying out of your wallet. You probably don’t need full anonymity in your day-to-day life. As such, why not run your regular finances through a standard bank account? You can then reserve your Bitcoin transactions for activities that you want to remain private. Avoid contact between your Bitcoin account and your bank account(s) to avoid links between you and your Bitcoin wallet.
The Problem with Paying for Digital Services in the EU…
Paying for digital services when you’re in Europe can present a problem. EU requirements specify that all charges for online services have to include Value Added Tax (VAT). VAT is levied at the rate of the European country in which the customer is making the purchase. It is not levied at the rate of the service provider’s location. The VAT rule applies to companies that are based outside of the EU as well. That means that if you subscribe to a VPN service that is based in the US, such as IPVanish, that company has to identify your location and apply the VAT rate for the EU country that you’re in at the moment you pay. Vendors are required to seek two forms of location confirmation. Just about all of these include factors that will identify you. These can include the address of your bank account or your home address. These requirements make matters complicated if you’re travelling within Europe and not in your home country. That’s because online service companies have to provide the address of your bank account. This applies even if the payment is processed by a third party company. Thus having a PayPal account, or paying through Bitcoin, doesn’t protect you. The Bitcoin payment processor has to return details of your address to the service provider along with confirmation of payment. If the two identifying pieces of information don’t match the location of your IP address, the service cannot be provided.
…and the Solution
A simple solution to this problem is to make sure that you don’t appear to be in an EU country when you sign up for a VPN (or other service). That way, all of the location identification requirements disappear. You can perform this trick when signing up for a VPN by employing another VPN at the point of paying. This sounds a bit mad, but some free VPNs can help you out with that. AirVPN offers a three-day trial subscription for €1. You can take out that subscription using your real bank account, then turn the VPN on with a non-EU server location engaged. You can then sign up for another VPN service, such as IPVanish, or ExpressVPN. As a non-EU customer, the VPN company will not have collect your location details. You can thus proceed with the purchase via Bitcoin anonymously. So long as the VPN you use during your purchase doesn’t keep logs, there will be no way for anyone to connect you to the VPN account you set up with a Bitcoin payment. You can read the full article on BestVPN.com.
The nonstop increase of Bitcoin price over dollar has shown its reverse side. It has given birth to a brand new cybercrime industry based on numerous scams, even if they are easy to get. Crafty rascals target naive internet users in a bid to cause them to lose their Bitcoins. This article lists most popular cryptocurrency-related scams to help you separate the grain from the chaff when dealing with Bitcoin transactions.
Fake Bitcoin Exchanges
Whenever you encounter an advertisement promising to sell you Bitcoins at a low price, be aware that it might be trying to lure you to a rogue cryptocurrency exchange website. The primary thing to look at when you visit any exchange service is whether or not it makes use of HTTPS. If the web address begins with HTTPS, it indicates that all interactions of your web-browser and the service are encrypted and quite secure. In the event it’s HTTP, using this kind of an exchange is dangerous. Another sign of a phony service is the PayPal to BTC exchange fraud. Such websites offer a web form for you to type in your PayPal email and the sum of money you plan to spend. After that, a QR code appears to confirm the transaction. However, instead of receiving your Bitcoins, you just get your PayPal account stolen.
Rogue Bitcoin Wallets
It’s slightly more difficult to recognize rogue Bitcoin wallets, since the primary goal of any wallet is to store BTC rather than trade it. Thus, this kind of fraud isn’t generally geared toward immediate monetary gains. In fact, they most often seek to trick you into installing malware that can steal sensitive data. To identify fraudulent wallets, be on the lookout for suspicious hallmarks. Ask people you trust if they’ve used the service before. Check online reviews and scores. If the Bitcoin wallet is an application for downloading, examine it for risky code. Sites like VirusTotal can scan software binaries for known infections using two dozen anti-viruses simultaneously.
Phishing is probably the most prevalent scam in the online world. It’s aim, in relation to Bitcoin, is to get you to visit a rogue website camouflaged as a well-known and legitimate service. By visiting pseudo services, you’re at risk of not only losing your Bitcoins but having all of your sensitive data compromised, along with your identity stolen. The malicious phishing email message may appear to originate from an exchange or wallet service you’re using. The cyber-crooks could have acquired your personal details after a big data breach like the notorious Yahoo hack. The general guideline is to avoid clicking on hyperlinks inside emails. A malicious hyperlink can seem entirely genuine. It uses several redirect steps to finally bring you to the site controlled by hackers. To stay away from this hazard, type URLs directly into your browser or use your bookmarks. You should also approach email attachments with Attachments frequently deliver viruses like ransomware. Fraudsters may also use web ads or black SEO to direct you to visit a bogus Bitcoin exchange or wallet while Googling terms like “Buy Bitcoin” or “Bitcoin exchange.” Booby-trapped sites will frequently show up among top search results. Again, use VirusTotal to check if websites are safe.
Bitcoin Ponzi Schemes
Certain websites propose tempting BTC deals. They look too good to be true. That’s because they are. Based on their claims, you can increase your BTC twofold by the very next day. This is a typical Ponzi scheme. As soon as you send your Bitcoin, the likelihood of you getting even the initial quantity back is very low. Such websites usually include referral programs that allow their members to earn some cash from new customer leads. As such, a referral link in URLs on social media should act as a warning sign. Referral links look like this: website.com/?ref=826.
Cloud Mining False Promises
Cloud mining relates to a model in which individuals group together and put in money to rent Bitcoin mining equipment. This idea is great and totally legit. However, crooks launch their scams to attract interested people and eventually give a lower return on investment, rather than keeping their promises. To avoid cloud mining scams, look closely at possible indicators of risk. Stay away from services marketed via referral links. Be sure the website is open and honest when it comes to what pool is employed for mining, who operates it and the amount of income you can get. A professional service will generally include a dashboard to manage the process and monitor all operations.
In-person Trading Thefts
Bitcoin theft extends past the online world. With new legislation and control over cryptocurrency trading gearing up in certain parts of the globe, citizens may have problems buying and selling Bitcoins in the usual way. These challenges have stimulated the Bitcoin economy to begin migrating offline. Traders are starting to meet face-to-face to conduct exchanges. A number of cases show how risky peer-to-peer Bitcoin exchanging may be. In April 2017, an entrepreneur from India was robbed when he tried to buy BTC at an attractively low price. He met with the supposed dealers at a shopping center. The crooks then abducted and robbed him. The lesson you can learn from this kind of offline cybercrime incidents is that it’s best to refrain from meeting unknown people in person to exchange BTC, especially when carrying large sums of money.
