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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 23 January 2018 | 2:31 pm

PhD Student Wins 1 Bitcoin For Cracking DNA Code Challenge - Cointelegraph (Bitcoin, Cryptocurrency and Blockchain News)


Cointelegraph (Bitcoin, Cryptocurrency and Blockchain News)

PhD Student Wins 1 Bitcoin For Cracking DNA Code Challenge
Cointelegraph (Bitcoin, Cryptocurrency and Blockchain News)
A young PhD student has won 1 bitcoin by cracking a code in a tube of DNA - a challenge created at the 2015 World Economic Forum in Davos. University of Antwerp doctoral student Sander Wuyts successfully solved the DNA Storage Bitcoin Challenge before ...

Posted on 23 January 2018 | 1:24 pm

Edge's Paul Puey: “Digital Security Will Take Place on the Edges”

EdgeSecure CEO Paul Puey: “Digital Security Will Take Place on the Edges”

Security is one of the hottest topics in today’s ever-evolving digital world. A steady flow of debate continues to take place at tech forums worldwide on topics like encryption, passwords, two-factor authentication, hardware wallets and the like.

As cryptocurrencies and the tools being used to manage them take shape, questions loom about the most efficacious ways to protect both user assets and privacy. One individual who is at the epicenter of this active space is Paul Puey. He is co-founder and CEO of EdgeSecure, a blockchain-inspired, decentralized, open-source, zero-knowledge, global information security solution platform.

Airbitz, his signature enterprise was birthed in 2013 as a bitcoin wallet provider and merchant directory. Today, he’s orchestrating a rebrand of this wallet, now called Edge.

In an interview with Bitcoin Magazine, Puey talks about the tricky balance between new security and privacy measures being introduced and user experience. He also explores an emerging theme called “securing the edges” that forms the basis of his current work

BM: What sort of problems are you attempting to solve these days?

PP: The aspect of cryptocurrency we initially wanted to address revolved around how to effectively use secure keys. That was the impetus behind our decision to build a feature rich, functionally rich wallet at Airbitz over the years. We feel like this has really differentiated us in the whole area of key management.

BM: How does your concept of EdgeSecure fit in here?

PP: Our goal has been to broaden Airbitz by turning our key management standard into a platform for other apps. Even before we rebranded, we were already using the term Edge Security to examine how to come up with a solution that’s different from enterprise security. We view our approach as fundamentally different in the sense that we’re not trying to make a router or server more secure. Rather, our aim is to take data and secure it before it ever hits a device.

In short, we are able to secure data before it goes out onto a network or server. People and their devices are what we are trying to secure. That’s where the term Edge comes from — before a user’s data ends up on their device, goes out to a network, goes onto a server — the encryption of that data happens first, as we say, “on the edges.”

BM: But what about server networks?

PP: We still believe that server security is important. But the visibility and encryption of that data all happens first before the data gets saved, broadcast and sent out on the network or gets onto a server. The concept of making data private and secure to the point where only the user can access it “on the edges” has never been an area of focus for cybersecurity companies.

BM: So, in a nutshell, how does all of this actually work?

PP: It works through a combination of technologies we’ve had for decades but have never been packaged the way we are seeking to. The technology that we’ve developed involves encrypting data on the client side. Most of the software out there doesn’t do this. Rattle off any app that you are running on your computer or your phone, and the data you generate and create is not encrypted, let alone automatically backed up.

BM: Are there other security measures you’ll be employing?

PP: We’ve also added two-factor authentication, although I fundamentally hate it from a user experience point of view. Two-factor is particularly problematic and a poor approach if the second factor for authorizing access is a phone number or email address. It’s better than nothing, but it’s not what one would consider to be “good two-factor.”

BM: Is there a solution to this?

PP: Yes, since 2015, we’ve been employing what we call “one touch, two-factor,” where we take two-factor and make it invisible by baking it in our Airbitz app. This eliminates the need for notification by SMS or email, or via an app like Authy or Google Authenticator.

BM: Can you talk a bit about password recovery? This can be a big issue with crypto users.

