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  1. El Salvador’s Race to Be the Bitcoin Capital of the World After China’s crackdown, the cryptocurrency crowd is looking for a new haven. The Central American nation thinks it’s the answer. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty Images Eric Grill is sitting on the patio of a house with multicolored walls, screeches of nearby tropical birds covering his voice as he expounds on the future of Bitcoin in El Salvador. Grill, an American man with blue eyes and short dark hair, is only mildly miffed. “It’s like a jungle here,” he says. “There's been a little bit of an adjustment, but I have this place for a month. I'm here for the long haul.” A few weeks ago, Grill listened to El Salvador president Nayib Bukele’s announcement, at a Bitcoin conference in Miami, that the country would adopt Bitcoin as a legal tender—and shrugged it off as the usual politico bluster. When the country actually passed a law implementing Bukele’s promise on June 9, Grill packed his bags and descended to the Central American country. Despite the house’s slow internet and lack of hot water, he's optimistic. As the CEO of Chainbyte—a company that manufactures Bitcoin ATM machines converting dollars into the cryptocurrency and vice versa—Grill decided to relocate his company’s production here from China. “We were having a lot of shipping problems with China,” he says. “We're gonna export them from here to the United States. But we're going to keep a lot of them here.” He expects that, as the Bitcoin law starts being applied on September 7, El Salvador’s demand for his machines will grow; he is already receiving inquiries from several local banks. The passing of Bukele’s Bitcoin law has been met with skepticism and worry by essentially every financial institution on the planet, starting with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Bitcoin’s volatility, exemplified by its plunge to about $30,000 this week, after grazing $65,000 in April, has been lambasted as a recipe for financial disaster. Citizens will be allowed to pay taxes in a currency that might depreciate in hours, suddenly draining the government’s coffers. Trust in Salvadoran government bonds is expected to be shattered. Anti-corruption experts worry that local and foreign gangs may take advantage of an announced governmental trust fund to swap bitcoin of dubious provenance with US dollars—El Salvador’s other currency, with which convertibility will be ensured. But one crowd has welcomed Bukele’s initiative with enthusiasm, and that is the bitcoin crowd. Young, bearded, brash, and fluent in memes, 39-year-old Bukele always had the physique du role to cater to the laser-eye brigade. Since his Miami announcement, he has become a regular on Bitcoin podcasts and English-language crypto-confabs on Clubhouse. Building on his hobnobbing with the crypto-initiated, he has deftly landed more PR coups, announcing that anyone ready to invest 3 bitcoin (today, about $100,000) in El Salvador will be immediately granted permanent residency, and that capital gains on bitcoin will not be taxed. Bukele has also talked up the country’s volcanoes as ideal locations for Bitcoin miners hungry for cheap geothermal energy amid China’s crackdown on cryptocurrency. The volcano touting, in all its Bond villainesque glory, was bound to stick, and now a bunch of Bitcoin entrepreneurs sport volcano emojis—alongside El Salvador’s flag—in their Twitter bios. The high point of El Salvador’s publicity offensive was the invitation of some 30 Bitcoin entrepreneurs to visit the country and meet with government officials, two weeks ago. Leading the delegation was Brock Pierce, a flamboyant former child actor and current cryptocurrency investor and advocate who last year ran for US president on a pro-technology platform. (Ahead of his visit, Pierce was mocked for tweeting the front page of a Spanish-language Long Island newspaper apparently reporting on his trip, which was nowhere to be found in the newspaper’s online archive. The front page eventually appeared in the archive two days later as a “special edition.”) Pierce says he is impressed by the government’s drive. “This government is incredibly entrepreneurial,” he says. “They are like just getting things done at lightning speed.” He says that he is working to organize a “big conference” in the country. Lauren Bissell, a former Cambridge Analytica employee who later converted to blockchain and Bitcoin entrepreneurship, and was part of Pierce’s delegation, says she was “beyond impressed” by the government figures she met during the trip. Yet Bissel admits that the road map to Bitcoin adoption looks very ambitious. “There's going to be a lot of hours of no sleep. There's a lot of work to do,” she says. “But I think that the launch will go successfully.” With the countdown to Bitcoin Day down to just 69 days, the nuts and bolts needed to make the cryptocurrency work as legal tender are still a mirage. Athena, a company that had been initially tipped to install 1,000 ATM machines in the country (and challenged by Bukele on Twitter to deploy 1,500) will start with just 14. Going from volcano emoji to reality will also take time. “What you have in El Salvador is, seemingly, an abundance of geothermal energy and, at least for the time being, a friendly jurisdiction,” says Alex Brammer, vice president of business development at Luxor, a cryptocurrency mining company. “Providing the infrastructure there is going to take years.” Even the Bitcoin law looks like unfinished business: Its redrafting of an entirely new monetary system is hastily sketched in two pages and 16 articles, which is why a more detailed regulation is expected to be issued soon. What is really Bukele’s game? One oft-repeated case for his move is that Bitcoin would be “banking the unbanked.” That fusty mantra is usually balderdash, but it might have some merit here, as 70 percent of El Salvador’s population does not have a bank account or access to easy payment solutions. By this line of thinking, a government-backed Bitcoin wallet, as a smartphone app, could arguably reach more people than existing banking service providers do, and might offer a convenient, low-commission medium for the Salvadoran diaspora to send back remittances. A small-scale Bitcoin project in El Zonte—a seaside town in northern El Salvador—was moderately successful in making the local economy function more efficiently and is credited for inspiring Bukele. In this reading, Bukele is the edgy maverick wielding liberating technology to lift his people from the state of deprivation to which financial institutions have consigned it. There are problems, however, with that narrative. Some have pointed out that only 45 percent of the country’s population has internet access—and that an internet connection will be required to use the app. Ricardo Barrientos, chief economist at ICEFI, a Guatemala-based research institute focused on fiscal studies, predicts that Bitcoin will be treated as a “weak currency,” with employers keeping their savings in dollars and using the more volatile Bitcoin to pay salaries to their workers. “This class divide could trigger social tensions—that’s a recipe for disaster,” Barrientos says. The report Barrientos cowrote for ICEFI on this subject subtly suggests that by making Bitcoin legal tender without installing any anti-money-laundering checks, the government plans to encourage a “certain kind of acquisitions or investments” by creating a parallel market where “opaque operations” can take place. Barrientos expects Bukele to backtrack before September 7 under pressure from international financial institutions and of some of his own advisers. Were that not to happen, Barrientos hopes that Bitcoin won’t catch on among the population. “The best-case scenario for it is that no one uses it and everyone keeps using dollars, apart from some narcos,” Barrientos says. “Hopefully there will be a natural debitcoinization.” Like other critics, Barrientos dismisses the whole enterprise under the rubric of Bukele’s dangerous antics. The president is widely criticized for his links to corrupt individuals and browbeating of the judiciary, all the while enjoying an incredible level of popular approval. For Barrientos, Bukele’s embrace of Bitcoin is just a “political show,” a bit of muscle-flexing aimed at demonstrating that “he can pass almost any law.” A third way of looking at this falls somewhere in between the “Bukele-as-a-genius” and the “Bukele-as-Nero” arguments—and it is, simply, that Bukele loves the buzz. The cryptocurrency world is reeling from China’s repression of Bitcoin mining (over 60 percent of which was taking place in China as of April 2021). In the US, Bitcoin is in for a regulatory battering as nearly everyone from Elon Musk to Elizabeth Warren is chastising the technology for its energy consumption and potential involvement in criminal deeds. Bitcoin needs a safe redoubt, and along came El Salvador, ready to be just that. Regardless of whether El Salvador’s unbanked are eventually banked, if Bukele manages to get the crypto industry to come basking in El Salvador's sun for a while, he may color himself satisfied. Until recently El Salvador was mostly known for having the world’s highest murder rate—now, it has graduated to farsighted Bitcoin proving ground. Interestingly, neither Bissell nor Pierce or Grill appear worried by El Salvador’s crime or gang violence. “Crime is a problem everywhere: violent crime, specifically. In my presidential run, you can see some of what I had to say about criminal justice reform,” Pierce says. “The best way to address these issues is typically by creating opportunity and economic prosperity.” It is worth wondering whether the advent of cartloads of English-speaking, techno-literate bitcoiners on their shores will necessarily elicit Salvadorans’ joy. Pierce’s own initiative, launched in 2018, to establish a crypto hub in hurricane-stricken Puerto Rico was met with hostility by some locals. But El Salvador might be just the first of a string of small, relatively poor countries gunning for a piece of the spurned crypto-elite. Last week, rumors about Paraguay also making Bitcoin legal tender made the rounds, before legislators clarified that that was not the case, even if a “digital assets” bill is in the works. Panama is working on its own bill which, according to Aldo Antinori, cofounder of the Panama Digital Blockchain Chamber of Commerce, is likely not to focus only on Bitcoin and will be “broader” and “more inclusive” of other cryptocurrencies. Pierce, who claims he has become the first port of call for many national leaders looking into Bitcoin’s opportunities, is bracing for a deluge of phone calls. “Panama, Brazil, Nicaragua—half of Latin America, almost half—is now looking into it. I mean, I was on the phone with another prime minister this morning,” he says. “It looks like El Salvador has just kicked off a chain reaction.” This story originally appeared on WIRED UK. El Salvador’s Race to Be the Bitcoin Capital of the World (May require free registration to view)
  2. Bitcoin now legal tender in El Salvador, first nation to adopt cryptocurrency Central American nation hopes to lower remittance costs and boost investment. On Wednesday, El Salvador’s president signed into law a proposal to adopt bitcoin as legal tender, making the Central American nation the first in the world to officially use the cryptocurrency. The new law says that companies must accept bitcoin as a form of payment, and the government will allow people to pay taxes with it as well. The exchange rate with the dollar will be set by the market, and exchanges from dollars to bitcoin won’t be subject to capital gains tax. The law was passed by a supermajority vote of the legislature, with 62 of 84 deputies assenting. President Nayib Bukele said the new law would make it easier for Salvadorans living abroad to send remittances back to friends and family in the country. Some $6 billion in remittances flowed into the Salvadoran economy last year, accounting for nearly a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product. Around 70 percent of Salvadorans lack access to traditional banking and other financial services within the country, the president said. The 39-year-old leader hopes that sending remittances will become cheaper, too. Last year, the average fee was 3 percent per transaction. Eliminating that fee would net Salvadorans an additional $180 million. The country has used the US dollar as its primary currency since 2001, when the government was attempting to stabilize and shore up an economy left in shambles by a bloody 12-year civil war that ended in 1992. The government switched its accounting system to dollars and stopped printing and minting its old currency, colones, though it did not remove it as legal tender. People can still spend any colones in their possession at a rate fixed to the dollar. El Salvador’s use of the dollar as its primary currency has meant that the country has minimal control over its monetary policy; for all intents and purposes, the US Federal Reserve exerts more power. As a result, efforts by the Salvadoran government to prop up the economy in a recession must be through fiscal interventions, which require a supermajority in the legislature. Adopting bitcoin won’t change this situation, of course, since the supply of the cryptocurrency is limited by mining rates and is ultimately capped at 21 million bitcoins. Bukele is hoping that by jumping on the bitcoin bandwagon, the country will attract investors. “#Bitcoin has a market cap of $680 billion dollars,” he wrote in a tweet. “If 1% of it is invested in El Salvador, that would increase our GDP by 25%.” That assumption, of course, is highly dependent on bitcoin’s market cap, which has fluctuated significantly over the last year as the cryptocurrency’s price has swung wildly. Overnight, bitcoin prices are up around 7 percent, though they're still off some 50 percent from their mid-April peak, when Tesla CEO Elon Musk criticized the cryptocurrency’s energy use and reversed course on accepting bitcoin for Tesla purchases. Musk’s decision was prompted in part by Ars’ coverage of a fossil fuel power plant in upstate New York that had been purchased by a private equity firm and tasked with mining bitcoin. Bitcoin’s energy use has skyrocketed in recent months and uses as much energy today on an annualized basis as the United Arab Emirates, or about 127 TWh per year. A single bitcoin transaction requires nearly 1,600 kWh to complete and produces an estimated 746 kg of carbon dioxide. That high energy use is baked into bitcoin’s design, which uses proof of work—computations of cryptographic hashes—to verify records and transactions on the blockchain. Other cryptocurrencies are either based on or planning to switch to other ways of maintaining the blockchain, including proof of stake, which requires users who validate the chain to hold a certain amount of the cryptocurrency, lowering the amount of energy use. Bitcoin now legal tender in El Salvador, first nation to adopt cryptocurrency