Bitcoin Security: Conclusion
The world of Bitcoin is growing. If you plan to be a part of it, hopefully the above steps will help you stay safe and secure while trading and using your BTC. You can read the full article on BestVPN.com.
We repeatedly read that the blockchain is very cool – it’s a breakthrough, it’s our future, and so forth. If you believe all this is true, you’re in for a disappointment. Important note: this article deals with the implementation of blockchain technology, which is used for the Bitcoin cryptocurrency. There are other applications and implementations of the blockchain and certain issues are resolved in some of them.
Bitcoin creators had a task: to make it work without a central control point; no-one should trust anyone. The authors fulfilled the task, the resulting electronic money functioned as intended and its adoption has grown. However, the decisions they made are monstrous in their inefficiency. The purpose of this post is not to discredit the blockchain. It’s a useful technology that has many great applications. Despite its shortcomings, it has unique advantages. However, in the pursuit of sensationalism, many journalists concentrate on the advantages of blockchain technology and often forget to assess the real state of affairs. They ignore the disadvantages. Therefore, it’s useful to consider the blockchain from all angles.
Myth One: Blockchain Is a Giant, Distributed Computer
Those who don’t understand the basic principles of blockchain may be under the impression that it’s some kind of computer that performs distributed computing tasks, while its nodes around the world are gathering small bits of data to build something complicated and big. This is not the case. In fact, all the nodes that serve the blockchain are doing precisely the same thing. Millions of computers:
Check the same transactions using the same rules. They perform an identical job.
Add the same data to the blockchain.
Store the whole history, which is the same and one for all.
There’s no parallelization, no synergy, no mutual assistance. There’s just duplication and, most importantly, it’s million-fold duplication. There’s no efficiency at all, as you can see.
Myth Two: Blockchain is Eternal – Everything Written There Will Remain Forever
The entire history of all transactions already runs to over 130 gigabytes of data. This is the full capacity of a cheap laptop or a modern smartphone. The more transactions that occur in the Bitcoin network, the faster the volume grows. The growth in the capacity of hard disks is probably not keeping up with the growth of the size of the blockchain. In addition to the fact that it needs to be stored, the whole database must be downloaded from the very beginning. It now takes several days to do so. You may ask: “Is it possible to store just part of the blockchain, since it’s the same thing on every node of the network?” Yes, you could, but then it would be a traditional client-server architecture instead of a peer-to-peer blockchain. Also, clients will be forced to trust servers. Thus the idea of “not trusting anyone,” which is the cornerstone of the blockchain, disappears. For most users, this principle has already gone. Bitcoin users are divided into two groups: enthusiasts who “suffer” and store it locally, and ordinary people who use online exchange services and wallets. The latter are much more prominent. These people trust the server and don’t care how it works.
Myth Three: Blockchain is Effective and Scalable
If each node of the network does the same thing, it’s obvious that the bandwidth of the entire network is equal to the bandwidth of one node of the network. Bitcoin can process a maximum of seven transactions per second – that’s it. In addition, Bitcoin transactions are recorded only once every ten minutes. After the record appears, it’s agreed to wait another 50 minutes, because some records spontaneously roll back from time to time. Thus if you need to buy chewing gum, you may have to wait an hour or so in the store in order to complete the transaction! With such a transaction speed, it’s impossible to increase the number of active users substantially. For comparison, Visa processes thousands of operations per second. It can also quickly increase this rate, as traditional banking technologies are easily scalable.
Myth Four: Miners Provide Network Security
You’ve probably heard of miners, and of giant mining farms built next to power stations. What are they doing? They’re just wasting electricity! They “shake” the blocks until they become “beautiful” and can be included in the blockchain. Rewriting the financial history in this way takes as much time as creating it (provided you have the same total capacity). To build one block, you need the same amount of electricity as an average city consumes per 100,000 inhabitants. Add to that the costly equipment, which is suitable only for mining, and you can formulate the principle of mining (the so-called proof-of-work) as: “Burning the resources of mankind.” Blockchain optimists assert that miners ensure the stability and security of the network. The problem here is that the miners protect Bitcoin from other miners. If there were a thousand times fewer miners who burned a thousand times less electricity, Bitcoin would function just as well as now – the same one block every ten minutes, the same number of transactions, the same speed. With regard to most blockchain solutions, there’s a risk of the “51% attack.” The essence of the attack is that if someone controls more than half of all mining capacities, he can secretly write an alternative financial history, in which he doesn’t send his money to others. And then he may present his own version of the blockchain – which will become a new reality. Thus, he gets an opportunity to spend his money several times. It’s not possible to attack traditional payment systems in this way. Ultimately, Bitcoin is a hostage of its own ideology. “Superfluous” miners can’t stop mining because there will be a sharp increase in the likelihood that one entity will control more than half of the remaining capacity. As long as mining is profitable, the network is stable, but if the situation changes (for example, because electricity prices rise), the network may face massive double-counted transactions.
Myth Five: The Blockchain is Decentralized and Thus Unbreakable
You may think that since the blockchain is stored on each node of the network, the security services won’t be able to shut it down (since the blockchain doesn’t have a central server or something similar). This is just an illusion. In reality, all “independent” miners are united in pools, or rather, cartels. They have to unite because it’s better to receive a stable but small income than to wait 1,000 years to get a huge one. There are only about 20 large pools. The largest four of them control more than 50% of all Blockchain capacity. It’s enough to knock on just four doors and get access to four Command & Control servers to have the opportunity to spend the same BTC more than once. In fact, the threat is even more real. Most of the pools, along with their computing power, are located in one country – China – which simplifies the potential Bitcoin takeover.
Myth Six: Anonymity and Openness of the Blockchain is Good
We know that the blockchain is open and everyone can see everything. Though Bitcoin doesn’t list your name, it’s not completely anonymous. For example, if a cybercriminal gets a ransomwarepayment to his wallet, then everyone understands that this wallet belongs to a bad guy. And since anyone can monitor and follow all the transactions from this wallet, it won’t be easy for the crook to take advantage of this money. It’s enough to make a small mistake and reveal your identity somewhere for law enforcement officials to catch you. This happens more often than you might think. These days, almost all Bitcoin exchanges require their users to go through identification procedures. Therefore, hackers have to use the so-called “mixer” services. Such services mix dirty BTC with lots of clean ones. Crooks pay large commissions for this and take a lot of risks, since the mixer is either anonymous (and could run away with the money) or is already under the control of law enforcement authorities. The pseudo-anonymity of Bitcoin may be bad for legitimate users too. Here’s a simple example: Someone transfers a small amount of BTC to his mother. After that, mother knows:
How much money her son has at any given time
What exactly he spent it on
Or, if someone pays a debt to a friend, that friend now knows everything about the first friend’s finances. It’s the equivalent of opening the financial history of your credit card for everyone on Earth to see. This is a critical issue for businesses. All their counterparties, purchases, sales, customers, transfer amounts and everything else becomes public and accessible by competitors.