PP: It is indeed. Think about this for a moment: If you lose your mobile phone or other type of device, in the Google Authenticator world you have just lost your access completely. So, it’s up to the service you are using to determine a recovery mechanism. What’s interesting is that some services don’t give you one. Others offer recovery via email, SMS, or other similar mechanism which then introduces the same issue. We, therefore, believe in recovery via time lock, where your account is locked for a period of time before you can reset it.

BM: In the meantime, are there ways to prevent users from losing their password in the first place?

PP: There is some psychology involved here. Part of our philosophy at EdgeSecure is to carefully align technology with humanity. This involves a recognition of the fact that we’re all fallible beings, that we do forget passwords. One step we employ to help people not forget passwords is to ask them to voluntarily enter it from time-to-time when they go to access their app. Our intent is to give them the opportunity to change it if they forget it at that moment.

BM: How exactly does this work?

PP: We have an algorithm inside of the app that has what we call a reminder “step off,” based on users actually entering it. This “step off” is how frequently we remind you based on how many times you’ve actually entered the password in the past. Obviously, you can get into the app with a pin, thumbprint and now facial ID. But if you lose that device, the password is the only way to get back on.

BM: This seems like an idea that other tech solution providers will likely want to pick up on.

PP: No doubt. We fashion ourselves as the world’s only password recovery for encrypted data. While that, in and of itself, is a patentable idea, we’ve opted to not patent, in the name of open source, open collaborative effort.

BM: What sort of criticism do you hear from the crypto community?

PP: One of the main ones we get is that we are not as secure as a hardware wallet. These criticisms come from people that often harbor the biggest fears of something that I have yet to see happen, namely, a person losing crypto from a device attack. Sure, you might hear of publications espousing theoretical exploits. But I haven’t seen evidence of a mass exploit with cryptocurrency taken on a device with encrypted data. Yet there are millions, if not billions, of dollars being poured into solutions for that problem.

BM: Aren’t hardware wallets a great resource then for those who have these concerns?

PP: They can be. But it’s important to keep in mind that with hardware wallets, the attack vector isn’t someone getting into it digitally over the internet. Rather, the attack vector is the individual user. I can’t count the number of people who say to me after purchasing a hardware wallet, “Now, I’m secure!” I then ask them, what did you do with the backup information? Often they’ll say, “I put it on Google Drive.” My response: “You did what? That’s the worst thing you could possibly do with the private key.”

BM: Finally, what are your thoughts regarding security vulnerabilities among centralized exchanges?

PP: It’s a big concern, no doubt. Coinbase is obviously the most recognizable example in the crypto world, but I don’t think that their model can survive long term. I’d describe them as a $15 billion piñata for hackers. Yes, they haven’t been hacked and I believe a combination of luck and skill has prevented that from occurring.

BM: So do you believe that it’s just a matter of time before a serious hack occurs?

PP: Let me say this. One of the hardest aspects of centralized security is that it doesn’t scale. In other words, the bigger you get, the harder it is for you to secure. And as the pot becomes bigger, you have to hire and entrust more and more people inside the company. So it takes just one bad apple with access and there goes a lot of user money.

BM: Where do you see this security space headed?

PP: In the next 3–5 years, we should actually see a trend where users will seek out what I call Edge-secured apps, where people can control their own data. These encryption and Edge solutions will be invisible to those using the app, which will go a long way toward enhancing user experience along with security and privacy.


This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Posted on 23 January 2018 | 1:11 pm

Stripe is giving up on bitcoin as a payment method - Recode


Recode

Stripe is giving up on bitcoin as a payment method
Recode
Stripe, which four years ago said it would become the first major online payments platform to accept bitcoin for payments, is ditching the idea. The company said Tuesday that the cryptocurrency had almost become a victim of its own popularity — the ...
Stripe is ending support for bitcoin payments on April 23TechCrunch

all 10 news articles »

Posted on 23 January 2018 | 12:45 pm

Virginia Lawmaker Calls for New Cryptocurrency Impact Study

A new bill introduced to the Virginia state legislature calls for a study on the impact of cryptocurrencies.

