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.
Interview: The Makers of a Robotic Hand That Can ‘Feel’
Human engineering is often seen as the pinnacle for technological achievement, be it the wheel, the steam engine or the space rocket. Human-engineering has also come a long way, especially in recent times. While the reality of fiction such as RoboCop is still beyond this present time, significant strides are currently being made in the field of understanding biomechanics and developing robotic biomechanics.
Research and innovation are key ingredients in innovative breakthroughs with key life-enriching applications that science and technology can bring to our lives. For instance, it was due to the endeavors of Gavriil Ilizarov, the Soviet doctor who developed the Illizarov fixator apparatus in the 1950s, that this writer’s leg could be saved from a destructive road accident. Such innovation can help improve or even save lives.
Hacked spoke to Vikram Pandit, a prosthetics research engineer and operations manager at Los Angeles-based SynTouch, a company at the forefront of sensory technology that empowers robots to literally replicate our sense of touch. Vikram is also a congenital amputee, born with a single hand and is deemed “instrumental in informing SynTouch’s prosthetics research strategy,” with the unique insight and perspective he offers.
The company was recently awarded two federal research grants that total over $2.5 million over the next few years to develop advanced tactile sensing applications, or, as SynTouch calls it – Machine Touch®.
The company notes:
SynTouch’s products make it possible to do everything you’ve come to expect from your own sense of touch: they enable perception, improve dexterity, prevent damage, and provide awareness.
How does it feel to be your company’s prototype, Vikram?
Vikram: I enjoy being at the cutting edge of prosthetic research. Being patient zero where all of the technology is being tested is awesome and definitely makes me feel like I am using my amputation to help others in my place.
Do you see such innovation generally pushing forward at a faster rate for robotic applications, more-so than for humans?
Vikram: Absolutely. Humans are far more complex than robots. We are barely scratching the service of the human neurological system while we are making leaps in robotic advancement. While we like to think humans can do two things or more at once, we really are only capable of doing one thing and monitoring our second activity passively. A robot, with its onboard computer can be programmed to recognize and accomplish many tasks at once.
Could you explain how the fingertips detect what they feel?
Vikram: The BioTac has three sensing modalities: force, vibration, and temperature. The sensor is a flexible circuit molded in epoxy with 19 sensing electrodes surrounded by a silicone skin and inflated with a fluid. Force is calculated from the electrodes, which use impedance in the conductive fluid to measure the distance between the skin and the electrode – as the BioTac is pushed on a table, the distance between the skin and the electrodes is smaller.
A pressure sensor embedded in the epoxy core picks up vibrations in the skin transmitted through the fluid. The fingerprints on the outside the skin actually amplify these vibration signals enormously. Temperature is sensed through a thermistor placed at the tip of the BioTac.
Are there sensors externally located on a residual limb that will help control the prosthesis? If so, does that relay then tell you that you’re holding a super hot cup of coffee?
Vikram: Myoelectric hands universally function off of sensing electrodes located on the residual limb. Their location is based on what muscles on the residual limb produce the strongest signals. The sensors are located on top of the skin, and pick up the electrical activity in a muscle when it flexes. Almost all myoelectric users have two of these sensors, one for opening the terminal device, and the other closing.
At SynTouch we have performed experiments where the sensations from the BioTac were relayed to me through a number of devices we call tactors. The three tactors were placed on my upper arm or bicep and each was correlated with a specific modality of the BioTac. An air pressure cuff similar to a sphygmomanometer was used to squeeze my arm to mirror a force applied to the BioTac. A small cellphone vibrator buzzed on my skin to emulate the sensor picking up vibration, while a small peltier chip relayed temperatures to me. I was able to distinguish hot soup vs cold soup among other things but I didn’t find these tactors useful.
As a unilateral amputee, my sound hand is better and faster than anything available with current technology in sending sensations to my brain, and the foreign signals were more distracting than helpful. Please review the following paper to find out more. Link [PDF].
Is it overwhelming and distracting when with the feedback from the prosthesis? How would you compare it with your other arm?
Vikram: See above. The current methods of relaying sensation as crude and I can only describe them as being annoying.
Is there a means to use the prosthesis on its own, i.e. let it compute and operate on its own without having to let you know what it feels?