Blockchain Myths: Conclusion
You have just read about the six main Bitcoin shortcomings. You may wonder why the media doesn’t cover these issues. Unfortunately, it’s simply not profitable for them to write about these matters. Many of those who bought Bitcoin began to advertise and promote it, as well as to profit from it. Why, then, would they write about the blockchain technology’s shortcomings? Bitcoin has many competitors, who have tried to solve certain problems. Although some ideas are very good, they’re all built around the same basic blockchain principles. Yes, there are other, non-monetary applications of blockchain technology, but the fundamental drawbacks of the blockchain apply there too. You can read the full article on BestVPN.com.
This is the ultimate guide to Bitcoin Privacy. Learn how to buy bitcoins anonymously and securely! How to spend it without worrying, and more! Of course, we’ll show you how to buy the best VPN anonymously, however, the same process can be used to anonymously purchase pretty much any product that accepts Bitcoins. Do note, however, that physical products need to be delivered to a physical address and/or be collected in person. This is an updated version of a guide I originally published on this website back in 2013. Since then, many things have changed. The value of Bitcoin has shot through the roof, well-known trading websites such as Mt. Gox have closed down, and much more. In some places, you can now even buy Bitcoins from ATM machines!
What Is Bitcoin?
Bitcoin is the original cryptocurrency. It is a decentralized and open source virtual currency that operates using peer-to-peer (P2P) technology (much as BitTorrent and Skype do). Like traditional money, you can trade Bitcoin for goods or services (such as a VPN subscription) and exchange it for other currencies. Unlike traditional currencies, however, there is no “middleman,” such as a state-controlled bank.Bitcoins are instead generated using a free computer program, at a predictable rate determined by the amount of processing power dedicated to their generation. This process is known as Bitcoin mining. In theory, anyone can do it. A Bitcoin is not a physical thing; it is a cryptographic algorithm consisting of a public key and private key. Some vendors do sell physical notes and coins denominated in Bitcoin, but what they are really selling is a private key (usually protected by a seal which you must break) together with a public key that you can use to verify the balance.
In practice, Bitcoin mining requires a large amount of processing power – so much so that mining is impractical for most individuals. However, it is possible to join a Bitcoin mining pool (or similar organization) to help spread the costs (and rewards). The prohibitive cost of Bitcoin mining is in part responsible for the current craze for mining alternative cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum, which has a much lower entry point than mining for Bitcoins. Bitcoin mining is not the focus of this article, but if you are interested in the subject then there is an excellent article here. You may also be interested in our .
Since the release of Bitcoin in 2009, numerous other virtual cryptocurrencies have been developed. Many of these have features that offer distinct advantages over Bitcoin (including being more anonymous). None of these alternatives, however, have achieved anything near the popularity of Bitcoin. This limits their real-world usefulness when you want to buy things.
Bitcoin And Anonymity
There are two sides to the Bitcoin when it comes to anonymity. The first thing to stress is that Bitcoin is not inherently anonymous. However, it can be made so (at least to a high degree). Please always bear in mind that 100% anonymity can never be guaranteed. Central to the concept of Bitcoin is the . This is basically a public ledger that records Bitcoin transactions. Transactions in the form payer X sends Y bitcoins to payee Z are broadcast to the Bitcoin network for all the world to see. Thus, from this perspective, Bitcoin is much less anonymous than, say, good old cash. As Sergio Lerner, CEO of Argentinian company Certimix, notes, It is possible to purchase Bitcoins and hold a Bitcoin address without revealing your true identity. This only provides a form of pseudonymity, though. Interested parties can use advanced data analysis techniques to look for patterns to de-anonymize users. Such wide-scale and sophisticated data analysis is Google and Facebook’s entire business model. However… You can use Bitcoin mixing techniques to further confuse who did what with Bitcoins. By randomly switching the ownership of Bitcoins, such techniques make de-anonymization via data analysis very hard to achieve. If you purchase and hold them without revealing your identity, and then properly mix them, Bitcoins canafford a high level of anonymity when performing transactions. I discuss ways to mix Bitcoins later in this guide. To more fully understand how Bitcoin and the blockchain works, The ultimate, 3500-word, plain English guide to blockchain by Mohit Mamoria is a fantastic introduction, as is our own Blockchain Explained guide.
The Bitcoin Cash Hard Fork
Because nothing is ever easy, on 1 August 2017 Bitcoin split into two derivative currencies: Bitcoin Classic (BTC or XBT) and Bitcoin Cash (BCH or BCC). This split is known as the Bitcoin Cash hard fork and the reasons are highly technical.
Bitcoin Classic Vs. Bitcoin Cash
If you had any Bitcoin in your wallet and have possession of the private keys, then you are now also entitled to claim an equal number of Bitcoin Cash coins. Thus, if on 1 August 2017 you had a wallet with one Bitcoin in it, you still have that Bitcoin and can nw also claim one Bitcoin Cash coin (BCH). If you are just starting with Bitcoins, then you’ll need to decide between purchasing Bitcoin Classic or Bitcoin Cash. Some points to bear in mind are:
Bitcoin Classic is much better established and far more vendors accept it as a form of payment.
Most Bitcoin wallets and many exchanges don’t accept Bitcoin Cash.
However, Bitcoin Cash allows for more transactions per second. This translates to faster payments and lower fees.
1,500 more blocks were mined on the Bitcoin Cash chain than on the original one.
The market price for Bitcoin Cash has fluctuated wildly over the last month, but in general it has seen steady growth.
As already noted, this article was written just one month after the hard fork. It will be interesting to see how the situation develops. For the purpose of this article, I will assume regular Bitcoin Classic is used. However, while there may be big differences between the currencies from an investment viewpoint (on which I am not qualified to comment), there is almost no difference in the front-end of how they are used. Indeed, they are based on the same code. As such, you can expect to see more Bitcoin Cash versions of existing Bitcoin software going forward, as tweaking code for the new currency is almost trivially easy. You can read the full article on BestVPN.com.
