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Meltdown and Spectre Gave Us Another Reminder of Crypto Vulnerabilities

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Meltdown and spectre

The Meltdown and Spectre news in the beginning of 2018 looms over the cryptocurrency world like a big dark cloud. It has been reported that there is a flaw in the design of Intel’s processor chips that makes the system susceptible to hackers. In an article about the bug, The Register reports that this vulnerability lets the unauthorized programs distinguish the “layout or contents of protected kernel memory areas.” This has busied the programmers of companies like Microsoft and Google to create patches for the two exploits – Meltdown and Spectre.

Breaking down “Meltdown” and “Spectre”

Often computer bugs and viruses make the headlines but this time the flaw is in the design of the Intel processor. Immediate steps were taken to correct the flaws such that the users’ data remain protected within the system (Windows, Linux). The exploits Meltdown and Spectre can be used to access the area where the device stores and protects the passwords. The exploits were brought to light by Google.

The revelation of the bug shook the world as any device that has an Intel chip and connects to the internet can be the target of the hackers.

According to Google, the hackers can “read sensitive information in [a] system’s memory, such as passwords, encryption keys, or sensitive information open in applications”.

Meltdown breaks the isolation between a user application and the operating system while Spectre breaks the isolation between two user applications. The Meltdown attack enables a program to access the device memory (secrets of other programs and the operating system). The Spectre attack, on the other hand, tricks an error-free program to leak its secrets.

The Impact of Meltdown and Spectre on Security                

Devices that were manufactured and have Intel chips from 1995 (except Intel Itanium and Intel Atom before 2013) to approximately 2011 have high chances of being affected by the two exploits. Whenever a running program works (open a network connection or write to a file), the program hands over the control of the processor temporarily to the kernel. In order to fasten the transition of control from user to kernel and back to the user, the kernel is present in all the virtual memory address spaces of the processor. The kernel’s memory space is not visible to the user processes and programs. The kernel memory houses all the login keys, passwords, files cached and so on. If the system is hacked into due to this flaw, the hacker at the worst scenario will be able to read all the passwords and login keys. This means that they will be able to access all the accounts of the user and collect critical data and account details. The hacker will thus be able to transact money from a person’s bank account by simply giving the login details. Several businesses and institutions using devices manufactured within this period (stated previously) are at risk. Vital project details and company secrets may be leaked out.

The Cure of Meltdown and Spectre

One of the solutions is to randomize the position of the kernel’s code in the memory of the device such that the exploits cannot find the internal gadgets. The hackers would then need to fully compromise the system. The security programmers have already released the first wave of patches to Windows 10, MacOS, Android and Linux. These fixes were speculated to slow down the system. As near about 90% of the devices have Intel chips, one can understand that it will be a large scale backlog. Intel, however, has released a statement the solution will not slow down the computers as much as speculated.

“Contrary to some reports, any performance impacts are workload-dependent, and, for the average computer user, should not be significant and will be mitigated over time.”

Intel recommends the users to regularly check for device updates and immediately install and execute them such that the hackers do not find any opportunity to breach the security.

How Meltdown and Spectre Affect the Cryptocurrency Market

The Meltdown and Spectre news came forward on 3rd January 2018 and on the next day itself the cryptocurrency exchange had to take numerous wallets offline. It is a reminder and warning that how much the cries are that cryptocurrency and blockchain technology is safe; the safety may be simply superficial. The cryptocurrency account holders, therefore, are right to fear the consequences of such an attack. Most of the cryptocurrency exchanges completely rely on the cloud storage system. The cloud computing providers usually save data from different clients on the same server. Theoretically speaking, the attacker can access all the accounts if the server is hacked. After the news, many exchanges like CEX.io, Kucoin and Einstein Exchange had to take the wallets offline. While some of the crypto exchanges are on the way to implement the patch others simply refer to maintenance. The plus side is that the cryptocurrency miners are most likely to remain unaffected.

“An attacker who has knowledge of a sufficiently powerful vulnerability can theoretically force your CPU to reveal secret data such as private keys used to control your Bitcoin.” said Bryan Bishop, Bitcoin Core developer.

The cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology are always portrayed as secure protocols. But they need to save the private keys properly, preferably in a device that does not have access to the internet. Bryan Bishop further says that to become a victim of this attack, all the user has to do is to click on a link by mistake. The link opens up to a website that displays bad ads with a malware code that is more likely going to steal your data.

Other than a miner or a cryptocurrency trader, the threat is also serious for the cryptocurrency exchanges. If a hacker targets a crypto-based business or exchange then, they will get access to millions of account holders at one go. The exchanges are dependent on cloud hosting services and these, in turn, are susceptible to these attacks. Hopefully, the solution of patches will tide over until a better solution is reached that will completely eliminate the risk.

