Last month, Russia said it would move to regulate cryptocurrency by bringing mining and exchange under the purview of the central government. Investors rejoiced in the decision, as it signaled that another major economy would not ban cryptocurrency. However, as one prominent blockchain expert notes, the advent of a government-controlled cryptocurrency – i.e., CryptoRuble – would threaten the point of cryptocurrencies all together.
Binary.com Founder and CEO Jean-Yves Sireau (JYS) was recently in contact with Hacked.com, where he answered some of our most pressing questions. Below are excerpts from our most recent email exchange.
JYS Weighs In
According to the Binary.com founder, Russia’s plan to centralize the mining process is probably feasible, but will likely hamper the CryptoRuble’s popularity. That’s because this arrangement practically ignores one of the key selling points of cryptocurrency – that is, the potential for a universal token.
“Indeed, the attraction of cryptocurrencies is that they are like cash: easily transferrable, essentially anonymous and open to everyone,” JYS says. “A currency that doesn’t have these features is going to be at a competitive disadvantage. There are already hundreds of competing cryptocurrencies, hence creating one that has limitations is not likely to be a success story.”
As many of our readers know, Russia isn’t the only country looking to create a state-run cryptocurrency. Kazakhstan and Estonia are in the process of creating a state-run digital currency, with several others considering the idea. There has even been talk of China – a country that recently banned cryptocurrency trading – implementing its own state-run digital currency.
In Sireau’s view, there’s no guarantee that these currencies will be popular. As he rightly notes, “there are hundreds of cryptocurrencies with a very limited following.”
Russia has given mixed signals about how it plans to regulate ICOs. According to Sireau, this reflects broader confusion about how to secure a market that so few know about. Apparently, JYS doesn’t think too highly of ICOs, either.
“In my opinion most ICOs are worthless or scams, and investors will lose 98% of their money. Even if regulators do come up with regulations, it will be too little too late. In 1-2 years’ time there is going to be a flurry of lawsuits surrounding ICOs, especially in the US where law firms can organize class-action lawsuits. I think these lawsuits are what are going to tame the market, not regulatory action.”
On whether any jurisdiction approaching cryptocurrency regulation the right way, Sireau said flat-out no. That’s because “the core issue is that regulators are typically lawyers or compliance people who don’t understand the details of the technology. It’s like trying to create grammatical rules for Greek without having any knowledge of the language.”
The future of cryptocurrency looks promising, but will be marked by volatility and many failed projects. In Sireau’s view, this is especially the case with ICOs, which could “implode in a flurry of lawsuits, especially in the form of class-action lawsuits, in the U.S.”
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Blockchain Asset Manager Ambisafe Talks About Institutional Guarantees, Parity Debacle
Ethereum platform Ambisafe has quickly emerged as one of the blockchain’s most promising asset managers. Hacked recently spoke with representatives from the company on their product, institutional bottlenecks and other contemporary issues facing the cryptocurrency market.
Ambisafe Asset Platform
In the world of blockchain, Ambisafe is well established. The company has been involved in the cryptocurrency space as far back as 2010, and is today one of the blockchain’s leading asset issuance and management firms. The company provides many go-to-market offerings, including ICO services, asset issuance and custom Ethereum development solutions.
Ambisafe operates several other companies, including Orderbook, an Ethereum token exchange. Orderbook has 25,000 active users and is averaging about two ICO launches per week, according to a company spokesperson. Combined, ICOs launched via Orderbook have generated more than $35 million in funding.
Orderbook claims to provide full transparency and immutability by recording all transactions on the blockchain. In this sense, it is entirely trustless and stores all assets “on-chain.”
The companies (both Orderbook and Ambisafe) areled by Andrey Zamovskyi, who has been coding since the age of nine. He has his fingerprints all over first of their kind blockchain projects, such as wallets, merchant services, exchanges and trading platforms.
A Lack of Institutional Guarantee
Ambisafe told Hacked that one of the biggest challenges facing the crypto-sphere isn’t payment processing, but a lack of institutional guarantees. This could make it difficult to attract new investors as the market eventually stabilizes and cools from its recent streak of record-setting gains.
In explaining this issue, Ambisafe drew our attention to account guarantees in the United States. In the U.S., all savings accounts held at banks are backed by a guarantee of $250,000 from the federal government. This is essentially a guarantee that your funds will be protected for that amount if the bank fails.
Moreover, if your credit card is stolen, U.S. law limits personal liability drastically so that you are not left on the hook for a massive bill payment.
These same guarantees are not present in the cryptocurrency space. Quite the contrary, as a matter of fact.
For example, if my Trezor is stolen or Coinbase is hacked, I simply lose everything. Large-scale trusted and insured institutions need to back vaults with extensively audited multi-sig wallets before we’ll see widespread displacement of credit/checking accounts.