Cryptocurrency is the bipolar of the trading world. The volatility is insane; you’ll see major swings from 12% to 300% in a single day! With movement like this, it can be hard for anyone, let alone a newcomer to the cryptocurrency exchange, to make heads or tails of the market. Good news is there are a lot of people doing research on this exact topic (like us!) who can help you figure out the best way to turn a profit when cryptocurrency trading. So, if you’re in the mood to make some money but can’t make sense of all the cryptomarket lingo, check out some of these cryptocurrency trading hacks (spoiler, there are hacks for novices and experienced traders, so skip the first few if this isn’t your first rodeo). Cryptocurrency Trading Hack #1: Start at the beginning If you’re a newbie to the world of cryptocurrency trading, then the first and most important hack you can hear about is to learn! Jumping in without knowing what you’re talking about is a guaranteed recipe for disaster. So, before you put your money where your mouth is, get educated. Understand the market, terms, and trends. Know what terms like falls, rises, volatility, and swing trading mean. Understand what blockchain is and how it helps. Learn the different trading strategies and when to use which. Dylan from Six-Figure Marketers Club put out one of the best beginner’s cryptocurrency trading strategy videos. It starts at the beginning and proceeds to walk you through all the basics you’ll need to start trading bitcoin. The best part of this video (and all his videos, really) is that he speaks English clearly! You’d be surprised how difficult it is to find a good cryptocurrency video tutorial by a native English-speaker, so Dylan’s stuff is really golden. What’s more, Dylan explains everything clearly, so you will really walk away from this video understanding the ABC’s of cryptocurrency trading. As they say, knowledge is power! Cryptocurrency Trading Hack #2: Only invest what you can afford to lose Ok, this one doesn’t seem like a pro tip, but if you’ve ever lost money in any investment platform, you know that sticking to this rule is key. Picture this: You invest a large sum of money, probably more than you can really afford, but it’s ok because your broker ensures you that this is a solid bet. Lo and behold, the market swings the other way, and you lose everything you’ve invested. You’re devastated, heartbroken, and what’s more, you’re broke. Now, what do you do? The smart investor walks away, but that’s not everyone. Too many people get the itch. I’ve come this far, I’ve invested so much. I can’t turn back now. So, they invest more and more and keep sinking in deeper and deeper. This is a dangerous game you don’t ever want to play, so make sure you don’t even start your game strategy this way. Set a certain amount of money you’re willing to invest, and make sure that is only money you can responsibly afford to lose. This way, if you lose it all, you’ll still be able to pay your bills, make rent, and take care of your regular obligations without feeling any pressure. If you make a profit, that’s great! Go ahead and invest some of that too. Cryptocurrency Trading Hack #3: Use the right software/tool/trading platform Up there with knowing what you’re doing is knowing which platform to do it on. The right platform will give you the best advantages when trading cryptocurrencies. You’d be amazed at what a difference a convenient and smooth mobile app makes. Other features to look out for when scouting platforms include what type of security the exchange offers, the exchange, trade, and deposit-withdrawal fees charged. Cryptocurrency Trading Hack #4: Using the MACD Indicator for buy and sell signs I think this is one of the best beginner’s strategies. MACD aka moving average convergence divergence scale is an indicator that follows the momentum of an asset based on the movement of two averages of the security’s price. It sounds much more complicated than it really is (and if you’ve never used it before, let B from Your Altcoins show you exactly how it’s done), but once you play around with it, you’ll see just how simple it is. Basically, following the MACD indicator will show you when is the best time to sell your investments (it can also show you when is a good time to enter or not enter into an investment). There are different settings like you can micromanage down to every five minutes or let it go for days, so play around with it to see which ones you like best and which are most successful for you. Toggle the different timeframes, how often it displays, etc. until you find the groove that works for you. Regardless of which settings you use, the MACD indicator will show you two lines, one showing rise and one showing fall. If you follow these two trends, you’ll be able to see clearly when to sell to make the most profit. Try it out, you’ll be amazed at how easy this one is. Cryptocurrency Trading Hack #5: Use Momentum Momentum is a pretty simple concept: if things start going up, they keep going up. And when things start going down, they continue in that direction too. In general, the strategy works using this logic. Momentum says to buy a week after a currency experiences an upward trend (20% or more), and then sell a week or so later. Of course, this isn’t always the case (see the next few hacks for a solution to this strategy loophole), there are plenty of times that assets will keep climbing and you’ll kick yourself for having sold, but at least you’ll make some profit off of the currency using this strategy. Plus, you’ll be really happy if the asset drops suddenly since you won’t have lost everything in one fell swoop. I thought this was a great video for clarifying momentum. It’s only 15 minutes, but it explains the strategy pretty clearly. What’s more, this video is solidly backed by real research done by Yale University studies and findings. So, the information is really something you can take to the bank. Cryptocurrency Trading Hack #6: Take profits… One of the biggest mistakes that investors can make is not taking profits when they see a rise. It’s natural for you to want to hold out for a bigger gain, and that’s fine. But with such a volatile market and such rapidly moving changes, it’s just a bad idea to keep everything in for the big payout. If you want to see just how far you can ride the gravy train, by all means, go for it. Just do yourself a favor and take your profits out first. If you’ve invested $1,000 and you see a rise, and your investment is now worth $1,200, take that $200 gain as your profit. Then if you want to leave the initial $1,000, you haven’t lost anything more than what you originally knew you could lose anyway. Either way, you’re still up $200! Cryptocurrency Trading Hack #7: …But don’t take out everything Ok, so you want to make sure you take out your profit before the asset loses its value, BUT you don’t want to take out everything, and that’s the next cryptocurrency trading hack. Basically, you want to take out your profit and leave the rest. Why? Because when an asset goes up in value, it’s the time to make your profit. Yay! But there are so many times when a currency rises…and then continues to rise for quite some time. If you sold early on, you’ll be kicking yourself for months or even years that you didn’t hold out for a bigger slice of the pie. This CryptoLand video explains this concept really well, so if you want to learn more about it, check it out. Cryptocurrency Trading Hack #8: Use MTP ProperlyModern Portfolio Theory (MPT) basically posits that you set aside a certain amount of money that you are willing to invest (i.e., lose) and buy an assortment of assets consistently regardless of the price. The reason this works is because the assets aren’t directly correlated, so you aren’t going to feel the pressure of all your assets moving in the same direction at one time. A good spread of assets could yield an excellent return over time. The real hack here is to use MPT properly. That means diversifying your assets across markets, not just sticking to cryptomarkets. Why? Because all cryptocurrencies are too highly correlated right now to be considered varied enough to protect you against the risks. Cryptocurrency Trading Hack #9: Breakouts Breakouts are one of the most popular investment strategies (whether you’re buying low or selling high), and here’s a quick video that’ll tell you everything you need to know about it. Chris just has a personable air to him, but more importantly, he tells you all the right information in simple terms that anyone can understand. Plus, Chris actually makes trading sound like fun, so check it out! Cryptocurrency Trading Hack #10: Make sure you’re secure This last one also seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be amazed at how many people operate in this mode (scared face emoji!) Cryptocurrency trading is somewhat of a wild wild west of exchanges, and that means there are a lot of people looking to take advantage of you. There are plenty of built-in security features, but you’ve got to do your part to keep yourself and your investments safe too. When trading, make sure:
You have two-step authentication enabled
You’ve read up and are aware of phishing and email scams
You keep your cryptocurrency keys available (you forget your passwords, you’re screwed!)