  3. Elon Musk confirms that you can now use Bitcoin to buy a Tesla Back in February, Tesla announced that it had made a $1.5 Billion investment into Bitcoin and is planning to add Bitcoin as a mode a payment. Now, the company has confirmed that customers can buy Tesla cars using Bitcoin. Tesla CEO Elon Musk confirmed on Twitter that customers in the US can now book cars using Bitcoin. He further noted that the company plans to expand the ability to buy Tesla using Bitcoin to other countries later this year. Musk also confirmed that Tesla will operate the Bitcoin node directly and will not convert Bitcoin to fiat currency (like USD, EUR, etc). Tesla is using only internal & open source software & operates Bitcoin nodes directly. Bitcoin paid to Tesla will be retained as Bitcoin, not converted to fiat currency. — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 24, 2021 Tesla has also published a FAQ page answering some of the basic questions regarding the announcement. The company has clarified that it will only accept Bitcoin and will not deal with other cryptocurrencies. According to the FAQ, once the customer initiates the transaction, a timer will begin, and the customer will have to complete the transaction before the timer ends or the transaction will expire. The timer is added to ensure that Tesla or the customer does not incur a loss due to price fluctuation especially during extreme volatility in the crytocurrency market. Tesla also recommends the customers to send the payment in one transaction to avoid any delays with the order. Immediately after Elon's tweet, Bitcoin saw a spike in the price. Currently, Bitcoin is trading at $57,081, up 3.4% from yesterday's price of $54,350. Bitcoin has seen an increase in popularity recently with companies like Apple working with cryptocurrency companies to add support for cryptocurrency payments. PayPal, on the other hand, acquired Curv to improve its cryptocurrency expertise. However, not everyone is excited about cryptocurrency boom as the Indian government is working on a new bill to penalise traders, miners, and digital asset holders. Source: Elon Musk confirms that you can now use Bitcoin to buy a Tesla
  4. Bitcoin Spikes to New Record High Over $61K The top cryptocurrency by market cap rose to $60,065 in a matter of minutes on Saturday morning. Bitcoin prices for the last 24 hours.(CoinDesk 20) After a period of drops and consolidation since mid-February, Bitcoin has found its mojo again and soared to new all-time highs. In a move starting just after 10:00 a.m. UTC Saturday, the top cryptocurrency by market cap crossed $60,000 for the first time and hours later crossed $61,000 to set a new all-time high of $61,124.86, according to the CoinDesk 20. In recent trading, bitcoin was at $61,119.51, up 7.47% in the last 24 hours. "Institutional investment continues to build momentum with Chinese internet firm Meitu the latest to execute a Bitcoin treasury strategy, " according to Jehan Chu, co-founder and managing partner of Kenetic, a Hong Kong-based trading firm. "Further, Beeple's $69 milllion NFT record demonstrates the true power of crypto, adding curiosity and fuel to the retail fire. Expect volatility but a landing of $100k levels by Q3," he said. The move passed the previous all-time record of around $58,330 set on Feb. 21. Since then bitcoin had seen a retreat to as low as $43,000, amid uncertainty in the traditional markets over stimulus expectations and their positive affects on U.S. bond yields. Both stocks and cryptocurrencies across the board saw losses and sideways trading in the last several weeks, before rising again in the last 8 days. The new high comes two days after President Joe Biden signed a massive $1.9 trillion stimulus program into law that is sending checks for $1,400 to U.S. citizens. According to various media accounts, people have started receiving the checks, which could be another factor in bitcoin's rise. U.S. Treasury yields have climbed back to over 12-month highs in the wake of Biden's fresh stimulus. This time, however, bitcoin is showing resilience – contrary to last week of February when prices fell by 20% amid rising yields. Bitcoin's quick rise caused the liquidation of over $100 million in short positions in a matter of minutes, according to a tweet from Glassnode co-founder and CTO Rafael Schultze-Kraft. The move to $61,000 brought bitcoin's market cap to $1.14 trillion – not so far below the $1.385 trillion value of Alphabet (Google), according to CompaniesMarketCap.com. UPDATE (March 13, 11:47 UTC) : Added latest price after move over $60,000. UPDATE (March 13, 20:28 UTC) : Added latest price after move over $61,000. Source: Bitcoin Spikes to New Record High Over $61K
  5. India’s finance minister reconsiders a ban on cryptocurrencies The Indian government might not completely ban cryptocurrencies. In an interview on March 5, country’s finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that she wants to foster innovation in crypto. “We want to make sure that there is a window available for all kinds of experiments which will have to take place in the crypto world,” she said during an interview on CNBC TV18, a business and financial news television channel in India. “We are not closing our minds.” The comments from Sitharaman counter a proposed bill from the Indian government in January of this year that would ban all private cryptocurrencies. The proposed law would also include a system for the creation and regulation of an official cryptocurrency issued by the country’s central bank and the promotion of blockchain, the technology underlying digital currencies. The Reserve Bank of India’s “digital rupee” is aimed at being similar to China’s “digital yuan“. Local business and lobbying groups like the Association for Blockchain, Crypto and Digital Asset Entrepreneurs and the Blockchain and Crypto Committee formed in response to the news of the potential ban in an effort to lobby the government and enhance its understanding of cryptocurrencies. In mid-February, Balaji Srinivasan, the former chief technology officer of the crypto trading platform Coinbase, compared the proposed law to “banning the internet”. ”It would be a trillion-dollar mistake for India, without exaggeration,” he said during an interview with The CapTable, an online business-news publication in India. While Sitharaman said the country’s central bank would take the lead on overseeing “unofficial cryptos”, her comments indicated a possible outcome of regulating cryptocurrencies instead of an outright ban. “There will be a very calibrated position taken,” she said. Source: India’s finance minister reconsiders a ban on cryptocurrencies
  6. Bitcoin is on track for its worst weekly drop in nearly a year Bitcoin’s rally this year has hit a speed bump, putting it on track for the worst weekly slide in almost a year amid wider losses in risk assets. The largest cryptocurrency slumped as much as 20% this week, the most since March, and was holding at about $46,925 as of 10:22 a.m. in Hong Kong. The wider Bloomberg Galaxy Crypto Index, tracking Bitcoin, Ether and three other cryptocurrencies, is down 22% this week. The rough patch for Bitcoin comes amid wider chaos in global markets, as a surge in bond yields heralds growing expectations that growth and inflation are moving higher and forcing traders to reevaluate their positions across multiple asset classes. The tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 dropped in seven of the past eight sessions as stocks like Tesla Inc. and Peloton Interactive Inc. declined. “Risk-on assets are taking a hit at the moment -- we’re seeing stocks slide and crypto is following,” said Vijay Ayyar, head of Asia Pacific for cryptocurrency exchange Luno in Singapore. “The dollar is strengthening, which is a good indication to expect a slide in Bitcoin and crypto.” Bitcoin’s weakness in the face of market gyrations raises questions about its efficacy as a store of value and hedge against inflation, a key argument among proponents of its stunning fivefold rally over the past year. Detractors have maintained the digital asset’s surge is a speculative bubble and it’s destined for a repeat of the 2017 boom and bust. While Bitcoin is often touted as the new “digital gold,” the yellow metal is winning out at the moment with spot gold holding at $1,768 per ounce, down less than 1% for the week. The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index is up 0.3% in the same period, on track for its strongest gain in a month. Heavy selling in the Grayscale Bitcoin Trust, the world’s largest such fund, as well as the expiry of Bitcoin options are also contributing to the volatility, Ayyar said. The trust has slumped 20% this week, with losses at one point racing past its underlying asset, as a once-massive price premium over Bitcoin has evaporated as investors cashed in on those gains, he said. Source: Bitcoin is on track for its worst weekly drop in nearly a year
  7. Asked whether you will buy bitcoins, big bull Rakesh Jhunjhunwala answered, "I won't buy it for even $5." In an interview with CNBC International TV, the ace investor said, "Only the sovereign has the right to create currency in the world. Tomorrow people will produce 5 lakh bitcoins, then which currency will go? Something which fluctuates 5-10% a day, can it be considered as currency?" "If a dollar moves 1-2%, it becomes a news, but bitcoin fluctuates 10-15% every day," Jhunjhunwala said. On cryptocurrency trading, he said, "I think it's speculation of the highest order." The veteran investor added, "I am not going to buy even if the price goes up," adding, "I don't want to join every party in the town, so I don't even put my minds on bitcoins." On fear of missing out the crypto fever, he mentioned, "There have been so many times when markets have gone up, but I stayed out. You should only go to the parties you like." "I will never buy bitcoins in my life," he reiterated. A high-level committee earlier suggested that all the private cryptocurrencies, except any virtual currencies issued by state, will be prohibited in India. The central government will take a decision on the recommendation of committee and legislative proposal, the finance minister had said. On whether crypto trading will be banned in India, Jhunjhunwala echoed the same thought. "The power to issue currencies should only be with the state and it should be taken away from others. The biggest sovereign right is to issue currency. The regulator must ban cryptocurrencies in India," he said. Bitcoin tanked as much 18% on Tuesday and traded around $48,750. The selloff puts Bitcoin prices at the lowest in about two weeks. SOURCE
  8. Bitcoin keeps hitting new highs after Tesla backing Much talked-about cryptocurrency Bitcoin has continued to hit record highs having broken through $50,000 (£35,700) last week. On Sunday, Bitcoin hit another peak rising above $58,000 as it continues its strong momentum this year. The cryptocurrency has risen more than 90% since the start of January, pushing its total market value above $1tn. The recent spike has been fuelled by Tesla and other big companies accepting it as payment. However, Bitcoin has a track record of wild price swings and has fallen sharply a number of times since it was created in 2009. Bitcoin started the year at roughly $28,900, according to figures from cryptocurrency news site CoinDesk. When it broke through the $40,000 mark in early January, it triggered a downward trend that saw it drop to around $30,000 by the end of the month. However, having passed $50,000 on 16 February, it has continued its upward momentum breaking through $58,000 on Sunday. Going mainstream The Bitcoin rally has been largely spurred on by well-known companies adopting it as a method of payment. Elon Musk revealed last week his electric carmaker Tesla had bought $1.5bn worth of Bitcoin and would be accepting it as payment for its cars in future. Mastercard also plans to accept Bitcoin as a form of payment while BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager, is exploring ways it can use the digital currency. "Who's next and what will tip (Bitcoin) over the edge and trigger the next surge?" said Craig Erlam, an analyst at New York-based foreign-exchange firm Oanda. The Covid-19 pandemic has also played its part in Bitcoin's price rise, as more people go online for shopping, moving further away from physical coins and notes. But critics have argued Bitcoin is less of a currency and more of a speculative trading tool that is open to market manipulation. Prominent economist and Bitcoin critic Nouriel Roubini has said it has very little practical use and doesn't provide a steady income like a bond or a share. "Elon Musk may be buying it but that doesn't mean everyone else should follow suit," he tweeted recently. Not for the faint-hearted Novice investors still need to be aware of the risks involved said Matt Dixon, founder of cryptocurrency rating platform Evai. Talking about January's slide from $40,000 to $30,000 in a matter of weeks, he said: "Though undoubtedly panic-inducing for the uninitiated, this isn't anything particularly remarkable for long-term holders. "New investors need to ensure their hands remain steady to avoid any undue loss from Bitcoin's regular shakeouts. The upside potential may be vast, but the risks can be just as high." Kurt Wuckert is a long-term Bitcoin investor having stumbled upon it in 2012, when he accepted it as payment for a small side project. Kurt Wuckert received his first bitcoins in 2012 "I agreed to accept the Bitcoins fully expecting them to be some kind of video game tokens or something, but decided to be cool about it. Then I got to reading about it online and doing my own research." Since then, he has been regularly investing in the cryptocurrency and considers himself an "investor in the more proper sense". But he warns others to do their research first before jumping onto the Bitcoin rollercoaster. "To this day, I tell curious friends to set aside their beer money but not their rent money because it is what I have always done." Source: Bitcoin keeps hitting new highs after Tesla backing