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 9 rated postsHira Saeed is a tech geek girl with a passion to write on latest technology trends. She is the Founder of Tech Geeks community in Pakistan and also runs her copywriting and social media agency, Digital Doers. Follow her on @heerasaeed.




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Altcoins

Crypto Real Estate: The Time Is Now

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If you’re a Russian oligarch, an Asian billionaire or just a simple kid from South Jersey with giant aspirations, it is time for action in the newly emerging world of crypto real estate.  Here is why.

For the average home buyer the price of a home has increased about 1.72% annually over the past 10 years.  That is just slightly more than the 1.49% rate for the U.S. economy. Things have changed somewhat in recent time and we read Case Shiller numbers placing the rate between 5%-7%.

For investors in bitcoin, the action is taking place elsewhere in the real estate world.  It is in the world of the super high-end real estate where BTC and other cryptos can play a role.

If your soul contains an ounce of cynicism, at this point,  you are probably saying what is new about the connection between crypto and real estate?  The answer is arbitrage. Never have high-end property prices been so high and crypto prices so low.  It would be a classic arbitrage to sell high-end real estate and buy bitcoin.

Natural Buyers For Bitcoin

There are plenty of statistics on housing and loads of public records revealing who owns a given piece of property.  The US government claims that 9.6 million Americans own second homes and perhaps 16% own investment property.

But when it comes to the true high-end market, global real estate is definitely in the billions. For example, take penthouse in 432 Park Ave in New York that, when new, sold for over $100 million in cash and you get the idea.  This is a market where anonymity is prized and protected. This has long represented the “no brainer” for bitcoin to gain acceptance. And best of all, it is perfectly legal medium of exchange.

Enter Propy (PRO)

Here is a company that appears to be positioned to take advantage of transactions in the global ultra high-end real estate market. Before getting started, one thing needs to be disclosed.  I neither own or am being compensated for writing about Propy. I stumbled across the name purely by accident.

Propy.com fancies itself as being dedicated to solving the complexities of purchasing property across borders.  They claim to be the world’s first international marketplace. The PRO token is built on the Ethereum ERC20 standard. Propy raised $15.4 million with their ICO last September which places a value on the company of roundly $100 million.

So PRO may not rank with the likes of Telegram but they are not exactly chopped liver either. With the spread between the price of ultra high-end real estate and bitcoin never having been greater and the perpetual need for anonymity, the team at PRO may find itself in a sweet spot no matter if the like it or not.

The First Crypto Test In Rome On June 28

CCN.com reports that PRO has managed to team up with the Hilton family-owned real estate broker Hilton & Hyland in an auction of a Roman villa named the Palazetto Mansion aiming to snatch $38 million in dollars or crypto from the buyer.  This is not first effort of its kind but it is by far the largest.

Arbitrage In The Air

Events in Rome on June 28 will be most interesting as much for bitcoin as for PRO.  This is not to say that bitcoin is the only crypto in the world, just the largest and best known. Nevertheless, the total value of bitcoin is now just a little over $114 billion so every billion of future real estate transactions will make a difference at these levels.

Perhaps this is all wishful thinking on the part of someone who owns neither PRO nor BTC but several things are obvious.  First, those folks that put their hidden billions in real estate using corporate identities are not casual investors but savvy players with lots of high priced advisors.  Arbitrage spreads between ultra high end real estate and crypto present a pretty irresistible attraction. Just something to consider when investor psychology toward crypto in general stinks.  

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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4.4 stars on average, based on 96 rated postsJames Waggoner is a veteran Wall Street analyst and hedge fund manager who has spent the past few years researching the fintech possibilities of cryptocurrencies. He has a special passion for writing about the future of crypto.




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Apple Bans Bitcoin Mining in New Developer Guidelines

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Apple has introduced new developer guidelines that contain a sweeping ban on cryptocurrency mining, a sign the world’s most profitable company was carving out an explicit policy for apps and related services tied to the booming crypto economy.

Mining Ban

Apple’s sprawling App Store has updated its guidelines to address new developments in the cryptocurrency industry. In a section titled Hardware Compatibility, the company outlines that “apps, including third party advertisements displayed within them, may not run unrelated background processes, such as cryptocurrency mining.”

The App Store guidelines now include an entire section on cryptocurrency, touching upon approved apps and services related to virtual exchanges, initial coin offerings (ICOs) and mining.

In Section 3.1.5 (b), the guidelines state:

Wallet apps that facilitate cryptocurrency storage are permitted, provided they are offered by developers enrolled in an organization;Apps may not perform mining unless it is conducted via cloud computing;Apps facilitating ICO trading are permitted only if they are offered by regulated institutions abiding by relevant securities laws;Apps providing cryptocurrency payments for completing certain tasks are not permitted.

The guidelines were released after the Developers Union successfully lobbied Apple to publish its free apps.