Posted on 23 January 2018 | 12:10 pm

Physical Bitcoins: Our Hands-On, End-to-End Review of Opendime

Opendime review

Opendime is a tiny USB flash drive that can be loaded with bitcoin by the first user and given to another user, who is, in turn, able to pass it along to a third user and so forth.

The private key attached to each Opendime is generated by the device at the time of setup by the user: It is not known by anyone, not even by the first owner or by the Opendime company itself. Opendimes can be passed along multiple times to other users and verified. An Opendime stick can only be redeemed by the last user, who must break the device to access the private key and import it into a bitcoin wallet.

A pack of three Opendimes can be ordered for $37.50. Though perhaps too technically demanding for casual Bitcoin users and arguably too expensive for transferring small values (the device is useless after getting the funds out), Opendimes are certainly usable as physical bitcoins.

“Opendime transactions are a little different from blockchain transactions,” notes the Opendime FAQ. “Whenever two people meet and trade goods or services for an Opendime, you could say a transaction has occurred, and yet there is nothing recorded on the blockchain. This is different from a normal bitcoin wallet which makes blockchain records continuously and can create a complex web of connections, which can later be explored by anyone.”

In other words, Opendimes can be used as totally anonymous, untraceable bitcoin cash. It is possible to do something similar with a paper wallet by printing a bitcoin address and its private key and then passing the paper wallet to another user, with no trace of the transaction recorded on the blockchain. “It is much more private because there is no subsequent blockchain transactions to track,” confirmed Opendime developer Rodolfo Novak in conversation with Bitcoin Magazine.

But the problem with using paper wallets in this way is that, somewhere along the transaction trail, someone could copy the private key and take the funds at any point after passing the paper wallet to the next user. Opendime solves this problem by hiding the private key, only revealing it to the last user who must break the device to take funds out.

Users of Opendime sticks can choose to pass their stick along to different owners only a few times before being emptied and destroyed, or they can treat their stick like physical cash, allowing it to change hands many times over years or decades. Novak confirmed that, according to user feedback, both scenarios are well used.

With bitcoin exchanges under increasing regulatory pressure, it seems likely that face-to-face exchanges like LocalBitcoins could become more popular, which could boost the adoption of Opendime. Novak confirmed that, indeed, users are pre-loading Opendimes and using them to sell bitcoin via LocalBitcoins.

According to Novak, Opendime is not vulnerable to regulatory actions because “the devices are ‘point solutions’ without any central service to be regulatory ‘captured.’”

Legally, Opendime is a trademark/product of Coinkite Inc., a company founded by Novak and Peter Gray and based in Toronto, Canada. Novak is skeptical of the possibility that Canadian regulators could order Coinkite to stop producing and selling Opendimes. “We and our lawyers don't believe that’s a possible scenario,” he said.

Opendime documentation claims the sticks will last for decades under normal usage conditions; however, Opendime hasn't been around for decades, so there's no way to know for sure. But, as Novak explained, the microchip used in each Opendime is rated for 25-100 years, as per the data sheet (page 816) linked in the FAQ.

“A few users have put it through a lot of abuse, washing machines, freezing, water, etc. and it survived,” said Novak

Novak also stated that it’s not practically possible to make a counterfeit because the device has a high security chip with a factory key just for that reason.

“They would have to break our private key, which is practically impossible,” said Novak. “Not even with a few tens of millions of dollars could they peel the chip and try to use an electron microscope to get our key because our chip choice also protects against peeling. So maybe a hundred million dollars could make that happen. If that happens the next batch would have a new key and they would have to spend the money again.”

The possibility remains, however, that malicious parties could make fake Opendimes, with an identical look and user interface, which claim a fake balance confirmed by a fake verification process. Therefore, it’s important to check the provenance of the device. Novak explained that there are a few ways for users to check an Opendime signature to verify it's not counterfeit, including a Chrome extension, the Samourai Wallet, which supports Opendime natively, Electrum (coming soon) and an open-source script.