  9. Bitcoin hits $1 trillion market cap, surges to fresh all-time peak NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) - Bitcoin hit a market capitalization of $1 trillion as it rose to yet another record high on Friday, countering analyst warnings that it is an “economic side show” and a poor hedge against a fall in stock prices. The world’s most popular cryptocurrency jumped to an all-time high of $56,399.99, posting a weekly gain of 14%. It has surged nearly 70% so far this month and was last up 8% at $55,664. Bitcoin’s gains have been fueled by signs it is gaining acceptance among mainstream investors and companies, from Tesla Inc and Mastercard Inc to BNY Mellon. All digital coins combined have a market cap of around $1.7 trillion. “If you really believe there’s a store of value in bitcoin, then there’s still a lot of upside,” said John Wu, president of AVA Labs, an open-source platform for creating financial applications using blockchain technology. “If you look at gold, it has a market cap of $9 or $10 trillion. Even if bitcoin gets to half of gold’s market cap, that’s still growth of 4X, or $200,000. So I don’t know when it stops rising,” he added. The next milestone will be overtaking Alphabet Inc, currently valued at $1.431 trillion, said Jacob Skaaning, portfolio manager at crypto hedge fund ARK36. “There will likely be some big fluctuations along the way, but I’m still very bullish and I believe the uptrend will continue for the time being,” he added. Still, many analysts and investors remain skeptical of the patchily regulated, highly volatile digital asset, which is little used for commerce. FILE PHOTO: A representation of virtual currency Bitcoin is seen in front of a stock graph in this illustration taken January 8, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo Analysts at JP Morgan said bitcoin’s current prices were well above estimates of fair value. Mainstream adoption increases bitcoin’s correlation with cyclical assets, which rise and fall with economic changes, in turn reducing benefits of diversifying into crypto, the investment bank said in a memo. “Crypto assets continue to rank as the poorest hedge for major drawdowns in equities, with questionable diversification benefits at prices so far above production costs, while correlations with cyclical assets are rising as crypto ownership is mainstreamed,” JP Morgan said. Bitcoin is an “economic side show,” it added, calling innovation in financial technology and the growth of digital platforms into credit and payments “the real financial transformational story of the COVID-19 era.” Other investors this week said bitcoin’s volatility presents a hurdle for it to become a widespread means of payment. On Thursday, Tesla boss Elon Musk - whose tweets have fueled bitcoin’s rally - said owning the digital coin was only a little better than holding cash. He also defended Tesla’s recent purchase of $1.5 billion of bitcoin, which ignited mainstream interest in the digital currency. Graphic: Cryptocurrencies surge multi-fold from March lows - Bitcoin proponents argue the cryptocurrency is “digital gold” that can hedge against the risk of inflation sparked by massive central bank and government stimulus packages designed to counter COVID-19. Yet bitcoin would need to rise to $146,000 in the long-term for its market cap to equal the total private-sector investment in gold via exchange-traded funds or bars and coins, according to JP Morgan. Rival cryptocurrency ether also hit an all-time peak of $1,974.99 on Friday, and was last up 1.2% at $1,961.32, after its futures were launched on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Bitcoin’s surge extended to crypto-related stocks as well, such as Silvergate Capital Corp, which was up 8.2%, cryptocurrency miner Riot Blockchain, 13.5% higher, and Marathon Patent Group, up 7.3%. Shares of Overstock.com, an online retailer and blockchain tech investor, gained 4.1%; while MicroStrategy Inc, a bitcoin buyer and business intelligence software firm, advanced 4.1%. Source: Bitcoin hits $1 trillion market cap, surges to fresh all-time peak
  10. Bitcoin vaults above $50,000 for first time ever LONDON (Reuters) - Bitcoin rose above $50,000 on Tuesday to a new record high, building on a rally fuelled by signs that the world’s biggest cryptocurrency is gaining acceptance amongst mainstream investors. Bitcoin hit a new high of $50,602, and was last up 3.3% at $49,537. It has risen around 72% so far this year, with most of the gains coming after electric carmaker Tesla said it had bought $1.5 billion in bitcoin. It also said it would accept the currency as payment. But Tesla was only the latest in a string of large investments that have vaulted bitcoin from the fringes of finance to company balance sheets and Wall Street dealing desks, as U.S. firms and traditional money managers have started to buy the cryptocurrency. “The recent market conditions and events both in the crypto space and the financial world at large put such a price movement within the realm of possibility,” said Jacob Skaaning of crypto hedge fund ARK36. “However, I’d like to offer a word of caution: while my long-term outlook is bullish, massive price fluctuations along the way are only to be expected. Bitcoin is still extremely volatile.” The rush in 2021 by retail and institutional investors comes on top of a 300% rise last year as investors search for alternatives to the dollar because of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s 0% interest rates. It traded at a few hundred dollars only five years earlier. What’s more, analysts suggest bitcoin’s limited supply could boost further gains for the virtual asset and that’s while the narrative of bitcoin becoming the digital gold gains traction. “If that narrative comes to fruition, then the growth potential is off the charts as $50,000 per bitcoin equates to a market cap of roughly $931 billion, which is almost 9% of gold,” said John Wu, president at blockchain company Ava Labs. “If BTC meets gold’s market cap, then that would be at least $500,000 per bitcoin.” JPMorgan said in January that bitcoin emerged as a rival to gold and could trade as high as $146,000 if it becomes established as a safe-haven asset. That could mark a new dawn for the digital currency after years as a play for speculators and retail punters. Bitcoin’s liquid supply is continuing to decrease, as investors increasingly acquire and “hodl” the asset for the long term. “Hodl” is crypto slang for the act of an investor holding the asset instead of selling it. Meanwhile, smaller cryptocurrency ethereum edged 1.1% higher, just shy of its record high price of $1,874.98. Reporting by Thyagaraju Adinarayan, additional reporting by Tom Westbrook and Anna Irrera; editing by Sujata Rao and David Evans Source: Bitcoin vaults above $50,000 for first time ever
  11. Bitcoin powers towards $50K as Tesla takes it mainstream FILE PHOTO: A representation of virtual currency Bitcoin is seen in front of a stock graph in this illustration taken January 8, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo The most popular cryptocurrency has gained 1,150% from March 2020 lows as institutional investors search for alternative wealth stores and retail traders ride the wave. It traded at a few hundred dollars only five years back. Monday, it leapt 20% after Tesla announced it had a $1.5 billion investment and that it would eventually take the cryptocurrency as payment for its cars. That was its largest daily rise in more than three years. The price of one bitcoin climbed to a peak of $48,216 -- almost enough to buy one of the best-selling Tesla vehicles, Tesla Model Y SUV. Rival cryptocurrency ethereum struck a record high of $1,784.85 on Tuesday. Musk, a well-known supporter of cryptocurrencies, foresees accepting the currency as a payment for Tesla cars and analysts reckon this is a larger shift as companies and big investment houses follow small traders into the asset. “Bitcoin is definitely capturing investors’ attention -- I get more and more questions about it,” said Marija Vertimane, senior strategist at State Street Global Markets. “From a practical point of view, using bitcoin to buy anything – Tesla cars – would be still extremely difficult given its excessive volatility.” Bitcoin’s volatility has been a hindrance for some serious investors and a sticking point in using it for transactions. Realised volatility, or daily price swings measured in terms of closing prices for Bitcoin over the past 90 days was at 72% compared with 16% for the S&P 500 stocks index and 6% for the euro currency. What’s more, with bitcoin’s value tripling in the past three months, analysts raised questions over how its volatility would affect someone buying a Tesla car in bitcoin. “Unless the price of bitcoin stabilizes, either bitcoin’s price falls drastically and you end up having won a Tesla in a lottery, or its price triples and you end up paying your Tesla far too expensive,” said Ipek Ozkardeskaya, senior analyst at Swissquote Bank. For example, if someone bought a Tesla Model 3 for one bitcoin on Sunday - when it traded for $38,000 - the same car could be bought for just 0.8 bitcoin on Tuesday, when the cryptocurrency traded at $46,413 as of 1145 GMT. “EARLIEST PHASES” Billionaire Musk has long been a cryptocurrency fan - he has talked them up online - but Tesla’s hard currency investment came as a surprise that has put a rocket under the sector. “Right now, it still seems like a bit of a leisurely pursuit, to acquire bitcoin. But I think by the end of the year, with the current rate of institutional flow inbound, it will become clear that this is a once-in-a-lifetime landgrab,” said Jehan Chu, founder and managing partner at Kenetic, which invests in blockchain-related companies. Still, in BofA’s January fund manager survey, bitcoin topped the list of “most crowded” trades. Another survey, by Deutsche Bank, warned of price bubbles in the cryptocurrency. Bitcoin is already up 67% this year, on top of a 300% rally last year, as investors search for alternatives to the dollar because of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s 0% interest rates. The dollar slid against most currencies on Tuesday. [FRX/] “We’re in a position where these are the earliest phases of an allocation to bitcoin from the institutional and corporate community,” said Michael Bucella, partner at crypto investment firm BlockTower on CNBC. In the ongoing digital wave, central bankers and regulators, particularly in China, are also starting to embrace issuing their own digital currencies for everyday use, in a major break from the conventional workings of global finance. Beijing will issue 10 million yuan ($1.55 million) worth of digital currency to residents that can be used during the Lunar New Year holiday starting on Thursday, domestic media reported. However, Vitor Constancio, former vice-president of the European Central Bank, wrote on Twitter that policymakers should focus on regulating cryptocurrencies and only develop digital currencies if they will help banks in their role of enabling credit creation. “Bitcoin prices should appear in ‘commodities’ lists, not in forex columns,” he said. The Tesla news-led rally stretched beyond bitcoin. Shares of companies that provide trading platforms for bitcoin and the technology to “mine” the cryptocurrency surged in China, South Korea, and Australia, and big computer-chip making companies such as SK Hynix also rose. Even dogecoin, a joke cryptocurrency with a dog as its symbol, has seen its value turbocharged after Musk mentioned it on Twitter. It has jumped by 13% in the past day, according to CoinMarketCap. “It’s really become popular culture and mainstream,” Chu said. “People are no longer asking why should I invest in bitcoin, they’re having to defend why they’re not.” Graphic: Bitcoin breaks above $48,000 ($1 = 6.4493 Chinese yuan) Source: Bitcoin powers towards $50K as Tesla takes it mainstream
  12. Tesla buys $1.5B in bitcoin, may accept the cryptocurrency as payment in the future Image Credits: TechCrunch Today in an SEC filing, Tesla disclosed that it has acquired $1.5 billion in bitcoin, the popular cryptocurrency. Moreover, the company noted that it may also accept bitcoin in the future as a form of payment for its cars, though it did allow that there is some regulatory uncertainty around that effort. As the news broke, the price of bitcoin instantly rose by around 7% to more than $40,000 per coin. Tesla had previously telegraphed that it had an interest in the cryptocurrency, however to purchase such a large block of the coin is notable. In its filing, Tesla writes that earlier this year it “updated [its] investment policy to provide [it] with more flexibility to further diversify and maximize returns on [its] cash that is not required to maintain adequate operating liquidity,” adding that it has the option of putting cash into “certain alternative reserve assets” that include “digital assets, gold bullion, gold exchange-traded funds and other assets as specified in the future.” Under that banner, the firm has “invested an aggregate $1.50 billion in bitcoin,” going on to say that the well-known electric car company “may acquire and hold digital assets from time to time or long-term.” That’s enough wiggle room for Tesla to do whatever it wants with its cash and the crypto markets. But the company wasn’t done, completing its news-drop by adding that the company “expect[s] to begin accepting bitcoin as a form of payment for [its] products in the near future, subject to applicable laws and initially on a limited basis, which [it] may or may not liquidate upon receipt.” Tesla CEO Elon Musk has made waves in recent days by pumping a silly cryptocurrency joke called Dogecoin; this is something more material. Tesla is selecting bitcoin as the cryptocurrency of its choice, helping to further cement the blockchain as the world’s best known. And that it may accept bitcoin-denominated transactions in the future could help bitcoin retain both value, and exchange volume, though we probably repeat ourselves. It’s worth noting that Musk himself has also personally sent bitcoin prices higher in past using his social presence, including by changing his bio to just the single word, before its price faded back after he removed it earlier this month. The car company then spends three paragraphs saying that its choice is risky. That’s an understatement. Then again, what is Musk if not entertaining? Source: Tesla buys $1.5B in bitcoin, may accept the cryptocurrency as payment in the future