Ambisafe also chimed in on the recent controversy surrounding Parity Technologies, whose account holders were locked out of $190 million worth of ether tokens. When asked about how the accounts could be unlocked, Ambisafe referred to the fact that there are some Ethereum Improvement Protocols (EIPs) on how to recover the funds. However, the discussions appear to be ongoing with no immediate solution in sight.
“In our solutions, we make sure to have a test coverage,” Ambisafe said. “Also, we don’t publish our code out in the wild just for the hell of it. We share the code by request though.
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.
Minerva’s OWL Token Fights Inflation and Offers Merchants Unique Revenue Stream
Luxembourg-based Ethereum startup Minerva has developed a platform that will reward merchants for using its tokens. Through a system of “reverse transaction fees,” Minerva will supply merchants with its newly minted OWL tokens when they agree to offer discounts on goods and services that can be paid for in the cryptocurrency.
In other words, merchants who accept the OWL as a form of payment will receive more tokens simply by propagating its use.
The Decentralized Central Reserve
Observers and participants of the cryptocurrency market are no doubt aware of the volatile nature of this new asset class. Just last week, the global crypto market shed $65 billion – some 40% of its value – after China launched an attack on the blockchain community by banning ICOs and bitcoin exchanges.
Minerva’s platform aims to do much more than just incentivize the use of digital tokens; it seeks to tame volatility once and for all. This can be accomplished through the Minerva Volatility Protocol (MVP), which in some way functions like a “decentralized central reserve.”
MVP works by smoothing out price movements in the OWL token. When the price of OWL increases, Minerva’s algorithm mints new coins for approved merchants during transaction. This is the “reverse transaction fee” everyone is talking about. When OWL’s price drops, the platform incentivizes users to temporarily take coins out of circulation with smart contracts that resemble bonds.
OWL is essentially modelled from basic economic theory, which states that a currency – be it crypto- or fiat-based – is determined by the law of supply and demand. The price of a currency rises when its demand outstrips supply, and falls when its supply exceeds its perceived utility.
The smart contracts implementing OWL work to ensure that the basic law of supply/demand is maintained by targeting currency fluctuation. The algorithm does this by targeting the supply of OWL under present conditions to achieve zero or near-zero inflation.
When the inflation rate is smaller than targeted, additional OWL tokens are created; these OWL tokens are delivered to approved merchants, with a portion “taxed” and placed into a reserve vault. When the inflation rate exceeds the target, additional MVP contracts are made available for purchase at a calculated incentive rate, which is paid at a future time from the reserve vault. No MVP contract is offered for sale unless there is sufficient OWL reserved to pay the incentives.
Key Challenges Facing Adoption
OWL’s impeccable delivery method isn’t without its challenges. While cryptocurrency is the biggest thing since sliced bread, the market is still in its formative stage. This means ease-of-use and broader mainstream appeal remain limited for now.
“Our biggest hurdle is what we look forward to solving the most: achieving the mainstream adoption of cryptocurrency through ease-of-use and utility incentivization” Minerva co-founder Kevin McSheehan told Hacked.com.
Although many in the industry have told McSheehan that integration with merchant processing ISOs is a non-starter, Minerva appears to be ahead of the curve. The company has a long and established working relationship with some of the world’s biggest merchant processors. We’ll just have to wait a little while longer to find out who they are.
Regulatory uncertainty and volatility surrounding the crypto-sphere more generally are also key challenges companies like Minerva are facing. These issues have spawned another community pushing SAFTs as the next major breakthrough in the debate over regulation.
To combat these and other challenges, Minerva has put together an impressive team of advisers, tech gurus and legal counsel. There’s even an economist on board. The ensemble of powerful minds clearly shows there’s still a lot to think through in this uncharted industry.
Minerva is planning to launch its ICO in the near future. According to the website, 60% will be allocated to presale and final public ICO.
The Security of Your Password Vault: An Interview with Keeper’s Co-Founder
Passwords. The keys to verify your credentials on every single online platform that you use. With the multitude of social media accounts, online services, email addresses, banking logins and more, it is entirely likely that you may find remembering multiple passwords (a good security practice) to be, overwhelming.
If you’re an everyday user of the Internet frequenting several websites that seek credentials, you are likely to be using a password manager, or an encrypted password vault that stores your passwords. Password managers are a no-brainer solution in this day of mandatory form-filling and entering credentials. They are now available as cross-platform products that can be installed as an application on your phone. Quite simply a no-brainer, a password manager helps make your time spent on the internet to be a seamless experience.
Despite the benefits, the reality is that every platform, product or service can be hacked. Skilled white-hat hackers bring vulnerabilities and bugs to the developer’s attention while malicious hackers profit from the exploits they devise for the vulnerabilities. Hacked readers will remember a recent report wherein LastPass, a contender for the most widely used password manager of them all, was revealed to contain “a number of bugs, bad practices, and design issues,” as two security researchers put it. The researchers also claimed there is no “bug-free” software, insisting that any further research on password managers would “likely have similar results.”