Gray added that each Opendime ships with Python code for verification. “You can use a known-good Opendime to verify an unknown one,” he said. “No internet is required, and self-contained python code is used — just one command to be typed, which takes just seconds.”

How It Works

Anytime the stick is plugged into a computer, flickering green and red lights indicate its status. Only green means that the device is active; red indicates either that the device hasn’t been activated or that it has already been unsealed (broken) and can’t be used anymore. The lights work correctly even without a computer, with the stick connected to a USB charger or power pack. A file named index.htm on the stick provides all status information.

Bitcoin Magazine tested an Opendime stick end-to-end. When we plugged the Opendime stick into a computer for the first time, the red light flickered. The index file warned, “Your Opendime is new and unused. Follow these steps to pick a private key,” and gave us detailed instructions.

Following the instructions, we copied a few small files onto the device to seed a random number generator, which gets random bits from random.org. Once the private key was generated, the index file showed the stick’s Bitcoin address and a corresponding QR code.

Besides the index file and two folders with programs and utilities, there are four files on the stick: Address.txt, Private-key.txt, Qrcode.jpg and README.txt. The address and Qrcode files show the stick’s bitcoin address in both formats. The private-key file reads: “SEALED — See README.txt for details.” The README gives detailed instructions on how to use the Opendime stick, including how to verify that the device is authentic and how to get funds out.

The index file shows two status check buttons: “Check Balance” and “Verify.” Pressing the Verify button resulted in the status message “VERIFIED: Your Opendime does have control over the secret private key corresponding to Bitcoin payment address.” The balance was zero, of course, because we hadn’t yet sent funds to the stick.

We sent funds to the stick in multiple transactions from different users, physical locations and bitcoin wallets. After all the transactions were confirmed, the correct balance and previous transactions were displayed in the index file.

Now our Opendime stick was active, loaded and ready to be passed along to other owners. If the stick has been loaded with, say, 10,000 bits (0.01 BTC, about $120 at the current exchange rate), the stick could be used as a physical coin carrying that value.

 At this point in the process, anyone in the ownership chain could decide to empty the stick and transfer the funds to their bitcoin wallet. To do that, the user must unseal the device by pushing a pin through a little circle marked on the back of the device. When this is done, the red light flickers and the index file displays a warning: “UNSEALED ⚠ DO NOT send more funds to this address or accept this hardware as payment.” Clicking both status check buttons results in a further warning: “Bitcoin was spent from this address. If this is an Opendime address, this means it has been UNSEALED.” The private key is now shown in the index file.

The Opendime team recommends using the Samourai wallet. However, we decided to experiment and create a new wallet on blockchain.info. We imported our Opendime private key (Settings - Addresses) and transfered the funds to the blockchain.info wallet, and then to an exchange.

In summary, the Opendime stick passed our end-to-end test with flying colors. One caveat: At $13 a piece, Opendime sticks struck us as rather expensive for storing/transferring small amounts and may be better suited to large amounts of over $1,000 or so.

“But $13 is actually very cheap as it's amortized by multiple exchanges of the same unit,” Novak suggested. “Also, Bitcoin transactions are very often more than that.”

This is a fair point, since the chain ownership transfer could go on for a very long time, with the stick potentially changing hands many times, just like physical cash. Novak also added that improvements and new features are in the works.

Disclaimer: Opendime provided Bitcoin Magazine with free samples to use for the purposes of testing their product for review.

This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Posted on 23 January 2018 | 11:16 am

Malta Finance Watchdog Pushes Ahead With Crypto Investment Fund Rules

The Malta Financial Services Authority published the feedback it received on its proposed rules for cryptocurrency investment schemes.

Posted on 23 January 2018 | 10:35 am

Bitcoin is now higher, reversing earlier losses that brought it below $10000 - CNBC


CNBC

Bitcoin is now higher, reversing earlier losses that brought it below $10000
CNBC
Bitcoin jumped more than 10 percent Tuesday from session lows of below $10,000. The digital currency climbed to $11,358 in midday trading, up 13.9 percent from a low of $9,972.29 hit early Tuesday morning, according to CoinDesk's bitcoin price index ...
Bitcoin Falls Below $10000 As South Korea Worsens Investor FearsForbes

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Posted on 23 January 2018 | 9:40 am

TD Ameritrade Cites Blockchain Stock Interest in Q1 Results

TD Ameritrade said that the first quarter of fiscal year 2018 was a strong one, buoyed in part by interested in stocks related to blockchain.