With these ten hacks in hand, you can make a profit and really have some fun with this 21st-century investment trading opportunity. Go for it! This article was originally published at YouTubetoMP3Shark.
You might be somewhat familiar with the idea of blockchains, or you might have only heard of the phrase in passing (or you might not have any idea what a blockchain is but thought the article title sounded more interesting than the topic currently being discussed in the meeting your supervisor is making you sit through…). Either way, there are still a lot of questions that you probably have. What is a blockchain? How does a blockchain actually work? Are blockchains really as secure as they claim to be? Can you invest in blockchain itself? What is the advantage of blockchain? Maybe you’re getting more involved and want to delve deeper into the exciting and fascinating world of blockchains. In that case, your questions might be more advanced like: What programming language is used for blockchains? Is blockchain open source? Is blockchain hackable? Are there other use cases for blockchain beyond bitcoin storage? Will blockchain change the world? No matter what your string of queries, the best place to find the answers is always the internet. There are thousands and thousands of videos out there explaining the definition, uses, and inner workings of the blockchain. I know what you’re thinking. Great! Let’s sift through thousands of videos to find the ones that actually make sense, answer your questions, and give over the information you want in an appealing manner. If that doesn’t sound as much fun as a barrel of monkeys (why would a barrel of monkeys be fun anyway?!), then you’re in luck. Since we know how interested our readers are in the topic, we’ve aggregated the best videos from across the web that talk about blockchains. From the straight-up definition to the more advanced jargon that most of us will never really understand, check out the 5 most useful blockchain videos out there to help you get started down the path of blockchain wisdom. Great Blockchain Video #1: What is blockchain? CNBC Explains by Tom ChittyAnd here’s why: It gives you all the important information you want to know, starts from the beginning, and explains the entire concept well There are a lot of blockchain for beginners videos. You’ll recognize them by the names like, what is a blockchain, blockchain explained, or blockchain for beginners. The truth is, though, that most of these videos take a lot for granted, assume you know more than you actually do about the topic, or don’t really explain the concept in a practical way. And that’s why this CNBC exclusive done by Tom Chitty is our first recommendation for anyone who is just starting out on the learning journey to blockchain technology. If you can understand the accent and overlook the poor wardrobe choices, then you can actually learn a ton from this explanation video. Chitty goes through the ABCs of blockchains, showing the negatives alongside the positive uses for blockchains. He also shows you exactly how it works, why it is so secure, and what future applications might be possible for this technology. The CNBC video also takes you through the benefits and possible financial ramifications that are involved in embracing this technology. All in all, Chitty does a great job of explaining a complex topic and gives you a lot of food for thought. Great Blockchain Video #2: New Kids on the Blockchain by Lorne LantzAnd here’s why: Practical ways people are currently putting blockchain to good use and how they will even more so in the future Aside from the fact that this is a TED talk, which automatically makes it amazing, Lorne Lantz explains exactly how blockchain works quickly and eloquently. He then moves on to break down how blockchain works within the bitcoin universe, something that most people are curious about. Finally, Lantz illustrates how blockchain can be used in other instances. This is not only fascinating, but it is a great way to educate the public about how this brilliant technology can be utilized in the future and within our day-to-day interactions. Great Blockchain Video #3: Understand the blockchain in two minutes by Institute for the Future (IFTF)And here’s why: It’s fast and easy to watch but surprisingly thorough for a two-minute video We all want to know more about various topics like cybersecurity, the effect of drug and alcohol combinations, or depression and prevention. But let’s face it, we’re lazy! And what’s more, our attention spans are shorter than Michael Jordan’s laughable attempt at becoming a baseball star. For this reason, I am highlighting this video from IFTF. The Institute for the Future does snapshots of interesting topics, trending concepts, and technological advancements that they deem worthy of a closer look. This video on blockchain is just two minutes long, but somehow it manages to explain everything you really need for a cursory understanding of the topic (and even a little more). So, if you’re already antsy just from reading this intro, check out the IFTF blockchain video (you can watch it double speed if you’re that strapped for time!). Great Blockchain Video #4: How the blockchain will radically transform the economy by Bettina WarburgAnd here’s why: Food for thought on a more advanced technology that is offering a safer and more reliable forum for value exchange Whether you’re a conspiracy theorist, a budding financial mogul, or just someone who thinks it’s really cool to see entire empires brought to their knees by the unlikely underdog (think David and Goliath or Spartans against the Persians), this is a must watch video. Bettina Warburg explains briefly how throughout history we have used various methods to exchange values within our societies. From protection to fish and coins and now to the more advanced banks and digital currencies, the world has always had its way of trading valuables for desired goods. In this video (yep, another TED talk), Warburg takes us through the process of how blockchain is the next chain in the evolution of value exchange. She expertly breaks it down, so you can see how this makes sense on a sociological, economic, and technological level. What’s more, she demonstrates how blockchain is the safest, easiest, and most reliable method we have come up with yet. So basically, Warburg’s video shows viewers how blockchain is like a solid, unbreakable safe, which makes it more trustworthy and evergreen than any other transaction method that came before it. I don’t want to spoil the video for you, so just watch it for yourself. Great Blockchain Video #5: Blockchain: Massively Simplified Richie EtwaruAnd here’s why: A fabulous twist This video starts off seemingly like all other beginner’s guides to blockchain. It talks about the early days of the internet (those dark times of dial-up modems and even earlier ARPAnet packet switching technologies) and quickly fast forwards to show you how kickass technology has become (as if we needed a video to tell us that). All very interesting stuff, but nothing new. And then Etwaru does something that nobody else we’ve seen so far attempt. He takes blockchain and explains how it can bridge a gap that no other technology has been able to traverse, a gap that is so fundamental to human interactions and our society as a whole that it’s truly a marvel that we’ve gotten this far in history without having a more reliable failsafe for it. In this video, Etwaru explains that inventions are all about bridging gaps in our society, world, and lives. He then continues on illustrating how blockchain bridges the gap of trust, one of the most core and necessary element of our society, one that holds trillions of dollars on its wobbly shoulders. With his mesmerizing voice, witty personality, and mind-blowing revelation, Etwaru really blows the top off of this simplified concept. And that’s what makes his video on blockchain really stand out. Blockchain Explained, Expanded, and Explored So, there you have it. Sure, you could sit there for hours and hours watching video after video, sifting through the crap and suffering through the clunky terminology, but why bother? We’ve rounded up the cream of the crop, the best videos out there, the ones that’ll give you the