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Criminal Underground Disavowing Bitcoin for Other Cryptocurrencies

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The criminal underworld is disavowing bitcoin in favor of a new breed of cryptocurrencies that can better conceal illicit activity, a phenomenon that can partly explain the rapid rise of altcoins over the past three months.

The Rise of Privacy Coins

So-called ‘privacy coins’ like Monero, which are designed to avoid tracking, have quickly climbed the cryptocurrency market’s ranks. According to Bloomberg, these crypto alternatives have gained prominence at a time when law enforcement is increasing its surveillance of bitcoin users. Analytics firms are also getting better at spotting illicit behavior and alerting crypto exchanges before funds are exchanged into fiat money.

Europol has flagged several privacy coins as being more conducive for the criminal black market. In a recently published report, the European Union’s law enforcement agency said “other cryptocurrencies such as Monero, Ethereum and Zcash are gaining popularity within the digital underground.”

An analyst interviewed by Bloomberg said Monero is one of the most popular coins for ransomware attacks. Monero’s popularity among cyber criminals stems from its advanced encryption techniques, which generate fake addresses to hide the real sender’s identity. This technique also obscures the transaction amount issued. Bitcoin, on the other hand, records all addresses and transactions on an immutable digital ledger.

Experts say Zcash offers even better privacy protection because it obscures the actual address of the sender rather than generate fake addresses. This method makes it impossible for surveillance technology to draw correlations in addresses used in multiple transactions.

Monero and Zcash have both grown to become multi-billion-dollar cryptocurrencies. By market cap alone, Monero is ranked 12th, with an overall value of $6.3 billion. Zcash is down at 29th with an overall market cap of $1.7 billion. Both cryptocurrencies have daily turnover well into the hundreds of millions.

The developers behind Monero said they specifically designed the cryptocurrency to safeguard privacy. Naturally, this would be of benefit to criminals looking to evade detection.

“As a community, we certainly don’t advocate for Monero’s use by criminals,” core developer Riccardo Spagni told Bloomberg. “At the same time if you have a decentralized currency, it’s not like you can prevent someone from using it. I imagine that Monero provides massive advantages for criminals over bitcoin, so they would use Monero.”

Governments Make a U-Turn on Cryptos

Although bitcoin catapulted into the mainstream last year as one of the world’s fastest-growing alternative assets, its history is tainted with criminal activity tied to money laundering and the dark web. This partly explains why so many governments were eager to disavow the cryptocurrency. Many policymakers quickly realized that prohibition is not the answer given the inherent benefits of blockchain technology.

Russia is one of the more notable examples of a government that quickly changed its tune on bitcoin. It was not even two years ago that Russia’s Finance Ministry was proposing seven-year jail sentences for bitcoin users and adopters. Last week, the government said it would take decisive steps to developing a national cryptocurrency backed by fiat money.

Today, the cryptocurrency market enjoys favorable conditions in many parts of the world, including Japan, South Korea and Switzerland. Buying and selling crypto assets is also supported across many Western nations. However, the evolving nature of the market has put authorities on high alert, with South Korea recently announcing it would take decisive steps to rein in speculation.

2018 is expected to be a pivotal year for crypto regulation, as legislators attempt to define the burgeoning market. Cryptocurrency exchanges, initial coin offerings and mining could all be subject to federal oversight in the near future.

Disclaimer: The author owns bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies. He holds investment positions in the coins, but does not engage in short-term or day-trading.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.5 stars on average, based on 457 rated postsSam Bourgi is Chief Editor to Hacked.com, where he specializes in cryptocurrency, economics and the broader financial markets. Sam has nearly eight years of progressive experience as an analyst, writer and financial market commentator where he has contributed to the world's foremost newscasts.




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Cryptocurrency Theft Reaches $1.1 Billion This Year: Carbon Black

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The cryptocurrency market continues to be extremely lucrative for cyber criminals. Through the first five months of 2018, they managed to steal roughly $1.1 billion worth of digital assets, according to a new study conducted by Carbon Black.