Vikram: After coming to the conclusion that the tactors worked, but were distracting and actually took away from the experience of using a prosthetic hand, we moved in a new direction. I found through the experiments that I liked contact detection for fragile grasping. We then developed a new sensor that distilled down the features of the BioTac, called the NumaTac. An air filled open celled foam, the sensor can detect changes in pressure signaling a contact event.
Three of these sensors have been customized into the fingers of a prosthetic hand and can signal the hand that an object has been grabbed. This allows the hand to move quickly and responsively while empty, but slow down the fingers once an object has been grasped to enable low contact forces. This allows a prosthetic user to consistently pick delicate objects like eggs, consistently and reliably.
(It is at this point that Matthew Borzage P.hd., a founding partner SynTouch and operations manager weighed in to add to the answer.)
Matt: The idea that the hand has some local intelligence guiding its interactions may seem odd, but keep in mind that your hands do thousands of adjustments every second you perform tasks with them, all without you consciously thinking about each movement. It takes humans years to learn to do tasks seamlessly, but once we do the mechanics of pouring a glass of water, using a fork and knife, playing an instrument, typing, and, picking up eggs, all become reflexive, and possible to do using the sense of touch alone.
The information the sense of touch acquires is used in reflexive and automatic ways, that the brain expects to be present. Most prosthetic hands remove these reflexes, and require that amputees use their full attention to perform these simple tasks, which is frustrating! The simplified sensor and the reflex Vikram mentions allows users to do these tasks without requiring as much attention, just like you expect to be able to do.
If BioTac was presumably developed for robotic applications, how far away is BioTac from being integrated with an amputee’s prosthesis?
Vikram: Our sensors are 4 years away from becoming commercially available. We are working with the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration to integrate our technology into prosthetic devices.
In order to truly feel and sense touch, are we decades away from having the technology and tools to have it merge with the human body’s nervous system?
Vikram: Yes. The nervous system is massively complex and a considerable amount of research must occur before “cyborg” technology is viable. We are decades away from a prosthesis being seamlessly integrated into a human’s nervous system.
How frequently do you use the prosthesis and when do you put away the hook-arm for good?
Vikram: I only have one myoelectric arm right now. Unfortunately at the office and on a hot day I do not wear my prosthesis. Hot days make the socket uncomfortable and sweaty. At the office, I type on a computer and using my prosthesis would be clunky and slow.
What other innovations are SynTouch working on? Are there ideas and concepts in the drawing board that you can reveal?
Vikram: Yes definitely. SynTouch’s most interesting technology up and coming technology is our texture characterization technology. The BioTac was designed with the human finger in mind and can feel everything it can sense (except pain for obvious reason.) SynTouch has built a device integrating the BioTac that can quantify texture. Since the BioTac is designed to feel like a human, it is perfect for this application. Take a look at our client list as an example of who we have worked with.You can liken it to color matching at Home Depot to a degree. Consumer Goods companies are very interested in this technology, as the feel of a product is important to a consumer.
An example is in R&D. Company X wants cloth of a certain texture. Company X produces a number of cloth samples with different formulations in an attempt to achieve the desired texture. Our machine can actually quantify each sample’s texture and the company can use this information to make an informed decision on their cloth production.
Editor’s Note: Hacked thanks Vikram and Matthew for their time and answers.
Images from SynTouch.
Unlikely Allies: Anonymous Hactivists & The US Government Join Forces Against ISIS
E.T. Brooking’s wrote for Foreign Policy what Ghost Security Group executive director, DigitalShadow, calls “a very accurate reflection of our operations against extremism.”
In that article, the author details the Alice In Wonderland world in which hacktivists team up with national law enforcement agencies against the Islamic State.
It’s counter-intuitive, but it is so. Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction. One such hacktivist compiled a database of 26,000 Islamic State-affiliated Twitter accounts and even built a website to host the list so anybody could see it. The hacktivist, who goes by the pseudonym “XRSone,” essentially became the de-facto spokesman for #OpISIS.
A decentralized group of volunteers, coders and trolls have stepped into an online battle against the Islamic State and its online sympathizers. In large part, this contingent is sympathetic to Anonymous, but remains a diverse group from all over the world.
2015 has been the year in which hacktivists announced themselves in the war against IS, having dismantled some 149 Islamic State-linked websites and flagging approximately 101,000 Twitter accounts and nearly 6,000 propaganda videos.