biggest bang for your buck. In fact, if you just watch these five videos, you’ll: • Know all the basic information about what blockchain is, how it works, and what it’s used for • Be able to hold your own in a conversation that is arguing the different sides of blockchain • Have some interesting ideas to help stir up controversy when everyone’s talking about this technology at the office water cooler, at your next family barbecue, or this Thursday night at the bar • Just generally sound like a smartass because you know more about an interesting topic than almost anyone else in the room Of course, if you are a real newbie to the blockchain concept, then here’s some quick information to warm you up to the subject and to ensure you don’t sound like a complete idiot the next time the subject comes up. • Blockchain is an online database that can be accessed by anyone and from anywhere in the world (provided you have an internet connection) • Blockchain is decentralized, which means its ledger is shared on every computer around the world, so it has no single central location • Blockchain can be added to by anyone, but once a record (or block of information) is created, it cannot be tampered with, changed, or deleted • Bitcoin is NOT the only use case for blockchain technology. In fact, it’s just the beginning baby! From banking to cybersecurity, crowdfunding, Internet of Things, and healthcare, blockchain has so many real-life applications. Now that you’ve got all this information in your head, knowledge is power. So, get out there and do the best thing anyone can do with a boatload of interesting information; flaunt it in front of your friends. This article was originally published at YouTubetoMP3Shark.
Facebook is reportedly working on a cryptocurrency money transfer application that will be integrated into WhatsApp. The service, which is set to be launched in India upon approval, will apparently target the remittances market. According to Bloomberg, WhatsApp is developing a stablecoin for the project, and its value will be pinned to that of the U.S. dollar. A stablecoin will be able to overcome the huge price swings that affect the value of digital currencies such as Bitcoin whose rates can shift by over 10 percent within 48 hours. Facebook has been carrying out research related to blockchain and digital coins for some time now. In May, it put together a research unit headed by former President of PayPal, David Marcus. He is currently also Vice President of Messaging Products at the company. The group currently has about 40 researchers. Marcus is believed to have played a key role in the company’s latest crypto venture. The Facebook exec has previously talked about the prospect of bringing cryptocurrency payments to Facebook Messenger and pointed out a few drawbacks. In his view, high transaction fees and slow processing times would definitely hinder widespread adaptation of such a feature. He was, however, optimistic that the cryptocurrency community would in time come up with solutions that would make a crypto payment integration feasible. Facebook is reported to be on a hiring spree to build up its crypto-blockchain research and development team, which is currently comprised of former PayPal and Instagram execs. Some Facebook employees have also been recruited and including Geoff Teehan, who is Head of Product Design and Morgan Beller, a member of the Corporate Development team at the company.
Why Crypto Payments in India?
India tops the list of countries with the highest volume of cash remittances from abroad. Figures from 2017 stand at about $69 million, according to a recent World Bank report. This was a 9.9 percent increase from the previous year. Total global remittance figures reached $613 billion in 2017. Facebook is thought to be targeting this market with its WhatsApp crypto application. India currently has over 200 million WhatsApp users. The application also has a market penetration of about 28 percent, according to data from Statista.
WhatsApp Has Been Pushing for a Payment Service Approval
WhatsApp CEO, Chris Daniels, was recently reported to have sent a letter to the Reserve Bank of India requesting to extend payment services to its users in the country. The letter, which is dated November 5, sought for the approval of a BHIM UPI (Unified Payments Interface). The company is reportedly also working with the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) to fulfill regulatory requirements and has already started to implement recommendations from the RBI. They include data storage requirements that oblige the company to provide unfettered access of payments info to the RBI. The proposal is still awaiting approval. In February, WhatsApp began testing its payment platform in India. The project was undertaken in conjunction with ICICI Bank. Around 700,000 users reportedly took part in the program. The rollout was postponed after the Cambridge Analytica scandal exploded. It led to serious privacy concerns that prompted the Reserve Bank of India to issue a new directive targeting data storage and access requirements forcing the company to remodel the project. A crypto-payments system approval from the Indian government would make WhatsApp a leading funds transfer platform in the country.
The Impact on the Remittances Market in India
A cryptocurrency remittance feature is likely to lead to reduced costs in transactions, as well as, faster processing as opposed to conventional modes of money transfer. Regular cash transfer platforms charge transaction fees that can reach and exceed 5 percent of the total figure transacted. Making cross-border payments can attract a currency conversion fee. In many cases, the process can take a few days for the funds to reach the recipient. On the other hand, cryptocurrency transaction fees are usually extremely low. TRON transactions, for example, only lead to a fee of about $0.0000901, while Monero trades cost about $0.01. This is according to data obtained from Bitinfo Charts. Tether, which is the most popular stablecoin by market trade volume, does not charge any rates for transfers but applies withdrawal charges. This article was originally published at CoinCentral.com.
On May 22, 2018, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a complaint against Titanium Blockchain, an Israeli start up in the middle of its ICO at the time. According to the SEC, the firm had violated the commission’s registration and anti-fraud regulations in the process of raising funding from investors. Charged with securities fraud, company founder, Michael Stollaire stands accused of falsifying information. Allegedly, the company was caught claiming false ties to large firms like Boeing, Disney, and PayPal.
WHAT IS TITANIUM BLOCKCHAIN?
According to their official website, Titanium Blockchain is a research, development and consulting company that offers full-scale blockchain development services to enterprises in several industries. They are focused on exposing corporations to the applications of blockchain technology for benefits such as increased efficiency and speed. The firm claims that it delivers deep insights to its clients, based on a wealth of experience within the field. They follow a comprehensive roadmap which encompasses every stage of operation, from elaborate planning and product architecture to selecting the best technical solutions, product definition, outlining R&D processes and final execution. Their main services include consulting, private and public blockchain development as well as ICO services. The Tel Aviv-based firm makes use of several existing blockchain applications including Hyperledger, NEO, Ripple, Waves, Cardano, Quorum, AION, Wanchain, Blockchain as a Service (BaaS), and Ethereum-based decentralized applications among others. In September 2018, Titanium blockchain announced that it officially became a technology partner of WLTH, a health blockchain platform which rewards users for achieving health goals. Some other significant partnerships include:
Gaby, a community management tool
Millentrix, a cryptocurrency management service
Verv, a smart home energy assistance that provides information on electricity usage
Bidipass, an ID verification solution
The ICO platform
WHAT WAS THE TITANIUM BLOCKCHAIN INFRASTRUCTURE SCAM?