Posted on 23 January 2018 | 9:25 am

Goldman Sachs Warns Investors of Bitcoin 'Bubble' in New Report - CoinDesk


CoinDesk

Goldman Sachs Warns Investors of Bitcoin 'Bubble' in New Report
CoinDesk
Goldman Sachs has claimed that bitcoin is a bubble bigger than the dot-com era and the famous Dutch tulip mania. In a research letter to investors, the banking firm's analysts warned about the increase in cryptocurrency values, highlighting the price ...
Ominous Wall Street predictions hammer bitcoin as price decline continuesMashable
This Long-Time Wall Street Analyst Says Bitcoin Could Fall to $1000Fortune
Bitcoin could lose 90% of its value, Wall St. veteran Boockvar warnsCNBC
Cointelegraph (Bitcoin, Cryptocurrency and Blockchain News) -New Zealand Herald -CNBC
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Posted on 23 January 2018 | 8:37 am

Ether Price Outlook Gloomy After Again Falling Below $1K

The price of ether is likely to head south unless the bulls can quickly pull the price back over $1,100, price chart analysis indicates.

Posted on 23 January 2018 | 8:00 am

WTF Is the Lightning Network and Will It Save Bitcoin? - Motherboard


Motherboard

WTF Is the Lightning Network and Will It Save Bitcoin?
Motherboard
Even after crashing last week, Bitcoin is still valuable as hell. But, like, why? The question of what Bitcoin is actually good for is becoming more urgent as its price, and the stakes, keep rising. If the answer is “nothing,” then Bitcoin's future is ...
Yes, Bitcoin Is a Means of Payment. Just Not Yet for YouBloomberg

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Posted on 23 January 2018 | 7:01 am

UN Forms Blockchain Coalition to Help Tackle Climate Change

The United Nations has formed a new coalition to research and adopt applications of blockchain technology to further action on climate change.

Posted on 23 January 2018 | 7:00 am

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Bitcoin And Gold: An Inverse Relationship - Seeking Alpha


Seeking Alpha

Bitcoin And Gold: An Inverse Relationship
Seeking Alpha
There appears to an inverse relationship between Bitcoin and gold: one moves up, the other moves down; one moves down, the other moves up. Based on Elliott Wave analysis, Bitcoin appears to have made a new low and is poised for a move up in the coming ...

Posted on 23 January 2018 | 6:54 am

Just Because It's Bad News for Your Crypto Coin Doesn't Mean It's FUD

Not all unwelcome tidings can be dismissed as attempts to sow "fear, uncertainty and doubt," and shooting the messenger won't make the message untrue.

Posted on 23 January 2018 | 6:00 am

Microsoft, Hyperledger, UN Join Blockchain Identity Initiative

Tech giant Microsoft and blockchain alliance Hyperledger and others have joined blockchain-based digital identity initiative, the ID2020 Alliance.

Posted on 23 January 2018 | 4:30 am

Bitcoin May Split 50 Times in 2018 as Forking Craze Accelerates - Bloomberg


Bloomberg

Bitcoin May Split 50 Times in 2018 as Forking Craze Accelerates
Bloomberg
“Unfortunately, most fork-based projects we see today are more of a sheer money grab,” said George Kimionis, chief executive officer of Coinomi, a wallet that lets Bitcoin owners collect their new forked coins. “Looking back a few years from now we ...

and more »

Posted on 23 January 2018 | 4:00 am

Bitcoin: If currency crashed, plunge would harm its investors but not economy - USA TODAY