Many anti-Islamic State hackers have disassociated from Anonymous. Still, #OpISIS and Anonymous share various members, with “the same motifs and the same tactics.” Many joined the fight against the Islamic State after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, which took 12 lives, and a massacre at a jewish market, which took 4 lives.
IS supporters are estimated to have used between 46,000 to 70,000 Twitter accounts from September to December 2014. In his article, Brookings describes one of the earliest #OpISIS hacktivists.
…a self-described ‘dyed-in-the-wool American,’ going by the handle @MadSci3nti5t. Armed with Google Translate and an extraordinarily profane list of insults, he took to hijacking popular Islamic State hashtags, reporting Islamic State fighters, and trolling them with a mix of jingoistic jeers and aggressively offensive digitally altered photos.
Brookings highlights one of @MadSci3nti5t’s insults: “isis hates rock and roll…and butts. think of them like your over-religious conservative family member that gets offended if u say ‘ass’ at a family gathering.”
Twitter ultimately cracked down on the Islamic State, suspending 10,000 Islamic State-linked accounts on April 2, 2015. However, some hacktivists have determined the Islamic State is using contractors and volunteers many degrees removed from the IS front lines, possibly not even in Iraq and Syria.
“Last summer you could log on and talk to [mujahideen].… i was interested in the syria conflict [and had] been following it for years on twitter. theyre all gone now. now its just media people,” @MadSci3nti5t says of the current IS social media landscape.
Members of Ghost Security Group, known as “GhostSec,” claim to receive nearly 500 tips per day. Early on, hacktivists apparently used to send tips to random government email addresses.
Over time, they cultivated ties with third parties from the defense industry to get the information to the right hands. According to Michael Smith, one such intermediary, he forwards 90 percent of GhostSec’s discoveries to those in a position to act upon them. The group’s members are big proponents of free speech on the internet, but don’t consider IS calls for violence as protected.
DigitaShadow, Ghost Security Group Executive Director, sat down with me to discuss the recent Paris Attacks and their implications.
Thank you for answering my questions.
DS: My pleasure, thank you.
How have the recent Paris Attacks set a new precedent?
DS: This week’s attacks in Paris, France have been the worst since the 9/11 attacks in NYC and Washington, D.C. and serve as a grim reminder that the war on terrorism is far from over and will continue to escalate and manifest itself for years to come. However, with groups like ourselves and governments willing to assist I am confident that we will overcome this through determination and resolve. Our way of life cannot and will not be hindered by groups such as the Islamic State and we will persevere.
An early “expert” on CNN suspected PGP and dark net use in coordinating the attacks. Did you see this? Is GSG’s read similar?
DS: Preliminary reports now suggest that the jihadists held responsible for this deplorable attack on France and her people were communicated over the PlayStation network using PlayStation 4’s. Ghost Security Group was able to detect and react to some chatter in regards to the attack however the attack planning details were carried out intensively on the PSN per preliminary reports.
That national governments (particularly their law enforcement agencies) and groups such as The Ghost Security Group have many common interests – namely in stopping violence against “civilians” – has major unknown implications in my opinion.
Do you believe this as well? Could it foster understanding between once disparate or in part at-odds groups?
I cannot speak for other groups or organizations combatting ISIS. However, I can inform you that we are coordinating our efforts with the United States government to detect attacks before they happen, as well as slow [IS] recruiting, destroy online propaganda and reduce the number of enemy combatants on the battlefield and to date have met with great success.
Do you believe the bombing of Syria in order to atone for attacks is an efficient model for handling the scourge of soft target warfare in the west?
DS: Ultimately airstrikes alone will not defeat the Islamic State in my opinion. It will require ground forces to be deployed to cripple them entirely in conjunction with airstrikes and digital warfare.
How can normal non-hacker oriented web users join the fight against ISIS?
DS: Anyone can help by reporting suspected extremist social media accounts, threats or websites to us at ReportOnlineTerrorism.com. We monitor our tip line 24/7 and all information submitted is reviewed.
Have there been big bitcoin movements in ISIS-affiliated wallets in recent months that stand out?
DS: We have uncovered several Bitcoin wallets suspected linked to the Islamic State one in which was traced to a BTC wallet containing over 3 million dollars in the cryptocurrency.
Thank you for answering some questions.
DS: Thank you.
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