Cryptocurrency Apps

Apple’s stance on cryptocurrency is much stricter than its rivals at Google Play. About four years ago, the Cupertino-based company removed all bitcoin-related applications as part of a crackdown on cryptocurrency activity. Around the same time, the company de-listed Coinbase, citing an “unresolved issue.” Apple has also asked businesses to to stop supporting cryptocurrencies on their apps.

The ban on mining could prevent cyber criminals from exploiting customers through covert operations, as well as limit developers’ ability to consume reams of processing power from Apple devices. That largely explains why the new guidelines make explicit mention of cloud-based mining.

At the time of writing, cryptocurrency cloud mining apps are readily available on the App Store.

Apple may be vindicated in its strict approach to cryptocurrency apps if one considers the recent wave of cyber attacks targeting the industry. In December, it was estimated that more than 10,000 people had downloaded fake cryptocurrency apps designed to defraud users.

Digital currency applications continue to grow in popularity as more traders embrace crypto assets. Exchanges have poured significant capital into updating their mobile app services to enable mobile trading and cold storage.

Meanwhile, crypto traders routinely make use of apps such as Telegram, which has become the de facto platform for ICO communities.

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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4.6 stars on average, based on 546 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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Crypto: The Best Reason To Buy Now

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If you have been looking for a reason to buy a cryptocurrency, look around at what is happening with the threat of trade wars and the inflated price of stocks and bonds.  The investment world hasn’t been this nervous in years.

I can make this statement after checking in on the VIX. Without going into the mathematical gobbledegook, the VIX index is considered as good a gage of investor anxiety as any. You can get a chart of the VIX from any source that offers stock prices.

When you look over the index, you will see that for most of last year when stocks were soaring ever higher, the VIX was slumbering around the 10-12 level.  For point of reference, the VIX hit around 60 during the 2008 financial crisis.

Since the beginning of 2018, the VIX has spiked as high as 38 in early February and is currently hovering around the 23 level.  In simple terms, traditional stock investors are twice as edgy. There is good reason for this.

The spontaneous eruptions from the White House and a bubbling economy are behind this. In the past few sessions, stock prices have become as volatile as bitcoin. The President’s bellicose over steel and aluminum tariffs is now expanding to other tariffs on Chinese robotics, IT, communication technology and aerospace.

To this the Chinese responded with a list of their own tariffs. The result is a stock market pullback of over 600 Dow points.  By comparison, the crypto markets lately have been placid.

A full blown trade war may never develop.  In these situations lots of sword rattling is common and with the present administration, it is practically guaranteed.  But when the threats extend to the possibilities of China suspending purchase of U.S. debt, things could get serious. Currency markets will feel the force of these fears.

All Good Things Come To An End At Sometime

U.S. stock prices last year rose 27.4% based on the Nasdaq.  By the end of the year GDP was moving up 2.9%, almost double 2016.  Projections for 3% growth this year are common. Good economic news is coming out daily.

The point is we have just had the best year in stocks and the economy is running at full steam. All this good news is not a secret, we all see it everyday. After almost a decade since the financial crisis, things have steadly improved.  This leads to complacency – even the feeling of economic entitlement. Almost universally, this is a danger signal.

Inflation is not a big issue at this moment but pressures are raising.  The Fed is likely to face greater urgency to raise rates as this year progresses.  That would put the kibosh on stock prices.

Crypto: Saving The Best For Last

I received a comment the other day that was very interesting.  The reader believed that people were interested in finding reasons to buy cryptocurrencies.  As easy as it is to understand this logic, given the collapse of prices, recent crypto news hasn’t provided much help. Yes, the general tone has gone from poor to mixed, but there hasn’t been much that is compelling.  As the keynote speaker at last weeks Ethereum conference stated it, “we are in a war”. That is hardly inspirational.

There is no way of sugar coating some of the battles in the war.  Nevertheless, it would not surprise me in the least if suddenly cryptocurrency prices began to perform better.  We start to receive technical analysis about certain coins breaking through resistance. News stories start to find something new and exciting about cryptocurrencies and predictions start coming out of the woodwork once again about lofty prices.

The root cause of this is nothing more than relative value.  In times of uncertainty and fear, investors seek a safe place to store assets.  If stock and bond investors are nervous (remember the VIX) that sets the stage. If the price of these assets are suddenly tumbling, investors look for a hiding place.  It could be gold or something less conventional like bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple or a thousand plus other names.

There is a deeply held belief among institutional investors. It goes something like this: asset prices reverse direction for no apparent reason whatsoever.  After this happens, we all scramble around looking for reasons. That is often how relative value operates.

As more institutional capital makes its way into the crypto market, as it will this year, relative value will become an important consideration.  That day is coming.

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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4.4 stars on average, based on 96 rated postsJames Waggoner is a veteran Wall Street analyst and hedge fund manager who has spent the past few years researching the fintech possibilities of cryptocurrencies. He has a special passion for writing about the future of crypto.




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