  13. The security risks of bitcoin Cryptocurrencies are having a moment. Not only is the price of one bitcoin hovering around the all-time high of nearly US$42,000 it hit in early January, but the Reserve Bank of Australia has announced that it’s researching a crypto-based digital currency, and bitcoin has been accepted as collateral by Australian courts. Advocates are confidently predicting a greater role for cryptocurrencies (shorthanded to ‘crypto’) in the public and private sectors. But those ebullient narratives don’t give a complete picture of the security risks posed by greater use of crypto in Australia. Cryptocurrencies have inherent vulnerabilities that can’t be overcome solely by Australian regulations, suggesting that continuing tight restrictions on their potential use are essential. At heart, cryptocurrencies are computer protocols that harness sophisticated cryptography to create unique digital tokens. A bitcoin, for example, is the token of the bitcoin protocol. The integrity of crypto networks depends on large numbers of independent computers continuously running each protocol, with greater numbers of such ‘validators’ providing increased security against malicious attack. The validators are incentivised to participate through rewards of each protocol’s tokens. Most of the focus on the risks of cryptocurrencies emphasises potential nefarious uses, such as sanctions evasion or purchases on darknet markets. But even legitimate uses of crypto entail significant security risks and their use in the public or private sector must be treated very cautiously. One such vector of insecurity comprises vulnerabilities inherent in any system that attempts to eliminate trust in anything but computer code. Crypto is designed to obviate the need for institutional gatekeepers like banks and governments, which means that there’s no trusted third party to undo any harm if a protocol or other software tool turns out to have bugs. Most infamously, a bug in an application designed to run a ‘smart contract’ on Ethereum—the second-largest cryptocurrency by value—was exploited to steal US$50 million worth of the ether token in 2016, causing such turmoil that the Ethereum blockchain itself ultimately split in two. Coding issues don’t just harm direct victims of attacks. Perceived security issues can lead to a catastrophic loss of confidence in a given protocol, prompting its users to move their assets elsewhere. With reduced economic activity, the reward for validators that dedicate computing power to securing that network also diminishes, making them less likely to participate. The resulting death spiral has befallen cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin gold. A second vector of insecurity hanging over even legitimate uses of cryptocurrencies is their dependence on crypto exchanges. The exchanges are the gateways to crypto ecosystems, allowing users to turn tokens such as bitcoin or ether into government-issued (or fiat) currencies, such as Australian dollars. Well-functioning exchanges are required for the secure operation of cryptocurrencies. If validators can’t ‘cash out’ their crypto tokens into a local fiat currency, they won’t be able to pay any bills that require fiat cash, such as rent, utilities and taxes. Effective regulation of exchanges is therefore essential. In Australia, crypto is treated as a form of property and exchanges are regulated by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. Elsewhere, however, crypto exchanges are often very loosely regulated, flout the regulations that do apply, or both. Major exchanges are hacked on a near-monthly basis, are plagued by exit scams (in which operators seize users’ assets left on the exchange and disappear) and often exhibit breathtakingly poor security management. But the bigger problem is that the risks of crypto exchanges are global, and even strong Australian regulation can’t protect against turmoil elsewhere. The effects of the collapse of, or a crackdown on, exchanges in one part of the world often ripple around the globe, as validators find it impossible to translate their crypto rewards from securing a network into a fiat currency that’s more widely accepted—and so drop out of the system entirely. As validators are eliminated, protocol security declines. The sky-high price of bitcoin today shows that the concerns about crypto exchanges have certainly not tanked the market for cryptos just yet, but that doesn’t mean that all is well in the industry. Instead, it points to another vulnerability with crypto exchanges: their shallow pools of liquidity and dependence on opaque digital assets to prop up crypto prices. The small size of crypto markets makes them highly vulnerable to manipulation. Though Bitcoin’s market capitalisation recently rocketed to a notional value of more than US$770 billion, so few coins are tradeable that one recent sale of 150 bitcoin was enough to drop the spot price by 10%. And markets for all coins are plagued by pump-and-dump schemes, in which large market players exploit a lack of liquidity to artificially inflate the price of smaller coins before selling large holdings at excessive values. Similarly troubling is the curiously central role of tether coins to the crypto ecosystem. Tether is a so-called stablecoin—a cryptocurrency designed to maintain parity with a particular fiat currency (typically the US dollar). Tether Limited has admitted in court that it doesn’t have the dollar reserves to fully back all outstanding tether tokens, and is being investigated by the New York attorney general for fraud. Nevertheless, tether has become crucial to the functioning of cryptocurrency markets and has a daily trading volume greater than that of the next three cryptocurrencies combined. It also appears to be closely associated with, if not the direct cause of, bitcoin’s recent price explosion. An ecosystem that is heavily dependent upon the vagaries of an opaque asset, that trades in shallow pools of liquidity vulnerable to manipulation and that has no institutional safeguards against technical mishaps is inherently insecure. No action that Australian regulators could take on their own would be sufficient to truly defang such structural risks. Investors who choose to speculate on such a product of course remain largely free to do so, but regulators will need to strictly scrutinise any proposed use of crypto to underpin public services (as countries such as Georgia are doing) or as a central component of the financial system. Ben Power holds a PhD in political science from the University of Wisconsin—Madison. Image: Chesnot/Getty Images. Source: The security risks of bitcoin
  14. Cops can’t access $60M in seized bitcoin—fraudster won’t give password The fraudster served two years for distributing bitcoin mining malware. Enlarge Aurich Lawson / Getty Images 21 with 21 posters participating Officials in Germany have seized a digital wallet believed to contain $60 million in bitcoins obtained by fraudulent online activity. The original owner of the wallet was convicted of installing bitcoin mining malware on peoples' computers without permission and has served more than two years in prison. But the wallet is encrypted, and the fraudster has steadfastly refused to disclose the password protecting the 1,700 bitcoins. "We asked him but he didn’t say," the prosecutor from the Baravarian town of Kempten said to Reuters on Friday. "Perhaps he doesn’t know." The value of bitcoin soared during the two years that the fraudster was behind bars. The German news organization BR says that if the authorities do gain access, the bitcoins would be sold and the cash would go into the state treasury. That's because the bitcoins apparently weren't stolen from anyone in particular. They were instead freshly mined with hacked computing power. According to BR, officials were able to gain access to 86 bitcoins that were not protected by a password, yielding €500,000 ($600,000). Presumably, this happened at a time when bitcoins were not as valuable as they are now. While the government can't access the remaining 1,700 bitcoins, officials say that the original owner can't access them, either. Cops can’t access $60M in seized bitcoin—fraudster won’t give password
  15. India plans to introduce law to ban Bitcoin, other private cryptocurrencies Image Credits: Getty Images India plans to introduce a law to ban private cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin in the country and provide a framework for the creation of an official digital currency during the current budget session of parliament. In the agenda (PDF) published on the lower house website, the legislation seeks to “prohibit all private cryptocurrencies in India,” but allow “for certain exceptions to promote the underlying technology [blockchain] of cryptocurrency and its uses.” The law also seeks to “create a facilitative framework for creation of the official digital currency” that will be issued by the nation’s central bank, Reserve Bank of India, the agenda said. In 2018, an Indian government panel recommended banning all private cryptocurrencies and proposed up to 10 years of jail time for offenders. The panel also suggested the government to explore a digital version of the fiat currency and ways to implement it. At the time, RBI said the move was necessary to curb “ring-fencing” of the country’s financial system. It had also argued that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies cannot be treated as currencies as they are not made of metal or exist in physical form, nor were they stamped by the government. The 2018 notice from the central bank sent a panic to several local startups and companies offering services to trade in cryptocurrency. Nearly all of them have either since closed shop, or pivoted to serve other markets. This proposal was challenged by several exchanges and traders, who filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court. The nation’s apex court ruled in their favor last year. This ruling was seen as “historic” but it did not impact the earlier circular on the policy level. “Since the government is considering introducing the bill during this session of Parliament, we are sure the government will definitely listen to all the stakeholders before taking any decision,” said Sumit Gupta, co-founder and chief executive of CoinDCX,a cryptocurrency exchange in India. “We are talking to other stakeholders and will definitely initiate deeper dialogue with the government and showcase how we can actually create a healthy ecosystem in unison,” he said. Source: India plans to introduce law to ban Bitcoin, other private cryptocurrencies
  16. Bitcoin tops $40,000 for first time, pushing cryptocurrency market value past $1 trillion KEY POINTS Bitcoin smashed through $40,000 to hit a new record high on Thursday as the cryptocurrency’s massive rally continues. Bitcoin’s resurgence has been attributed to a number of factors including more buying from large institutional investors. Bitcoin smashed through $40,000 to hit a new record high on Thursday helping to lift the total value of the entire cryptocurrency market above $1 trillion for the first time. The digital coin hit an all-time high of $40,188 at around 1:15 p.m. ET, just a few hours after blowing past the $39,000 level, according to data from Coin Metrics. Bitcoin was 13.1% higher from a day earlier. The cryptocurrency is up over 30% since the start of 2021 and in the past 12 months has surged 400%. Social Capital’s Chamath Palihapitiya thinks the digital currency has a long runway ahead even after its massive rally. “It’s probably going to $100,000, then $150,000, then $200,000,” Palihapitiya told CNBC’s “Halftime Report.” “In what period? I don’t know. [Maybe] five or 10 years, but it’s going there.” “The reason [it’s going there] is because, every time you see all of this stuff happening, it reminds you that our leaders are not as trustworthy and reliable as they used to be,” he said. “So, just in case, we really do need to have some insurance we can keep under our pillow that gives us some access to an uncorrelated hedge.” The value of the entire cryptocurrency market, which is made up of bitcoin and other digital coins like ether and tether, surpassed $1 trillion for the first time earlier on Thursday, according to data from Coinmarketcap. Bitcoin is by far the most dominant cryptocurrency, with a market value of over $700 billion. Bitcoin’s resurgence has been attributed to a number of factors including more buying from large institutional investors. High-profile investors like Paul Tudor Jones, for example, have been buying the digital currency. Many bitcoin bulls say the cryptocurrency is akin to “digital gold,” a potential safe haven asset and a hedge against inflation. In a recent research note, JPMorgan said bitcoin could hit $146,000 in the long term as it competes with gold as an “alternative” currency. The investment bank’s strategists noted that bitcoin would have to become substantially less volatile to reach this price, however. Bitcoin is known for wild price swings. The idea of bitcoin as a hedge against inflation has continued to gain steam as governments around the world embark on large-scale fiscal stimulus programs. Analysts argue this could cause a spike in inflation. “This latest bull run in January is sure to attract the asset managers’ attention to diversify even more of their assets to crypto as they are keen on finding alternative investments, such as cryptocurrency or gold, to hedge inflation and geopolitical risks,” Simons Chen, executive director of investment and trading at cryptocurrency financial services firm Babel Finance, told CNBC. “A large number of retail investors have also joined the race recently as they fear to miss out on opportunities to make easy, quick gain from the latest bull run,” he added. Bitcoin’s rise has also been helped by moves in the space from big financial firms like PayPal and Fidelity. PayPal last year launched a feature that lets its users invest in cryptocurrencies, and is planning to offer crypto payments across its massive network of retailers later this year. Source: Bitcoin tops $40,000 for first time, pushing cryptocurrency market value past $1 trillion