Dark Web Targets Crypto

In a newly released study, analysts at Carbon Black estimated 12,000 marketplaces and 34,000 offerings targeting crypto theft.  Their weapon of choice: malware.

“As was the case during the physical gold rush in the mid-1800s, there are criminals looking to exploit innocent parties of their earnings,” Carbon Black security strategist Rick McElroy said in a statement. “Carbon Black has found that modern-day cybercriminals are increasingly using the dark web to facilitate cryptocurrency theft on a large scale.”

McElroy later told CNBC in an interview that malware costs an average of $224, though it can be had for as little as $1.04. Although small on the surface, the malware market has grown to become a $6.7 million economy.

The crypto universe, which includes initial coin offerings and exchanges, is being ever more targeted by cyber criminals. Although dark web elements have been exploiting digital assets for several years, their efforts have increased since the bull market began in January 2017.

Earlier this year, hackers made off with $530 million worth of NEM tokens in a coordinated attack on Coincheck, a Tokyo-based digital currency exchange. The attack is the second largest on record in terms of monetary value.

The first high-profile attack on an exchange occurred in 2014 when thieves stole 750,000 bitcoins from Mt. Gox, another Tokyo-based platform. The exchange filed for bankruptcy shortly thereafter.

Privacy Coins and the Dark Web

While bitcoin may be the most popular cryptocurrency on the market, the dark web would much rather deal with privacy coins such as Monero.
A recent study by Recorded Future found Monero to be the most popular cryptocurrency on the dark web. Dash was second, followed by Ethereum, Litecoin and bitcoin.  Coins like Dash have attracted a larger following for their ease of use and low fees.

Despite Monero’s popularity, it is accepted only by a tiny minority of dark web vendors. Interestingly, Litecoin had the highest acceptance rate for coins other than bitcoin. Virtually every dark web vendor accepts bitcoin as a method of payment.

When it comes to absolute privacy, Zcash is considered one of the best cryptocurrencies on the market – at least, when compared with other major assets. However, when it comes to fungibility, Zcash is said to have limitations relative to bitcoin, Monero and others.

Disclaimer: The author owns bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies. He holds investment positions in the coins, but does not engage in short-term or day-trading.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.5 stars on average, based on 457 rated postsSam Bourgi is Chief Editor to Hacked.com, where he specializes in cryptocurrency, economics and the broader financial markets. Sam has nearly eight years of progressive experience as an analyst, writer and financial market commentator where he has contributed to the world's foremost newscasts.




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Cybersecurity

Three Hours After Re-Launch, BitGrail Shuts Down Again

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Embattled digital currency exchange BitGrail has reportedly suspended operations a mere three hours after re-launching, a move that could signal the death knell for the controversial trading platform.

BitGrail Shuts Down After Court Order

The Italian exchange received an order from the Court of Florence on Tuesday to cease operations immediately. BitGrail was open for all of three hours before the order was handed down. All cryptocurrencies that were previously supported on the exchange were available for trade with the notable exception of Nano XRB.

On Wednesday, BitGrail issued the following statement:

“This morning, following the re-opening, we were notified of a deed by the court of Florence requesting the immediate closure of BitGrail and this situation will persist until a decision is made by the courts, about the precautionary suspension request made by the Bonelli law office on behalf of a client.”

A final decision by the court is scheduled for May 16 2018.

Embroiled in Controversy

The Italian exchange has been mired in controversy after 17 million Nano XRB tokens went missing in February. At the time, the total value of the theft was $170 million.

At the time, BitGrail said the shortfall was caused by “unauthorized transactions,” but didn’t indicate exactly when the hack took place.

A Twitter user by the name of “Francesco the Bomber,” who apparently runs the exchange, later confirmed that the funds were stolen and that the exchange didn’t have the capital to repay its customers. However, developers who used to work with Francesco claimed that the exchange was solvent long before the attack took place. This fact was concealed by BitGrail for as long as possible.