USA TODAY

Bitcoin: If currency crashed, plunge would harm its investors but not economy
USA TODAY
If bitcoin, which skeptics say is a bubble, suffers the same fate as past financial manias, look out below. Fears of a bitcoin crash are growing amid an early-year plunge that has wiped out 50% of the digital currency's value since its December peak of ...
Researchers find that one person caused bitcoin to spike from $150 to $1000 in 2013CNBC
The View From the Bitcoin BubbleNew York Times
'How I sold my Bitcoin and made thousands' - our full guide cashing in and selling Bitcoins in real lifeMirror.co.uk

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Posted on 23 January 2018 | 4:00 am

China's Banking Regulator Pushes Blockchain Adoption for Credit Market

China's banking regulator, the CBRC, thinks the country should double down on its adoption on blockchain technology to improve the credit market.

Posted on 23 January 2018 | 3:30 am

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Cryptocurrency Exchange BitFlyer Launches New EU Branch

Japan-based bitcoin exchange bitFlyer has opened a new EU branch after receiving regulatory approval in Luxembourg.

Posted on 23 January 2018 | 3:00 am

What's a Former CIA Lawyer Doing in Crypto?

After decades at a white-shoe law firm, Russell Bruemmer is now advising blockchain startup Applied Philosophy Labs on token sales and governance.

Posted on 23 January 2018 | 2:00 am

South Korea Announces Deadline for Halt of Anonymous Crypto Trading

South Korea's financial watchdog has set a date for the introduction of a new rule barring anonymous virtual cryptocurrency trading accounts.

Posted on 23 January 2018 | 1:30 am

Vermont City Pilots Land Registry Record With Blockchain Startup

The City of South Burlington in Vermont is partnering with a blockchain startup to pilot a land registry ledger based on the tech.

Posted on 23 January 2018 | 12:00 am

US Senators Blast Venezuela's Oil-Backed Cryptocurrency Plan

U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R.-Fl) and Robert Menendez (D.-NJ) have denounced Venezuela's planned cryptocurrency in a new letter.

Posted on 22 January 2018 | 3:55 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 Slides More Than 10 Percent to Near $10,000 Level

The price of bitcoin is down more than 10% today, according to CoinDesk's Bitcoin Price Index (BPI).

Posted on 22 January 2018 | 3:00 pm

SEC 'Looking Closely' at Public Company Blockchain Pivots, Says Chairman

The SEC is investigating companies that have made recent waves in markets with their public pivots toward blockchain.

Posted on 22 January 2018 | 2:40 pm

Coinbase Taps Twitter Vet to Bolster Customer Support

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

Commodity Merchant Louis Dreyfus Trials Blockchain for Soybean Trade

Louis Dreyfus, a major commodities trading company, has announced that it has piloted a blockchain-based transaction system developed by a group of financial institutions including ING.

Posted on 22 January 2018 | 11:00 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

Two New Services Could Help Investors Rate Cryptocurrencies

Cryptocurrency Rating Services Launched

Increasing interest in cryptocurrencies has led to an influx of new investors. Unlike traditional markets, there are few tools that can help people make informed decisions, a situation that has already begun to claim victims in a particularly volatile environment.

In separate announcements, Weiss Ratings and Intercontinental Exchange (NYSE: ICE) have announced the introduction of new financial tools to help investors navigate the cryptocurrency market and make smarter investments.

Weiss Ratings, an established independent rating agency of financial institutions, says they will begin issuing ratings for cryptocurrencies on January 24, 2018, to help investors make informed decisions.

ICE, an operator of a network of global futures, equity and equity options exchanges, is partnering with blockchain technology provider Blockstream to launch the Cryptocurrency Data Feed (CDF).

Weiss Ratings Takes On Cryptocurrencies

Founded in 1971, Weiss is an independent rating agency of financial institutions. They will begin issuing letter grades for cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple, Bitcoin Cash, Cardano, NEM, Litecoin, Stellar, EOS, IOTA, Dash, NEO, TRON, Monero, Bitcoin Gold and many others.

According to Weiss Ratings founder Martin Weiss, the data they are using is a combination of purchased data and data collected through other sources. It is updated on a daily basis, covering a sliding 12-month window.