According to a statement by Robert Cohen, head of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Cyber Unit: “This ICO was based on a social media marketing blitz that allegedly deceived investors with purely fictional claims of business prospects. Having filed multiple cases involving allegedly fraudulent ICOs, we again encourage investors to be especially cautious when considering these as investments.” In detail, the Titanium fraud involved an inflation scheme that allowed it to profit from deceiving investors. It entailed orchestrating a social media campaign, using fake testimonials and false claims of corporate relationships with over thirty well-known companies, to create the illusion of credibility and expertise to unsuspecting investors. This generated a high demand for their digital asset during the ICO stage since the brands that were falsely named gave the firm an extra layer of credibility. They also offered incentives and created a sense of urgency leading to FOMO (fear of missing out) which prompted investors to buy into their tokens without analyzing the project properly.
In its complaint against Titanium Blockchain, the SEC has also sued the firm for evading a valid offering exemption and registration. EHI Internetwork and Systems Management Inc., another company linked to Stollaire, was also mentioned in the complaint. Following the initial complaint, regulatory officials successfully obtained an emergency asset freeze which applied to the Titanium ICO in which over $21 million was raised. The SEC is focused on the retrieval of investor funds with interest and several penalties. The regulator also has plans to ban company founder, Stollaire, from any further participation in future digital offerings. Following the issuance of a temporary restraining order by the SEC, all involved parties have agreed to a preliminary injunction for the status of the firm to become a permanent receivership. This case can be linked to the recent focus on cracking down on fraudulent misrepresentation within the industry. The North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) has also increased its efforts to dismantle fraudulent activity carried out by cryptocurrency firms. To this effect, operation Crypto Sweep was launched in April 2018 and is currently investigating more than 50 firms. This is not the first time an ICO has been deemed fraudulent. In September 2017, the SEC filed charges against Maksim Zaslavskiy when it was revealed that fraudulent blockchain projects, REcoin and Diamond Reserve Coin ICOs only existed on paper. Through aggressive marketing tactics, Zaslavskiy was able to con about 100 investors out of $300,000. Neither coin issued investors’ tokens nor developed blockchain infrastructure as advertised. Recently, Centra, another budding blockchain startup, along with its three co-founders were accused of a similar case of misrepresentation in which they claimed strong ties to card network giants, Visa and Mastercard.
WHAT LESSONS CAN BE LEARNED FROM THIS SCANDAL?
Now that the cryptocurrency regulatory atmosphere is becoming stricter by the day due to new initiatives by regulators, there will likely be a reduction in fraudulent cases like that of Titanium Blockchain. If one thing is clear, it is that there is a lesson for both firms and investors within the space who either perpetrate fraud or fall prey to it. Firstly, in any ICO, issuers must adhere to publishing only truthful representations of their business model, promises, and operations in their whitepapers, press releases and any other documents that can be classed as marketing material. This also applies to social media use, since there is a large audience on several platforms who can become investors in future. Issuers must also check with regulators to see if their marketing tactics are legal and properly placed in a way that does not mislead the public on the nature of products or services being offered. This should be done before any marketing campaign begins, to avoid any problems. Generally, for issuers who use testimonials as a way to boost credibility and gain trust, extra care should be taken to ensure that they do not contain any misrepresentation, whether intentionally or not. Misrepresentation may lead to complaints and accusations from investors who feel that they have been defrauded. It goes without saying that the use of information, including logos and names from other companies without permission, attracts a legal consequence. The same thing goes for falsifying records such as certificates and degrees to show a high level of expertise. Any of these acts can invite regulatory scrutiny. The Howey Test may also be carried out, to determine the contract nature of the asset being offered. Investors who are looking to buy tokens from an issuer must be careful to carry out checks on such companies. These checks should typically include the background information of the company team members, their past companies, and performance. It is also imperative that investors confirm if such a firm is licensed to offer its tokens and which regulator issued the license. As for issuers who use testimonials from companies, investors could contact some of them to find out whether such claims are true.
Regulatory issues have plagued the cryptocurrency scene for a long time and have acted as a blockade for future development. If users are too scared to invest in blockchain projects because they are afraid of being scammed, how is the ecosystem supposed to move forward? Firms such as Titanium Blockchain, while under the guise of building the blockchain industry, have inadvertently contributed to tearing it down. Blockchain investment can be highly rewarding. However, due to fraudulent parties, it can also be disappointing. While regulators combat these parties and bring them to book, investors must be shrewd when deciding which projects to put any amount of money into. This article was originally published at MinDice.com.
SALT lending is a platform that provides Blockchain-Backed Loans. SALT (Secured Automated Lending Platform) enables you to put up your crypto as collateral in exchange for a cash loan. This strategy is ideal if you need to pay-off an unexpected expense or want to make a big purchase without having to sell-off your blockchain assets.
In this SALT lending guide, we’re going to outline:
SALT revolves around the company’s trademarked Blockchain-Backed Loans. Blockchain-Backed Loans are simply loans in which you hand over a blockchain asset, like Bitcoin, as collateral in exchange for traditional currencies. Unlike traditional auto or home loans, you can use these loans for any personal or business expense.
Originally, to use the SALT lending platform, you first needed to pay to become a member. There were three tiers of membership:
Base (1 SALT/year)
Premier (10 SALT/year)
Enterprise (100 SALT/year)
Higher membership tiers enabled you to borrow more money across additional currencies and gave you more flexible loan terms. Higher tiers also enjoyed a range of other perks such as early access to new products, portfolio management, and credit/debit cards.
Original SALT Lending Tier System
UPDATE: As of this writing, the company is reorganizing their memberships, so you’re unable to sign up for one. However, you’re still able to take out a loan. And, you no longer need SALT to do so. If you stake SALT for your loan, though, you’ll receive a better rate and/or terms. You need to provide several pieces of personal information to create an account and become a member. This information includes your first name, last name, valid email address, and country. You’re also subject to Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) restrictions, so be prepared to upload an ID.