  17. Deep dive — Want to really understand how bitcoin works? Here’s a gentle primer Ars goes deep on the breakthrough online payment network. Enlarge The Matrix / Aurich 28 with 23 posters participating, including story author Update, 12/26/20: It's the year end holiday season, and Ars staff has been enjoying some much needed downtime. While that happens, we're resurfacing some classic Ars stories like this 2017 explainer on everything you've wanted to know about Bitcoin but may have been afraid to ask. (Because with the cryptocurrency's value reaching a new record high not even two weeks ago, it's perfectly reasonable to want the basic intel.) This piece first published on December 15, 2017 and it appears unchanged below. The soaring price of bitcoin—the virtual currency is now worth more than $250 billion—has gotten a lot of attention in recent weeks. But the real significance of bitcoin isn't just its rising value. It's the technological breakthrough that allowed the network to exist in the first place. Bitcoin's still anonymous inventor, who went by the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto, figured out a completely new way for a decentralized network to reach a consensus about a shared transaction ledger. This innovation made possible the kind of fully decentralized electronic payment systems that cypherpunks had dreamed about for decades. As part of our recent efforts to shed light on the mechanics of the popular cryptocurrency, today we'll provide in-depth explanation of how bitcoin works, starting with the basics: how do digital signatures make digital cash possible? How did Nakamoto's invention of the blockchain solve the double-spending problem that had limited earlier digital cash efforts? We'll also explore more recent happenings like the block size debate that has divided the bitcoin community into two warring camps. And finally, we'll look at the future and talk about why bitcoin's design could make it a uniquely fertile platform for innovation in the coming years. As you're about to see, there's simply a lot to cover. Asymmetric encryption made digital cash possible Enlarge / Whitfield Diffie was a key figure in the development of public-key cryptography and digital signatures in the 1970s. Dan Farber Until the 1970s, all publicly known encryption schemes were symmetric: the recipient of an encrypted message would use the same secret key to unscramble the message that the sender had used to scramble it. But that all changed with the invention of asymmetric encryption schemes. These were schemes in which the key to decrypt a message (known as the private key) was different from the key needed to encrypt it (known as the public key)—and there was no practical way for someone who only had the public key to figure out the private key. This meant you could publish your public key widely, allowing anyone to use it to encrypt a message that only you—as the holder of the private key—could decrypt. This breakthrough transformed the field of cryptography because it became possible for any two people to communicate securely over an unsecured channel without establishing a shared secret first. Asymmetric encryption also had another groundbreaking application: digital signatures. In normal public-key cryptography, a sender encrypts a message with the recipient's public key and then the recipient decrypts it with her private key. But you can also flip this around: have the sender encrypt a message with his own private key and the recipient decrypt it with the sender's public key. That doesn't protect the secrecy of the message since anyone can get the public key. Instead, it provides cryptographic proof that the message was created by the owner of the private key. Anyone who has the public key can verify the proof without knowing the private key. People soon realized that these digital signatures could make cryptographically secure digital cash possible. Using the classic example scenario, let's suppose Alice owns a coin and wants to transfer it to Bob. She'll write a message that says, "I, Alice, transfer my coin to Bob," and then sign the message by encrypting it with her private key. Now Bob—or anyone else—can decrypt the signature using Alice's public key. Since only Alice could have created the encrypted message, Bob can use it to demonstrate that he's now the rightful owner of the coin. If Bob wants to transfer the coin to Carol, he follows the same procedure, declaring that he's transferring the coin to Carol and encrypting the message with his private key. Carol can then use this chain of signatures—Alice's signature transferring the coin to Bob, and Bob's signature transferring the coin to Carol—as proof that she now owns the coin. Notice that none of this requires an official third party to authorize or authenticate the transactions. Alice, Bob, and Carol can generate their own public-private key pairs without help from third parties. Anyone who knows Alice's and Bob's public keys can independently verify that the chain of signatures is cryptographically valid. Digital signatures—combined with a few innovations we'll discuss later—let people engage in banking without needing a bank. How bitcoin transactions work The generic digital cash scheme I described in the previous section is very close to how real bitcoin payments work. Here's a simplified diagram of what real bitcoin transactions look like: Enlarge A bitcoin transaction contains a list of inputs and outputs. Each output has a public key associated with it. For a later transaction to spend those coins, it needs an input with a matching digital signature. Bitcoin uses elliptic curve cryptography for digital signatures. For example, suppose you own the private key corresponding to Public Key D in the diagram above. Someone wants to send you 2.5 bitcoins. The person will create a transaction like Transaction 3, with 2.5 bitcoins going to you—the owner of Public Key D. When you're ready to spend those bitcoins, you create a new transaction like Transaction 4. You list Transaction 3, output 1 as a source of the funds (outputs are zero-indexed, so output 1 is the second output). You use your private key to generate Signature D, a signature that can be verified with Public Key D. These 2.5 bitcoins are then split up between two new outputs: 2 bitcoins for Public Key E and 0.5 bitcoins for Public Key F. Now they can only be spent by the owners of the corresponding private keys. A transaction can have multiple inputs, and it must spend all of the bitcoins from the corresponding outputs of earlier transactions. If a transaction outputs fewer bitcoins than it takes in, the difference is treated as a transaction fee collected by the bitcoin miner who processed the transaction (more details on this later). On the bitcoin network, the addresses people use to send each other bitcoins are derived from public keys like Public Key D. The exact details of bitcoin's address format are complicated and have changed over time, but you can think of a bitcoin address as a hash (a short, seemingly random string of bits that serves as a cryptographic fingerprint) of a public key. Bitcoin addresses are encoded in a custom format called Base58Check that minimizes the risk of mistyping. A typical bitcoin address is "18ZqxfuymzK98G7nj6C6YSx3NJ1MaWj6oN." A real-world transaction looks like this: Enlarge Blockchain.info This transaction took 6.07 bitcoins from one input address and split it between two output addresses. One output address got a bit more than 5 bitcoins, while the other got slightly less than 1 bitcoin. Most likely, one of those output addresses belongs to the sender—sending "change" back to themselves—while the other belongs to a third-party recipient. Of course, real bitcoin transactions can be more complex than the simple examples I've shown so far. Probably the most important feature not illustrated above is that in place of a public key, an output can have a verification script written in a simple bitcoin-specific scripting language. To spend that output, a subsequent transaction must have parameters that allow the script to evaluate to true. This allows the bitcoin network to enforce arbitrarily complex conditions governing how the money can be spent. For example, a script could require three different signatures held by different people and also require that the money not be spent prior to some future date. Unlike Ethereum, bitcoin's scripting language doesn't support loops, so scripts are guaranteed to complete in a short amount of time. How bitcoin stops double spending Enlarge michael kooiman Many people in the 1980s and 1990s dreamed of using digital signatures to build an electronic cash system like this that's fully decentralized. But there were two big issues a fully decentralized digital cash system needed to address. One challenge is how to introduce new coins into the system. Obviously a viable payment network needs some way to create new coins, but if you let anyone create new coins whenever they want, the currency will quickly become worthless. The second challenge is known as the double-spending problem. The rules of bitcoin say that each transaction output can only be spent once. If someone tries to spend the same output twice, the bitcoin community needs some way to detect this double-spending attempt and reject the later transaction. The obvious solution is to have a company manage a shared record of all transactions. That's how conventional payment networks like MasterCard and PayPal work. But bitcoin inventor Satoshi Nakamoto wanted to build a network that wasn't controlled up by any single organization. So Nakamoto invented a shared ledger called the blockchain that is maintained by computers, called nodes, operating on a peer-to-peer network. Thousands of computers around the world keep separate copies of the entire blockchain, storing every transaction that has happened since the network was launched in 2009. The network rewards nodes who help to create the blockchain by allowing them to create new bitcoins—solving the coin-distribution problem while simultaneously creating an incentive to help solve the ledger-updating problem. The process works like this: when a user wants to make a bitcoin payment, she uses software to create a new transaction. From the user's perspective, this just means entering the amount of the transaction and the bitcoin address of the recipient into the bitcoin software and clicking "send." The user's client software will formulate the transaction and send it to a nearby node in the bitcoin network. The first node to hear about the transaction shares it with others until it's widely distributed throughout the network. Some of the nodes are miners that participate in the process of actually updating the blockchain. A miner makes a list of all the transactions it has heard about that aren't already in the blockchain. It checks to make sure that each transaction follows all of the rules of bitcoin—valid signatures, sum of outputs no greater than sum of inputs, and so forth—discarding those that break the rules. The resulting list of new, valid transactions is called a block. The miner also adds a special transaction granting itself a fixed reward—currently 12.5 bitcoins—for creating the block. Currently 12.5 bitcoins is more than $200,000, so naturally lots of people would like to add the next block to the blockchain. To win the right to add the next block, bitcoin miners compete against each other by performing a highly repetitive computation. They add a random value called a nonce to the candidate block they have assembled. Then they apply the SHA-256 hash function, which produces a short, seemingly random string of 1s and 0s that serves as a cryptographic fingerprint for the block. The goal is to find a block whose hash is very small—that is, its binary value starts with a large number of zeroes. As I'm writing this, a winning block needs a SHA-256 hash that starts with at least 72 zeros. Because SHA-256 hash values are essentially random, the only way to find a very low value is by repeated guessing. Most of the time, the hash value will be too high and the miner will repeat the process—changing the nonce and computing another hash value. Right now, the network computes around 7 x 1021 SHA-256 hashes, on average, for every block that is created. Whoever finds a block first announces it to the rest of the network. Everyone else verifies that the hash is low enough and that its transactions are all valid. If so, they then add that block to their copy of the blockchain. Everyone moves on to the next round of the race. How the bitcoin network achieves consensus Enlarge / The bitcoin network reaches consensus by always building on the longest chain. Ties in one round are resolved by the winner of the next round—in this case, the creation of the purple block made its predecessors an official part of the blockchain. Bitcoin's most important innovation is the development of a fully decentralized consensus process for resolving disagreements about which block to add to the blockchain next. The diagram above illustrates how this works. Suppose two nodes on the network each discover a new block around the same time (meaning they both find blocks whose hash values are lower than the target value). These are the red and green blocks in step 2 above. Only one of these two blocks can become a part of the blockchain, because they include a lot of duplicate transactions. To decide which block to accept, the network moves on to the next round of the race. Miners begin searching for a second new block. If someone finds a second new block, it will include a pointer to one of the two rival blocks created in the previous round. When this happens, both the new block (purple) and its predecessor (green) become part of the official blockchain. The other, rival block (red) gets discarded. In principle, this kind of tie can happen more than once. Someone else could have discovered another block at the same time as the purple block, and this one could have pointed back to the red block. In that case, the race would have continued to a third round, with the winning block in that round choosing which of the two rival chains becomes an official part of the blockchain. But this kind of confusion can't persist for very long, because nodes build on the block with the most predecessors—and in the case of a tie they choose the block they hear about first. So as soon as someone discovers a block like the purple block in step 3—one that makes its chain longer than other, rival chains—everyone else is supposed to accept the new block, along with its chosen predecessors. Everyone begins working on a block to follow the purple one. Miners have good reason to follow this longest-chain rule because they only get their 12.5-bitcoin reward if their block winds up being part of the consensus blockchain. And because most other nodes on the network follow the longest-chain rule, the chances of a block being accepted are much higher if it builds on top of the block at the end of the previous longest chain—like the red block in the diagram above. If a miner stubbornly insists on building on a different block (say the red block) any block it discovers will merely be tied with the purple block for chain length. And in ties like this, miners build on the block they hear about first, so the new block will get ignored. Now suppose someone wanted to attack the integrity of the network by spending the same coins twice. The attacker makes a payment, gets the recipient to accept it (and provide goods or services in exchange), and then wants to remove that payment from the blockchain so he can send the same coins to someone else. Here's what that would look like: Enlarge / A malicious party attacks the bitcoin network by trying to replace the yellow block with the grey block, allowing him to spend the same bitcoins twice. This attack is unlikely to succeed unless the attacker controls a majority of the network's hashing power. In this diagram, the legitimate transaction the attacker wants to replace is in the yellow block. In step 2, the attacker generates a new block—the grey one with a devil-horn icon representing the malicious double-spending transaction. The attack succeeds if the attacker can get the network to drop the yellow block in favor of the grey one. To do this, the attacker needs to extend its branch of the blockchain more quickly than the rest of the network can expand the legitimate branch. At first the attacker gets lucky, adding the orange block in step 3. This makes the malicious chain as long as the honest chain, but remember that honest nodes will continue building on the green block since they heard about it first. The question is who builds the next block. In scenario 4a, the attacker discovers another block and the attack succeeds. Honest nodes following the longest-chain rule switch to recognizing the grey and orange blocks as valid, discarding the previously official yellow and green blocks. In scenario 4b, the honest nodes extend their lead. I've shown the attacker's chain grayed out here, but the attacker hasn't necessarily lost here. It can continue adding blocks for as long as it wants—it will only be decisively defeated if the honest nodes build such a big lead that the attacker has no