Regressive testing to verify past data that the company uses to confirm predictions is still ongoing, but results have been accurate thus far, Weiss told Bitcoin Magazine.

“We have built an analytical technology over the years using intelligent models to replicate the real world and we are applying [these] to cryptocurrenc[ies]. These have been very accurate for many years.”

Ratings are built up across multiple indexes. The company built new models to reflect cryptocurrency data and developed an overall grading system that is broken down into four separate sub-models:

  1. Risk Index — The level of risk involved in the investment, based on factors like price activity and volatility.
  2. Reward Index — The potential reward outcome, based on historical patterns of buying and selling.
  3. Technology Index — A primarily manual process, where company analysts review the source code and white papers, analyze price movement and make ratings in a Query Tree (their internal software) to generate a quantitative result.
  4. Adoption Index — A measurement of adoption along two dimensions: how broadly it is adopted, transaction speed, settlement times, etc.

“A weighted average of those 4 indices is used to get the final grade,” said Weiss. “The goal at Weiss is to empower the investor to make prudent decisions.”

ICE Data Services: Real-Time Trading Data

The Cryptocurrency Data Feed (CDF) is a multi-asset and multi-venue data feed, capturing nearly 80 percent of cryptocurrency exchange trading volume over more than 15 exchanges around the world. It measures leading cryptocurrencies against the U.S. dollar and other major currency pairs.

The captured data is normalized to create a unique number sequence to identify the transaction, details of where the trade took place, quantity, price, currency, timestamp and other relevant order book data. This is designed to enable ICE Data Services’ customers to receive global market–representative trading data in a real-time feed with high-quality information.

“With the broad array of cryptocurrencies and exchanges, and given the price variances between exchanges, it’s critical that investors have a comprehensive source of pricing information,” said ICE Data Services President and COO Lynn Martin in a statement.

According to Blockstream SVP of Business Affairs Alex Fowler, the initial exchange partners set up through cooperative agreements include Bitbank, Bitfinex, BitMEX, Bitso, Bitstamp, BtcBox, BTCC, CEX, Coinfloor, Coincheck, itBit, GOPAX, OKEx, SurBTC, The Rock Trading, Unocoin, Vaultoro and Zaif, with more coming soon.

The data is collected using the exchanges’ APIs and, in some cases, by setting up dedicated connections with them. The current feeds lack standardized formatting and information: part of what ICE is providing is a single source that consolidates and standardizes the data, which will average out the information from the multiple sources into a more accurate overall view.

Historically, the data currently only goes back to the initial integration; however, Blockstream is working with the exchanges to try and incorporate older data as well.

Fowler told Bitcoin Magazine, “We believe that a consolidated data source, resulting from the combined participation of a strong and growing list of exchange partners globally, will enable us to address these gaps and thereby promote better liquidity, price stability, and public confidence in cryptocurrency as asset class.”

CDF will include bitcoin and a wide range of cryptocurrencies and currency pairings on launch; the final list will be on their website. ICE will develop and publish a selection of criteria for decisions on the addition and/or removal of assets in the feed. This will be an ongoing process as the market evolves. Access to the real-time CDF will be available to subscribers of ICE Data Services’ Consolidated Feed in March 2018.


This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Posted on 19 January 2018 | 2:03 pm

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

Decentralizing the Sharing Economy With Blockchain Technology

Decentralizing the Sharing Economy With Blockchain Technology

San Francisco–based startup Origin is creating a set of protocols that allow developers and businesses to build decentralized marketplaces on the blockchain, with a focus on the sharing economy.

The Origin Protocol is a set of open-source blockchain protocols for buyers and sellers of services like car-sharing or home-sharing to transact on a decentralized, open web platform.

The protocol’s applications will store transactional data such as pricing and availability directly on the blockchain.

Leveraging the Ethereum blockchain and the Interplanetary File System (IPFS), the Origin platform will create and book services and goods in a decentralized way, without traditional intermediaries.

Recently, Origin launched its functional, completely decentralized prototype Origin Protocol Demo DApp, live on the Ethereum test network. It also announced that several companies have committed to developing further applications on the Origin platform.