Hacked spoke to Craig Lurey, the co-founder and chief technology officer of Keeper, a prominent password manager and digital vault that adheres to SOC-2 compliance, a top-level security certification.
Why isn’t consumer-end security given precedence? For instance, why is SOC-2 not widely implemented by security companies for end-users and consumers?
SOC-2 compliance is not easy to obtain because it structurally changes the entire software development process, security, operations and data management of the company. It requires continuous improvement, optimization and a team that embraces the process. We’re proud that Keeper is the only SOC-2 certified company across the entire password management industry. Keeper is also a Zero-knowledge security provider. Zero-knowledge is a system architecture that guarantees the highest levels of security and privacy by adhering to the following principles:
Data is encrypted and decrypted at the device level (not on the server)
The application never stores plain text (human readable) data
The server never receives data in plain text
No employee or intermediary can view the unencrypted data
The keys to decrypt and encrypt data are derived from the user’s master password
Multi-Layer encryption provides access control at the user, group and admin level
Sharing of data uses Public Key Cryptography for Secure key distribution
Data is encrypted on the user’s device before it is transmitted and stored in Keeper’s digital vault. When data is synchronized to another device, the data remains encrypted until it is decrypted on the other device.
We’re confident that Keeper is the most secure, certified, tested and audited password management and digital vault in the world. We are the only SOC-2 certified password management solution in the industry and certified by TRUSTe for online privacy.
Not only do we implement the most secure levels of encryption, but we also adhere to very strict internal practices that are continually audited by third parties.
Where is the Keeper user’s encrypted record stored?
Customer data is encrypted and stored locally on the user’s device using 256-bit AES. The user’s master password derives an encryption key using PBKDF2, and that key decrypts other keys that are then used to encrypt and decrypt the record-level data. Keeper uses multiple layers of encryption.
The cipher keys used to encrypt and decrypt customer records are not stored or transmitted to Keeper’s Cloud Security Vault. However, to provide syncing abilities between multiple devices, an encrypted version of this cipher key is also stored in the Cloud Security Vault and provided to the devices on a user’s account. This encrypted cipher key can only be decrypted on the device for subsequent use as a data cipher key.
Amazon recently and finally started two-factor authentication for its customers’ accounts. What are some of the practices that you see will gain wider adoption among the masses for better security?
The use of two-factor authentication is definitely a growing movement as companies begin to grasp the severity of data breaches. Adding a process like 2FA to control access over the network layer will become the norm in a few years time. Another process we see going mainstream is the integration of security directly into the hardware and software layers of devices. If devices come pre-loaded with security applications, users will develop better security hygiene from the start rather than having to learn a behavior.
How does Keeper ensure a safe account recovery process compared to other password managers’?
Keeper has a unique and secure Zero-knowledge account recovery process to ensure that customers can access their accounts in the case of a lost Master Password.
During account signup, you are asked to select a Security Question and Answer. Also during signup, Keeper generates a ‘data key’ which is used to encrypt and decrypt the ‘record keys’ stored with each of your vault records. Your ‘data key’ is encrypted with your master password, and each record key is encrypted with the ‘data key’. Each record has an individual, different ‘record keys’.
The way account recovery works is by storing a second copy of your data key that is encrypted with your Security Question and Answer. To complete a vault recovery, your are required to enter an email verification code, and also your Two-Factor Authentication code (if enabled on your account). We recommend creating a strong security question and answer, as well as turning on Keeper’s Two-Factor Authentication feature from the ‘Settings’ screen.
We’re the only product in the industry to offer this secure method of account recovery in a Zero-knowledge environment.
Are there any drawbacks to 2FA? If so, what are they?
Not really. 2FA can be implemented in many different forms, and most consumers are not familiar with the terminology. This is why we refer to 2FA in our product as “Keeper DNA”. We offer the user many choices and options in their 2FA configuration. For example, users can authenticate with their Apple Watch or Android Wear device with a single tap. Nobody else in the password management industry is offering this.
Full disclosure: I’m a user of LastPass’ free service. Why do I need to — if I need to — switch over to Keeper?
We’re the only Zero Knowledge and certified platform, made for the mass consumer market as well as the enterprise environment. When you use Keeper, you’ll immediately notice the quality of the service and the ease of use across mobile, desktop and browsers. We prioritize security and ease of use over quantitative features. Many of our competitors such as LastPass are buggy, confusing, and springs fly out every time you use it. Buggy and complex software inevitably leads to security vulnerabilities which has been reported widely in the press. We spend a massive amount of time improving our user experience while building the most secure product.
Featured image from Shutterstock. Keeper logo from Keeper.
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