hope of catching up. Waste secures the blockchain Robert S. Donovan Mining is a probabilistic process, so whether an attack like this ultimately succeeds depends partly on luck. But it also depends on whether the attacker has more computing power than the rest of the network. If it does—a situation known as a 51 percent attack—then the attack is guaranteed to succeed eventually. On the other hand, if the attacker controls less than 50 percent of the network's total computing power, then the attack is unlikely to succeed, especially if the honest nodes have a decent head start. And this is the silver lining to bitcoin's ludicrous levels of energy consumption. Right now, bitcoin miners have enough collective horsepower to compute more than 12 x 1018 SHA-256 hashes per second. An adversary would need to acquire comparable computing horsepower—something that would cost hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars. Miners have amassed so much computing power because bitcoin mining is a lucrative business. Again, miners get 12.5 bitcoin—more than $200,000—per block. When the price of bitcoins goes up, the industry's profits rise, and so mining companies spend more on bitcoin hardware and the electricity required to run it. In the short run, this will cause blocks to be produced more quickly. But the bitcoin network is programmed to automatically adjust the difficulty of the mining task—that is, lower the maximum block hash value—to maintain a steady rate of six blocks per hour. If the network creates blocks too quickly, then the maximum block hash value is lowered to make it more difficult to find blocks. If block creation slows, the opposite occurs. As a result, the network produces an average of about one block every 10 minutes, no matter how much computing power the network has. That 12.5-bitcoin block reward is programmed to go down steadily over time. When bitcoin was launched in 2009, each block created 50 bitcoins. The reward dropped to 25 bitcoins in 2012 and to the current value of 12.5 in 2016. It will halve again every four years—6.25 in 2020, 3.125 in 2024, and so forth. Decades from now, the reward will eventually drop to an insignificant level. At that point, bitcoin mining will be supported solely by transaction fees. Any transaction can include a fee—a reward that goes to the miner who includes the transaction in the block. If there are more transactions than can fit in the next block, miners typically include the transactions with the highest fees first, effectively auctioning off space in the block to the highest bidder. Early bitcoin supporters liked to tout the fact that bitcoin transactions were free or close to it. But as the bitcoin network has become more congested, that has stopped being true. By early December, the average bitcoin transaction fee had soared to around $20 as too many transactions jostled for space in too-small blocks. A debate over scaling is tearing the community apart Enlarge B137 The network is becoming congested because a hard-coded value in bitcoin's code limits blocks to be no more than 1 megabyte. This limit, introduced with little controversy in 2010 as a measure to prevent abuse of the then-fledgling network, has since become the most controversial issue in the bitcoin world. Typical bitcoin transactions are around 500 bytes, on average, so blocks start to fill up when they have around 2,000 transactions. If the network creates a new block every 10 minutes, that translates to about 3.33 transactions per second. Obviously, a mainstream global payment network needs to be able to process payments more quickly than that. The bitcoin world has split into two warring camps with different solutions for this problem. One side has argued that the solution is simple: increase the block size. They've suggested immediately increasing the block size to 2, 4, or 8 megabytes, with further increases as needed in the future. The other camp worries that a higher block limit will make it too expensive for ordinary bitcoin users to run a full node on bitcoin's peer-to-peer network. Full bitcoin nodes must download every bitcoin transaction ever made and store them indefinitely. Increasing the block size limit would increase the bandwidth and storage requirements for participating in the network. If it becomes more expensive to run a bitcoin node, then smaller nodes might shut down. The bitcoin network could become dominated by a small number of companies and other large organizations. Big-block advocates argue this is nonsense. At the moment, the blockchain is 145 gigabytes, and it's been growing by about 4 gigabytes per month. Doubling the block size would mean the network would begin generating 8 gigabytes of data per month. Given that Amazon Web services currently charges about 2 cents per gigabyte per month for storage, they say, a reasonable block size increase isn't going to price anyone out of the market. But small-block supporters argue this reasoning is too short-sighted. They point out that a single doubling of the block size won't be enough to accommodate demand in the long run. If bitcoin relies on larger blocks to scale the network, it will quickly get to 10 megabyte blocks, then 100 megabyte blocks, and perhaps eventually 1 gigabyte blocks. At some point, it really will be cost-prohibitive for ordinary people to run full nodes. So small-block advocates argue that it makes more sense to find ways to scale the network while keeping blocks small. The first step they've advocated is a feature called segregated witness that was adopted by the network in September. This upgrade moved the cryptographic signatures (the "witness data") from transactions into a part of the blockchain that doesn't count against the 1 megabyte limit. Once a node has verified that these signatures are valid, it can discard them, reducing the amount of data that has to be stored permanently. When fully phased in, this should roughly double the bitcoin network's capacity without significantly increasing the burden on Bitcoin nodes. Over the longer term, the small-block crowd has its hopes pinned on Lightning, a payment network that's designed to be layered on top of bitcoin. A draft Lightning specification was released in early December, and three companies are now building independent implementations of the specification. A full explanation of Lightning is beyond the scope of this article (though we'll have much more to say about it in the future). In a nutshell, it uses a technique called payment channels that allow many small transactions to be made between two parties without posting individual transactions to the blockchain. The goal of the Lightning network is to stitch a patchwork of payment channels together into a global network that allows anyone to pay anyone else. If Lightning works as well as advocates expect, then it could solve bitcoin's long-term scaling problems. But some big-block advocates are skeptical that it will reduce on-chain transactions enough to make a difference. And they argue that in the meantime, bitcoin's block size should be increased to accommodate steadily rising demand. Two visions for bitcoin's future Enlarge / The original big block movement. Stefan Kühn The block size debate has become so convoluted that it can be easy to lose sight of the big picture. But what is ultimately at stake is two very different visions for bitcoin's future. In the big-block vision, blocks might eventually grow to be gigabytes in size, pricing smaller players out of running full nodes. The network might come to be dominated by a few dozen mining companies, exchanges, and other major bitcoin businesses (compared to more than 10,000 full nodes on the network now). From the casual user's perspective, this future bitcoin network would look a lot like the network today, with people being able to make an unlimited number of transactions at low transaction fees. However, the greater concentration of the network might give disproportionate power to companies that run a full node—and might eventually make the network more susceptible to government regulation. In contrast, small-blockers envision a new, layered architecture in which on-chain transactions are rare and expensive. In this vision, the blockchain becomes a "settlement layer" for the Lightning network, with payment channels bundling many Lightning payments into a single transaction on the blockchain. With a small block size—though even most small-blockers admit that it'll eventually need to be larger than 1 megabyte—the core bitcoin network remains decentralized, with thousands of nodes, including many operated by individuals. The reason the block-size debate has become so bitter is that each camp sees the other's vision as a perversion of the original bitcoin vision. Big-block people believe small-blockers are needlessly sabotaging the network's growth in pursuit of an idiosyncratic ideological agenda. Small-block people argue that the big-block vision will undermine the decentralization that drew many people to the cryptocurrency in the first place. The rise of bitcoin forks dvs One reason this debate has been so bitter is that bitcoin is a network that operates on consensus. The system works because every node on the network enforces precisely the same rules to determine which blocks are legal and which are illegal. If different nodes disagree about the rules they are enforcing, the result is a fork in the blockchain. In this scenario, one node produces a block—for example one larger than 1 megabyte—that some other nodes consider invalid. This will effectively split the network into two parts. Nodes that consider the block valid will recognize it as the new longest chain and build more nodes on top of it. Nodes that consider it invalid will ignore it and build on top of its predecessor. If left unchecked, this can lead to two mutually incompatible bitcoin networks operating side by side. To avoid this outcome, everyone on the network—or at least almost everyone—needs to agree on new rules long before they take effect. This need for broad consensus was one reason the bitcoin community got bogged down in a protracted, years-long argument over block size changes. Since 2015, most people have thought that some changes were needed, but it has been a struggle to figure out a set of changes that everyone could agree on. In August 2017, a dissident faction of big blockers decided to take matters into their own hands. They deliberately forked the blockchain without waiting for a consensus. The result was to create a new cryptocurrency called Bitcoin Cash. There are lots of bitcoin-like cryptocurrencies out there, of course, but this one was different in an important way: because it was a fork of the existing blockchain, anyone who owned one conventional bitcoin pre-fork also owned one "cash" bitcoin post-fork. Surprisingly, the combined value of the two cryptocurrencies post-fork actually exceeded the value of bitcoin before the fork—which means that the fork effectively created billions of dollars in new wealth. Then in November, a compromise proposal to double the block size in the mainstream bitcoin network to 2 megabytes collapsed in the face of determined small-block opposition. In response, some prominent big-blockers shifted their allegiance to Bitcoin Cash. "Bitcoin Cash is what I started working on in 2010: a store of value AND means of exchange," wrote Gavin Andresen, a former leader of the bitcoin software project, in November. It was a pointed dig at small-block vision in which the bitcoin network could become too congested and expensive to be a viable means of exchange. The result is that today, there are effectively two rival bitcoin communities. The small-block camp is now firmly in charge of the main bitcoin network and will be able to move forward with small blocks and the Lightning network. Big blockers are in charge of Bitcoin Cash and will be able to increase block sizes to their hearts' content. Right now, the market values regular bitcoins more than ten times as highly as Bitcoin Cash. But the Bitcoin Cash crowd is betting that their vision will win in the long run. They believe that the Lightning Network won't live up to the hype, and that high fees will eventually drive many bitcoin users to look for alternatives. Why bitcoin could change the world Photograph by Andrew Back Bitcoin's fundamental innovation is that it was the first electronic payment system to be fully decentralized. This is often framed in political terms, positioning the bitcoin network as a rival to networks managed by the Federal Reserve and major banks. But bitcoin's decentralization also had another consequence that was more subtle yet could turn out to be more important: bitcoin transactions are irreversible. If you buy something with a conventional credit card and the merchant doesn't deliver the product, you can ask the credit card network to reverse the transaction. Make the same purchase with bitcoin, and you'd be out of luck. There's no Bitcoin, Inc. to take your call. In a 2014 piece, I drew an analogy to the Internet, which tossed the circuit-switched model of early telecommunications networks in favor of a packet-switched model. The Internet abandoned the reliability guarantees of traditional networks; if an Internet route becomes congested, routers simply discard packets they can't deliver. It's the job of sender to notice that a packet wasn't delivered and send another copy. This approach drove old telecom hands crazy, but it turned out to be a crucial innovation. It allowed Internet routers to be simpler and made it easier for different types of networks to interoperate. And in the long run, it actually worked better, because computers at the edges of the Internet are in a better position to verify that the full message was delivered successfully. Bitcoin makes a similar shift: the network itself doesn't provide end users with robust anti-fraud protection. Instead, responsibility shifts to the creators of bitcoin applications, who must figure out ways to protect their users from fraud. This makes bitcoins a particularly risky asset to hold. In 2011, an early bitcoin speculator claimed that he'd had 25,000 bitcoins—they were worth around $500,000 then, and would be worth more than $400 million today—stolen by a hacker. It's a story that would repeat over and over again over the following six years. But while this is obviously a significant downside, bitcoin's irreversibility also has an important upside: it makes bitcoin (like the Internet) a uniquely open and programmable financial platform. Software that interacts with a conventional payment network like Visa or MasterCard must take into account their complex security models and the risk that a payment could later be reversed by the network. They have to worry about anti-money laundering rules. It often takes a day or two for transactions to clear—partly to give human customers an opportunity to spot fraudulent payments. Building a new kind of financial service on a conventional platform requires approval from a conventional network owner, and the companies