“Our vision for Origin is to create protocols that allow marketplaces to be governed by a set of rules instead of corporate rulers. We want to eliminate the rent-seeking middlemen, maximize personal liberty, reduce censorship and redistribute value to the early participants in the network,” Origin co-founder Josh Fraser said in conversation with Bitcoin Magazine. “Partners are building on Origin because they realize they can get to market sooner and we can share network effects by working together.”

Tackling the Problems of the Centralized Marketplace

Uber and Airbnb, the hugely popular marketplaces for ride-sharing and home-sharing, are usually considered the leading players in the emerging “sharing economy.” Another buzz phrase, “people as a service,” describes the business models of these two companies, both of which attracted funding that values them in the tens of billions of dollars.

Consumers perceive that Uber and Airbnb are faster, cheaper and better alternatives to traditional services like taxis and hotels, delivered via sophisticated yet easy to use apps. But, while the consumer has the impression that they are buying services directly from individual providers in decentralized, P2P networks, Uber and Airbnb are centralized systems where transactions between individual consumers and providers are routed through infrastructure, hubs and software that belong to the companies that own the platform.

Centralization makes Uber and Airbnb vulnerable to regulatory actions, and there is the possibility that both services could be shut down by the government at any time. In the meantime, besides taking a fee, the platform owners are in complete control of the networks and the individual providers and are often accused of predatory behavior.

“Look at Uber and Airbnb as examples,” said Fraser. “Both companies have been banned or heavily regulated in cities all around the world. Likewise, those companies have a history of banning certain individuals for life from ever using their marketplaces.”

Uber and Airbnb (the Services) without Uber and Airbnb (the Companies)

According to data provided by Origin, Uber, Airbnb and other centralized sharing marketplaces are expected to earn $40 billion in platform fees annually by 2022, and the sharing economy as a whole is expected to top $335 billion by 2025. Some centralized sharing services charge upwards of 30 percent fees for hosting transactions.

Origin wants to cut out these middlemen with new standards based on blockchain technology.

The Origin platform “enables people to freely transact on the blockchain in decentralized marketplaces without rent-seeking middlemen,” says Coleman Maher. who recently joined Origin as its first business development hire. “We aim to eliminate excessive transaction fees, reduce censorship and redistribute value back to the community.”

“We imagine a broad collection of vertical use cases (e.g short-term vacation rentals, freelance software engineering, tutoring for hire) that are built on top of Origin standards and shared data,” reads the Origin product brief. Origin applications will be able to share users, creating a “shared network effect” that could benefit all application providers, as well as the consumers.

Bee Token, SnagRide, JOLYY, Acquaint, Aworker, BlockFood, Edgecoin and ODEM have committed to building on the Origin platform. More partners will be announced in the coming months.

The first two projects are in Airbnb and Uber territory. The Bee Token team, a group of former employees from Google, Facebook, Uber and Civic, is building a middleman-free, peer-to-peer network of hosts and guests on the decentralized web, with the stated goal of “reinventing the home sharing economy.” SnagRide is a ride-sharing application for mid– to long-distance rides, which leverages artificial intelligence and blockchain-powered smart contract technologies to smartly manage drivers and passengers willing to travel together between cities and share the cost of the trip.

The Origin ecosystem will offer incentives based on the Origin token, an ERC20 utility token on the Ethereum blockchain, described in the Origin white paper. The Origin token, to be distributed later in 2018, is the currency used for transactions on the Origin platform. However, the Origin team plans to implement on-the-fly conversions of fiat currencies and Ethereum to the Origin token in future releases.

This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

Posted on 18 January 2018 | 11:06 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 reaches new all-time high: $3,000

Posted on 12 June 2017 | 1:06 am

CRYENGINE now accepts Bitcoin

Posted on 29 March 2017 | 1:24 am

Consulting firm EY Switzerland accepts Bitcoin

Posted on 26 November 2016 | 12:47 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

Steam accepts Bitcoin

Posted on 29 April 2016 | 1:09 am

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

January 23, 2018 -
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