On the other side of SALT are the lenders. Lenders have previously avoided dealing with cryptocurrencies because of the oftentimes complicated nature of the assets. SALT provides lenders with the infrastructure, compliance, and security they need to accept crypto collateral without adding additional costs to their current processes. In exchange for these services, lenders must also pay for a SALT membership.
Once again differing from traditional finance, SALT never inquires your credit score. Instead, the platform only uses the value of your crypto collateral to determine the terms of your loan. Lenders kick-off the loan process by posting the terms in which they’re willing to lend. As a borrower, you can look through the various terms and choose the one that’s best suited for you.
SALT Lending Process
Once you pick a loan, the loaners commit the cash funds while you provide collateral to a smart contract. The cash funds are sent directly to your bank account. You then pay monthly installments based on the loan terms, and when your loan is paid-off, SALT releases your collateral from the smart contract and returns it back to you.
The SALT Oracle creates the smart contracts for each loan and triggers the events of the loan. To lower the risk of default, the Oracle also records loan payments and monitors the changing value of the crypto collateral. Every loan starts with a loan-to-value ratio that’s calculated from the terms of the loan. This ratio is effectively the amount of the loan divided by the amount of collateral. For example, a $100,000 loan secured by $125,000 worth of Ethereum would have an original loan-to-value ratio of: $100,000 / $125,000 = 80.0%As you pay off the loan, this ratio decreases because the amount of the outstanding loan decreases. However, if the value of your collateral decreases due to a decline in the market price, this ratio will increase. If the ratio ever increases beyond the initial loan-to-value ratio, you’ll be required to either:
provide more collateral, or
pay-off an additional amount of the loan
until the ratio returns to the original level. The Oracle autonomously tracks the loan-to-value ratios and notifies the borrowers when it becomes too high. The amount of time a borrower has to correct the ratio differs based on the velocity of the price decline
SALT Lending Team & Progress
The SALT team is over 15 members strong and was led by Shawn Owen as CEO. Owen is a serial entrepreneur with years of experience in hospitality operations. In July 2018, Owen left the company leaving CTO Bill Sinclair to take his place. The most notable member of the SALT team is one of their advisors, Erik Voorhees. Voorhees is the founder and CEO of ShapeShift – one of the most popular crypto-to-crypto exchanges. SALT reached a big milestone in January 2018 by officially beginning to provide loans for top-tier members. The platform already has over 70,000 loans and has funded over $50,000,000 in those loans. Plans for 2018 included launching credit cards, creating loan funds, and expanding collateralization to other alternative coins as well. The team only hit some of those milestones. The company expanded support, adding Litecoin and Dogecoin loans. But, it looks as if credit cards and developer tools are still some time out.
SALT is the current leader in blockchain-based loans; however, there are a few other competitors popping up in the space. ETHLend and Elix are two younger competitors that provide decentralized lending on the Ethereum blockchain. SALT differentiates itself by focusing on institutional cash loans that are backed by cryptocurrency while the other two projects appear to have taken a peer-to-peer approach. Both use-cases should have a solid place in the market. Additionally, SALT is competing with more traditional platforms that provide crypto-backed loans but aren’t using a specific token.
SALT tokens, also known as membership tokens, are ERC20 tokens that you spend to become a member of the SALT lending platform. Furthermore, you can redeem these tokens to pay down loan interest, receive better rates on loans, and purchase items from SALT’s online store. At one point, these tokens held a different value on the lending platform than what they were trading for in the market. They used to be worth exactly $27.50 on the lending platform while trading at a value below that price. You could also previously pay-down the capital of your loans with SALT tokens. So, this created an interesting arbitrage opportunity. If you had the bankroll, you could technically get an Enterprise membership for $1200 and take out a $1M loan backed by $1.25M of Bitcoin. You could then turn around and buy $1M worth of SALT tokens from the market (~83,333 SALT). Because the SALT tokens were worth $27.50 on the platform you would only need to spend ~45,455 SALT tokens to pay back your loan. This would leave you with a little under 40,000 SALT tokens plus the original Bitcoin you put up as collateral – about a 40% return. The SALT team must have caught on to this scheme because they’ve since removed the opportunity.
SALT held their ICO in Q3 2017 in which you could purchase a membership token for $3.00 – $7.00 depending on the time that you bought it. There are a total of 120M SALT tokens, and just over 80M are currently circulating in the market. The SALT price briefly experienced the common “post-ICO” dip before spiking back up to a little over $7 in October 2017. Shortly after, the price fell to the $2-$4 (0.0003-0.0005 BTC) range and stayed there until December 2017.
Starting in December 2017, the price steadily rose and jumped to an all-time high of over $17 with the announcement that lending on the platform had finally begun. Since that high at the very end of 2017, the price has fallen drastically. Throughout 2018, the coin has lost over 98 percent of its value. It’s currently worth about $0.25. Because SALT isn’t required to use the lending platform, there’s not much that will cause the price to rise again. A healthy cryptocurrency market should help. And juicy enough membership incentives may also provide some positive demand-side pressure. Other than that, it’s tough to see this coin rising from the dead.
Where to Buy SALT
The most popular exchanges to purchase SALT are Binance and Bittrex. To trade for SALT on one of these exchanges you need to first have Bitcoin or Ethereum. If you don’t have either, you can purchase them with traditional currency on an exchange like Gemini and then transfer them over. For a full list of exchanges where you can buy SALT, check out CoinMarketCap.
Where to Store SALT
Because SALT is an ERC20 token, you have a few different options on where to store it. A popular online option is MyEtherWallet. The SALT website recommends that you use the Jaxx wallet and even provides instructions here. Jaxx is available on Android, iOS, Mac, Windows, Linux, and as a Chrome extension. The most secure way to store your tokens is by using a hardware wallet like Trezor or the Ledger Nano S. Using hardware wallets keeps your funds offline and out of the reach of hackers and ill-intended software.
The SALT lending platform is a great option if you want/need to make some real-world expenses and don’t want to lose the potential gains from your crypto holdings. Beyond that, the project works to solve a major problem of blockchain assets – illiquidity. By opening up an entirely new form of loans, the project brings more liquidity to the cryptocurrency market. The team has a solid foundation of blockchain experience and is advised by a leader in the industry. With a working platform in the market already, SALT is ahead of many other blockchain projects. That being said, there’s no requirement to use SALT tokens on the platform. So, it should make you wonder why the company has a specific token in the first place. Hopefully, the new membership tiers will make this more obvious. Editor’s Note: This article was updated by Steven Buchko on 12.04.2018 to reflect the recent changes of the project. This article was originally published at CoinCentral.com.