tend to be risk-averse—partly because a poorly designed application can become a magnet for fraudulent transactions that imposes costs on others in the network. As a consequence, it's difficult for startups to build new financial services using conventional payment networks. In contrast, the validity of bitcoin transactions can be verified entirely in software. There's no need to worry about them later being reversed and no limits to the kinds of applications you can build and no approvals are required. A few years ago, I expected to see the emergence of user-facing financial apps built on bitcoin in much the same way that Google and Facebook are built on TCP/IP. I expected that these apps would offer higher-level services—like biometric authentication, escrow services for pending purchases, and customer liability guarantees—that would protect customers from fraud as well as the anti-fraud measures of conventional financial networks. So far, that hasn't really happened. Almost nine years after its creation, bitcoin usage is still confined to a small minority of bitcoin and cryptocurrency hobbyists. But maybe people just need to be patient. It took about 25 years for the Internet to evolve from an experimental network to a technology that was useful to ordinary people. There's currently a lot of innovation happening in the bitcoin ecosystem, and some of that innovation may have surprising consequences in the coming years. Bitcoin has become the reserve currency of the cryptocurrency world 401(K) 2012 One impact that bitcoin has already had is inspiring and supporting a Cambrian explosion of new blockchain-based technologies. There are now hundreds of cryptocurrencies inspired by bitcoin, including more than 20 worth more than $1 billion. Reversible and irreversible networks are like oil and water. It's relatively easy to move money from one reversible network to another. If a criminal transfers funds from one reversible network to another, then a chargeback on the first network can trigger a chargeback on the second network. Likewise, it's easy to move money between irreversible networks because neither network needs to worry about chargebacks. But a company that accepts a payment from a reversible network (say a credit card deposit) and then allows a second transaction on an irreversible network (say, a bitcoin withdrawal) is taking a big financial risk. If the credit card transaction turns out to be unauthorized, the company won't be able to issue a chargeback on the bitcoin network. Bitcoin exchanges offer exactly this service, and the risk of chargeback fraud is a big reason that cryptocurrency exchanges are difficult to set up and run. Modern bitcoin exchanges ask for identifying information partly to comply with money-laundering regulations, but also as an anti-fraud measure. bitcoin exchanges also impose a variety of limits on deposits and withdrawals in an effort to minimize their exposure. This fraud risk makes dollar-to-cryptocurrency conversions a bottleneck for the cryptocurrency economy. However, once someone has successfully obtained one cryptocurrency, the irreversibility of cryptocurrencies means that cryptocurrency-to-cryptocurrency transactions are less risky for intermediaries. This is why people wanting to obtain more exotic cryptocurrencies often buy bitcoins first. Typically, no one has done the work required to build a secure, scalable exchange for buying and selling the obscure or new cryptocurrency in question. But it's vastly easier to build a platform for trading bitcoins against other cryptocurrencies. As a result, bitcoin has come to play a similar role in the blockchain economy that the dollar plays in international trade. When two small countries want to trade with one another, they sometimes use dollars as their unit of account because the global financial system makes this easy. That pushes up the value of the dollar and makes it easy for Americans to trade with anyone around the world. In the same way, bitcoin has become a convenient medium of exchange for transactions between cryptocurrencies and between other cryptocurrencies and conventional currencies. Want to really understand how bitcoin works? Here’s a gentle primer
  18. Following an investigation that began in 2016 at the behest of US authorities, New Zealand's High Court has now ordered the seizure of cash and more than US$21m in cryptocurrencies from a man who helped to develop a movie piracy site. The funds were restrained back in 2019 and in the meantime have gained significant value. Back in 2016, police in New Zealand received information from the Internal Revenue Service in the United States that a movie piracy website was being operated by a local man. According to the IRS, the man and his associates were using online international money transfer services to send remittances between the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Vietnam. What followed was a three-year investigation and a raid on the man in 2019. Police Raid Alleged Movie Pirate’s Home, Seize Crypto Haul In June 2019, police swooped on software programmer Jaron David McIvor, making two visits to his home in New Zealand. The then-31-year-old reportedly lived in a modest rental property with no obvious wealth or expensive assets such as luxury vehicles. Several months later in November 2019, it was revealed that McIvor had cooperated with police, handing over the keys to access $6.2m in cryptocurrencies and NZ$6.2m (US$4.4m) and NZ$800,000 (US$568,320) in banked funds. The assets were seized under the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act. Later that month, police seized a further NZ472,000 (US$335,308) in cryptocurrency and NZ377,000 (US$267,820) in cash from a McIvor ‘associate’, later revealed to be his brother. At the time, Detective Senior Sergeant Keith Kay, head of the Asset Recovery Unit in Waikato, said McIvor had helped to create a movie piracy site (which has still not been named) from which he received significant funds. The site allegedly operated in the United States and when funds were deposited into various bank accounts via wire transfers, Stripe, and PayPal, a money-laundering investigation was launched. After “suspicious activity” was discovered on an account linked to McIvor, the raids and seizures took place. Court Orders Seizure of Cash and Cryptocurrency In a brief judgment handed down by the New Zealand High Court this morning, it is noted the McIvor was investigated for his role in the movie piracy scheme and as a result, significant funds would be forfeited to the state after he admitted profiting from copyright infringement. According to the Court, the Commission of Police ultimately restrained funds in McIvor’s bank account totaling NZ$818,000 (US$581,066) and cryptocurrencies now worth an eye-watering NZ$21 million (US$14.9m). Additional funds “found their way” into his brother’s account too – almost NZ$386,000 (US$274,195) and cryptocurrency now worth NZ$1.77 million (US$1.25 million) “The brothers recently agreed to forfeiture of all crypto-currencies and all but $400,000 (US$284,140). I approved their agreement with the Commissioner on 16 November 2020,” the judge wrote. “I was satisfied this outcome was consistent with the purposes of the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act 2009, and the overall interests of justice. I reached this conclusion because the overwhelming majority of restrained funds were forfeited, and litigation over the balance (of $NZ400,000) would be disproportionately expensive and time consuming. “In short, I considered settlement met the public interest,” he concluded. Movie Piracy Site Still Not Named The High Court judgment makes no mention of any further legal action against McIvor and mentions no ongoing investigations or court cases in respect of his copyright-infringing activities. Neither does it mention the name of the site, which seems a little unusual given the apparent scale of the operation. However, there are some similarities with a case in the United States, also based in movie piracy and involving large volumes of cryptocurrency. Just a month before the crypto seizures in New Zealand, United States authorities confirmed that they had seized around US$4 million worth of cash and cryptocurrency as part of an investigation into alleged movie piracy. That investigation ended last November with a guilty plea from Oregon resident Talon White and the forfeiture of $3.9 million seized from his bank accounts, $35,000 in cash, cryptocurrency worth around $424,000, plus his home in Oregon, then valued at $415,000. On top, White was ordered to pay $669,557 in restitution to the MPAA and $3,392,708 in restitution to the IRS. Source: TorrentFreak
  19. Bitcoin hits $14,000 for the first time since early 2018 Bitcoin hit a low of $3,200 in late 2018. Enlarge Thomas Trutschel / Getty Images News 9 with 9 posters participating The price of one bitcoin rose above $14,000 on Saturday morning. It was the first time the virtual currency reached that level since January 2018. As I write this, the currency is trading for around $13,800. Bitcoin, a currency whose name has become synonymous with price volatility, has seen three major bull runs in the past. Bitcoin's price peaked around $30 in June 2011, around $1,100 in January 2014, and just below $20,000 in December 2017. Each peak was followed by a wrenching crash where the currency lost more than 80 percent of its value. After the last bubble peaked in December 2017, the price steadily deflated until it reached a low around $3,200 in late 2018. It reached a peak around $13,800 in mid-2019, fell to $4,000 in early 2020, and has now soared back to $14,000. Bitcoin fans are hoping for another boom that pushes the currency past the highs of 2017, but that's far from a sure thing. Bitcoin's price has risen even though early ideas didn't pan out Early excitement about bitcoin, from roughly 2010 to 2015, was based on hopes that it would become a mainstream payment network. That never panned out. During periods of heavy use, the bitcoin network can get congested, leading to sky-high fees and hours-long delays for lower-valued transactions to clear. Proposals to dramatically expand the network's capacity have been strongly opposed by bitcoin traditionalists. The third bitcoin boom in 2017 was driven by a proliferation of new cryptocurrencies and a fad for "initial coin offerings." People who wanted to invest in new blockchain-based currencies would often first purchase bitcoins and then swap the bitcoins for a new token, boosting bitcoin's price in the process. Many of these offerings turned out to be worthless, souring investors on the concept and triggering a crash in 2018. It's not clear what's driving bitcoin's latest resurgence. One significant development has been the emergence of "decentralized finance" services that offer blockchain-based alternatives to loans and other traditional bank services. While these services mostly aren't based on bitcoin, rising interest in other cryptocurrencies tends to push up bitcoin's price. Boosters hope that these new "DeFi" services based on smart contracts will disrupt the conventional financial system. I remain skeptical. Bitcoin also continues to attract interest from mainstream investors who simply want to diversify into a new asset class. Payment provider Square likely contributed to the current rally in early October when it announced it was buying $50 million in bitcoin—representing about 1 percent of the firm's assets—as a way of diversifying its investments. Square described bitcoin as an "instrument of economic empowerment," touting the technology's potential to expand access to financial services globally. Square has offered a bitcoin trading service since 2018. Bitcoin hits $14,000 for the first time since early 2018
  20. Mysterious bitcoin wallet emptied of almost a billion dollars of cryptocurrency Recipient address becomes world’s second largest bitcoin wallet (Image credit: Shutterstock / Igor Batrakov) The owner of the world’s largest unattributed bitcoin wallet has emptied their account of almost $1 billion in cryptocurrency. The transaction saw 101,857 BTC (with a market value of circa $933m at the time of writing) delivered to two recipients, with first first receiving 5,000 BTC ($45.8m) and the second 96,857 BTC ($887.4m). The transfer made the latter bitcoin wallet the second richest in existence, behind a cold storage wallet owned by cryptocurrency exchange Huobi. The transaction was first registered on June 27 by an automated tracking service, and cost just $0.48 in associated fees. Bitcoin billionaire The sending wallet was first created on April 1 with a transfer of similar magnitude, after which it was logged among the most wealthy bitcoin addresses not owned by high-profile exchanges, whose bitcoin stock is owned primarily by clients. The identity of the wallet holder remains a mystery, by virtue of the anonymized nature of bitcoin transactions, though speculators have theorized it may have been owned by large scale investors such as the Winklevoss twins. It is also unclear whether all bitcoin held in the wallet was owned by a single individual, a group of individuals or even an exchange that had not declared its affiliation with the address. The identity of the transaction recipients is also unknown. Some have speculated that the sending and receiving wallets could be owned by the same entity, although it is unclear why that person (or group) might need to shift the location of their funds. Mysterious bitcoin wallet emptied of almost a billion dollars of cryptocurrency
  21. The feds just seized Silk Road’s $1 billion stash of bitcoin Forfeiture comes two days after mystery party transferred 69,369 BTC out of wallet. BTC Keychain 51 with 44 posters participating On Wednesday, Ars reported that someone had transferred close to $1 billion in bitcoin out of a wallet likely associated with the Silk Road crime bazaar. Now we know who that mystery party is: the US Department of Justice, which in 2013 shut down Silk Road and went on to put its founder, Ross Ulbricht, behind bars for life. “The successful prosecution of Silk Road’s founder in 2015 left open a billion-dollar question. Where did the money go?” US Attorney David Anderson said in a news release, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “Today’s forfeiture complaint answers this open question at least in part. $1 billion of these criminal proceeds are now in the United States’ possession.” Silk Road and Ulbricht were among the most popular and successful online crime figures in Internet history. Hosted on the anonymous Dark Web, the service brought together sellers and buyers of drugs, fake IDs, and just about any other kind of illicit good or service imaginable. There were thousands of dealers and "well over 100,000 buyers," US attorneys wrote in a civil complaint filed on Thursday. The complaint said that Silk Road generated revenue of over 9.5 million Bitcoin and collected commissions from these sales of more than 600,000 Bitcoin. Thursday's complaint came five years after Ulbricht was convicted and sentenced to two life terms plus 40 years. The Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation arm assisted in tracking down the intricate scheme to obfuscate the recipients of the proceeds. The seizure came two days after blockchain analysts noticed someone had transferred 69,369 BTC—worth about $975 million—out of an account that had received them from Silk Road. The wallet, which remained quiet since 2015, was the world’s fourth biggest. “Criminal proceeds should not remain in the hands of the thieves,” said Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Kelly R. Jackson in a news release, according to the Chronicle. “Through CI’s [Criminal Investigation] expertise in following the money, we were able to track down the illicit funds.” The feds just seized Silk Road’s $1 billion stash of bitcoin