For its part, Nano XRB managed to recovery in the wake of the attacks, with prices reaching a high near $17 in early March. The cryptocurrency has nearly doubled in value over the last three weeks as part of a broader upward correction in the market.

The Nano Foundation has established a fund to assist BitGrail users affected by the attack. The Foundation says it will match donations to the fund for up to $1 million.

BitGrail was the second largest attack of a digital currency exchange this year. In January, cyber criminals made off with around $530 million worth of NEM tokens following an attack on Coincheck, a Japanese exchange.

Disclaimer: The author owns bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies. He holds investment positions in the coins, but does not engage in short-term or day-trading.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.5 stars on average, based on 457 rated postsSam Bourgi is Chief Editor to Hacked.com, where he specializes in cryptocurrency, economics and the broader financial markets. Sam has nearly eight years of progressive experience as an analyst, writer and financial market commentator where he has contributed to the world's foremost newscasts.




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Cybersecurity

Facebook Stock Has Best Day in Two Years as Zuckerberg Testifies

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Shares of Facebook Inc. (FB) gained on Tuesday, as CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before U.S. lawmakers over allegations of data misuse.

Zuckerberg Gets Likes

Mark Zuckerberg apologized and defended his company on Tuesday as he appeared before a joint U.S. Senate committee hearing. “It was my mistake, and I’m sorry,” the 33-year-old CEO said when questioned about Facebook’s misuse of user data.

Lawmakers grilled Zuckerberg on issues ranging from Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal to its failure in addressing provocative messages during the most recent Myanmar crisis. He took it all in stride, appearing confident and poised throughout the question-and-answer period (at least, that’s what professional PR experts quoted by Bloomberg had to say).

Zuckerberg took full responsibility not just for Cambridge Analytica, but for Facebook’s negligence in safeguarding consumer data. That said, Republican Senator from Iowa Chick Grassley sent a strong signal that new regulations are on the way.

“The status quo no longer works,” said Grassley, who chairs the Judiciary Committee. “Congress must determine if and how we need to strengthen privacy standards to ensure transparency and understanding for the billions of consumers who utilize these products.”

Wall Street Responds

The testimony resonated with Wall Street, as investors scooped up shares of the battered social media company. Facebook shares added 4.5%, their best in two years. By comparison, the S&P 500 Index gained 1.7% on Tuesday and the index’s technology component rose 2.5%.

The stock surge grew Zuckerberg’s personal fortune by $2.8 billion to $66 billion, according to Forbes. That makes him the world’s seventh richest person.

Despite the gain, FB is down almost 15% from its all-time high and its current price point lags behind the 50-day and 200-day moving averages. An RSI of 48 also signals weak underlying momentum for the social media stock.

Facebook’s Declining Usage

Facebook experienced a public backlash last month amid reports that a political research firm had scraped data on 87 million people. The revelation sparked a growing debate over Facebook’s privacy standards at a time when the company was battling a noticeable decline in usage.

The social media platform declined by roughly 50 million hours per day in the fourth quarter, or 5% overall. Meanwhile, independent research from a company named Edison found a steady drop in usage among Americans aged 12 and up.

While Zuckerberg has tried to spin the decline as a good thing, it’s apparent that the platform is experiencing fewer meaningful interactions, which partially explains recent efforts to transform the News Feed.

It remains to be seen how much damage the declines will do to top and bottom line results. Facebook is expected to report its quarterly earnings report Apr. 25. Analysts are expecting per-share earnings of $1.37 for the quarter, up from $1.04 the same time a year ago.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.5 stars on average, based on 457 rated postsSam Bourgi is Chief Editor to Hacked.com, where he specializes in cryptocurrency, economics and the broader financial markets. Sam has nearly eight years of progressive experience as an analyst, writer and financial market commentator where he has contributed to the world's foremost newscasts.




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