  22. Ether tumbles below $100 as altcoins log double-digit losses Cryptocurrency prices fell sharply on Friday, as another bout of selling took digital currencies to fresh lows. Bitcoin, BTCUSD, -3.48% the world’s No. 1 digital currency, crashed through support at $3,500, falling more than 10% to a 15-month low at $3,230 on the Kraken exchange. A minor bounce has a single bitc,oin currently fetching $3265.00, down 9.3% since 5 p.m. Thursday. “The price of bitcoin has crippled on the back of this and I think it is likely that the price may not only drop below the $2K mark, but with this kind of momentum behind it, the price can test the 1500 level,” said Naeem Aslam, chief market analysts at Think Markets U.K. in a research note. “Simply put, the bad news keeps coming just like cockroaches coming out of a hole.” But Aslam said the rout has to stop somewhere, which presents a golden opportunity for crypto believers. “This is a crypto market which has the ability to blow your mind and the downside is limited and the price at its current level represents an opportunity of a lifetime,” he said. Bitcoin has now fallen 84% from its all-time high above $19,000. Altcoin collapse sees Ether trade below $100 Altcoins, or digital coins other than bitcoin, haven't fared any better. Ether, ETHUSD, -10.08% tumbled to a 19-month low at $82.44, down 13.2%, Litecoin LTCUSD, -8.14% was off 16.8% at $23.25, XRP, XRPUSD, -3.94% was down 10% at 29 cents and Bitcoin Cash BCHUSD, -9.16% made another record low, trading under $100 to $97,70, down 12.7%. The crypto-wide selloff shed a further $10 billion off the market value of all cryptocurrencies, which is at a 15-month low of $106 billion, according to data from CoinMarketCap. Bitcoin futures traded spot prices lower on Friday. The Cboe Global Markets December contract XBTZ8, -7.74% ended down 8.5% at $3,282.50 and the CME Group December contract BTCZ8, -7.78% finished Friday down 8.3% at $3,300. Source
  23. This probably isn’t the best way to get the FBI’s attention. Multiple outlets in India reported over the weekend that an unnamed 18-year-old boy from the Jalaun district is being charged with multiple crimes after he called the FBI about 50 times with bomb threats against the Miami International Airport. Local authorities were contacted by the American law enforcement agency and said an investigation revealed the boy was upset that the FBI was unresponsive to his claims that a fraudster had conned him out of around $1,000 worth of Bitcoin. A representative for the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) told reporters that investigators tracked down the accused through his IP address. They said that he’d photoshopped a fraudulent Aadhaar identity card which he then used to set up an email account under a false name. Using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), he reportedly proceeded to make about 50 calls to the FBI through the phony email account between October 2 and 31, and also called the Miami airport directly on five occasions. According to the Times of India, officials quoted the boy’s confession. He reportedly admitted: The Hindustan Times reports that the boy was given $1,000 by his father to invest in Bitcoin and he’d been doing well with the investment before meeting a stranger online promising to increase his returns. The person allegedly made off with all of his Bitcoin and the boy attempted to get the FBI to track the conman down, to no avail. But officials from the ATS claimed that the FBI had taken the case and was in the midst of its investigation when the threats started. The charges he faces do not require arrest and authorities pointed out that he’s known to be “a bright student.” As prices of cryptocurrencies have taken a dive over the last year, we’ve seen horror stories of people going into debt and losing their life savings in the failing market. Theft also continues to be rampant. In June, Carbon Black, a cybersecurity research firm, estimated that $1.1 billion worth of cryptocurrencies had been stolen in 2018. The boy in India’s reaction was obviously over the top, ridiculous, and counterproductive. But it’s an example of the ways in which the chaos of cryptocurrencies can have ripple effects across so many peoples’ lives. More at: [Times of India, Hindustan Times via The Next Web] Source
  24. Bitcoin just ended its worst-performing month in seven years in terms of month-over-month price declines. The world’s largest cryptocurrency began November at an average price across exchanges of $6,341, but as of 0:00 UTC on December 1 is trading at just $3,964, according to CoinDesk’s Bitcoin Price Index. As it stands, the near $2,400 drop in bitcoin’s price has created a -37.4 percent monthly performance, which is its worst on record since August 2011, when it fell from roughly $8 to $4.80 to print a -40 percent monthly loss, according to data from the CoinDesk Bitcoin Price Index (BPI). Since bitcoin is the largest cryptocurrency in terms of market capitalization by a considerable margin, now comprising 53.5 percent of the total market, all other cryptocurrencies tend to follow its lead when it comes to price performance. As a result, the broader market suffered substantial losses in November, with just one of the world’s largest 25 cryptocurrencies able to post a monthly gain. The outlier was bitcoin SV, a fork off of the original bitcoin cash blockchain, yet it has only existed long enough to accrue 22 days of pricing data on CoinMarketCap. As can be seen in the above graph, double-digits losses were common among the world’s largest cryptocurrencies in November. Tezos (XTZ) was the worst performer of the month, reflecting a 61.5 percent loss with bitcoin cash (BCH) just 3 percent behind. What’s more, the average performance of the top 10 cryptocurrencies by market capitalization was -30 percent, while the average performance of all 25 was -37 percent. Market Cap Monthly Chart Since market capitalization is a function of the price of a cryptocurrency multiplied by its circulating supply, the capitalization of the total market takes a hit whenever prices experience a steep drop. At the beginning of November, the total market capitalization recorded a value of $203 billion, yet today that figure records $130 billion, a 35 percent loss. The total capitalization of the cryptocurrency market has now lost over $690 billion and 83 percent of its value since reaching its all time high north of $820 billion this past January, according to CoinMarketCap. Source
  25. Richard Stallman, the fervently committed founder of the free software movement, is discussing the term “libertarian,” when he stops talking abruptly and says, “Hello?” I tell him I’m still listening, but he explains that the confused greeting wasn’t intended for me. Instead, he says a man’s voice – neither mine nor an echo of his – had just cut in with one word: “liberty.” “Does that sort of thing happen a lot?” I ask. I hadn’t heard anything. “Yes,” he says. “It wasn’t a voice I recognize.” He added, “It could be … ” Then a quick burst of static made his next words inaudible. It was a strange incident, but apparently not a new experience for Stallman, whose emails urge any NSA or FBI agents reading to “follow Snowden’s example” and blow the whistle. Stallman seems to check all of the old school cypherpunk boxes: in addition to being an Edward Snowden admirer, he’s a hacker of the original ’70s and ’80s generation, a privacy activist, and a frequent invoker of liberty. As a result, cryptocurrency enthusiasts could be forgiven for thinking Stallman was also head-over-heels for bitcoin. He’s not. Before his oration on libertarianism was interrupted, he said that the right-wingers who made up a significant portion of bitcoin’s early adopters don’t really deserve the label. His own pro-freedom views are more “libertarian” than bitcoiners’ “anti-socialism,” he argued. As we spoke, it became clear that Stallman doesn’t find the decade-old technology all that appealing, for more reasons than just politics. “I have never used it myself,” he told CoinDesk. If that’s surprising, keep in mind that fine distinctions matter a great deal to Stallman. For example, he wrote a 9,000-word explainer on the difference between the terms GNU and Linux. In 40-ish words: GNU, which Stallman proposed in 1983, is an operating system using exclusively free software. Linux, created years later by Linus Torvalds, is a kernel. Many refer to packages combining the two as “Linux,” but Stallman insists that the proper term is GNU/Linux or just GNU. He also wrote 3,000 words on the differences between free software and open source software. Advocates of both push for the freedom to use, study, change and redistribute software, but Stallman said that those similarities conceal “a deeply important moral disagreement” centered on freedom and human rights, which the free software movement stresses. The GNU Project, which Stallman founded, is working on an alternative digital payments system called Taler, which is based on cryptography but is not – forgive the hair-splitting – a cryptocurrency. The Taler project’s maintainer Christian Grothoff told CoinDesk that the system is, rather, designed for a “post-blockchain” world. Concerned with privacy… It doesn’t even seem like the technology has been around long enough to already be thinking of a world after it, but to Stallman, bitcoin isn’t suitable as a digital payment system. His biggest complaint: bitcoin’s poor privacy protections. He told CoinDesk, “What I’d really like is a way to make purchases anonymously from various kinds of stores, and unfortunately it wouldn’t be feasible for me with bitcoin.” Using a crypto exchange would allow that company and ultimately the government to identify him, he said. And as for mining the bitcoin himself, it’s a big investment and besides, he continued, “I’ve got other things I’d rather do.” Asked what he thought about so-called privacy coins, Stallman said he’d gotten an expert to assess their potential, and “for each one he would point out some serious problems, perhaps in its security or its scalability.” And speaking broadly, Stallman continued: …But not ‘perfect’ privacy That pessimism aside, the GNU Project’s Taler does share some aspects with cryptocurrency projects – most notably it aims to fill the same niche. Start with Taler’s intellectual lineage. It’s based on blind signatures, a cryptographic technique invented by David Chaum, whose DigiCash was among the first attempts at creating secure electronic money. Plus, Taler’s attempt to create a digital money that resists surveillance by governments and payments companies aligns it with many cryptocurrency projects. Yet, Taler does not attempt to bypass centralized authority. Payments are processed by openly centralized “exchanges” rather than peer-to-peer networks of miners because, Grothoff said, such a system “would again enable dangerous, money laundering kind of practice.” Indeed, in a break with the anti-government ethos that has tended to characterize bitcoin and some of its peers, Taler’s design explicitly tries to block opportunities for tax evasion. Speaking to this, Stallman told CoinDesk, “We need a state to do many vital jobs, including fund research, fund education, provide people with medical care – provide everyone with medical care – build roads, maintain order, provide justice, including to those who are not rich and powerful, and so the state’s got to bring in a lot of money.” What a break from the political leanings of many of bitcoin’s first adherents. Stallman continued: Privacy in the Taler system, then, is limited to users spending their digital cash. They are shielded from surveillance because, Grothoff said, “the exchange, when coins are being redeemed, cannot tell if it was customer A or customer B or customer C who received the coin, because they all look identical from the exchange.” “Nobody,” he added, “exactly knows who has how many tokens.” Merchants (or anyone) receiving payments, on the other hand, do so visibly and in the open, making it possible for governments to assess taxes on their income – not to mention harder for the recipients to participate in money laundering. A place for crypto? While Taler is not a cryptocurrency and doesn’t have a native asset (there are no talers or TalerCoins), as a new payment rail for existing assets, the system could support cryptocurrency at some point. Just as euros (the first currency that will be supported by the system), dollars and yen could all be sent using Taler, so could bitcoin. Similarly, while Taler is not a blockchain, a blockchain-based system could take the place of a bank within the system. For users to be able to move euros into the Taler wallet, though, Taler exchanges will need to interact with the traditional banking system to withdraw that money. In this same way, a blockchain-based system could work with Taler exchanges to allow users to get access to their cryptocurrency. Grothoff compared the act of moving bank deposits to a Taler digital wallet to taking cash out of an ATM. Coins in the wallet are stored locally on a user’s device, and if a user loses the key to their wallet, there’s nothing that can be done to recover it, much like the crypto space’s use of private/public key pairs. Currently, Taler is in talks with European banks to allow withdrawal into the Taler wallet and also re-deposit from the Taler system back into the traditional banking system. While the launch date on the project’s website still lists 2018, Grothoff said, it’s dependent of how quickly discussions with banks can be wrapped up. And he said, “The banks are not necessarily easy or cheap to deal with.” Although, nothing about the traditional banking system per se is essential to Taler’s functioning (except perhaps for regulatory compliance). In principle, the “register-based system” that Taler plugs into could be a bank account or, in theory, a blockchain, said Grothoff. If Taler gains traction, developers can experiment with different implementations and integrations – using banks or blockchains or whatever other register system they prefer. After all, Grothoff said: Source
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