Julian Assange Uses Bitcoin’s Blockchain for Proof of Life

Julian Assange added a bit more to his history-making today by being the first known person to use bitcoin’s public blockchain as proof of life. Responding to calls for evidence that the Wikileaks founder is safe and sound in a Reddit Ask Me Anything sessions with answers provided in a live twitch.tv feed, Assange stated:

“I have to say it is a little bit silly, not in relation to us being under pressure, we have been under pressure, but we’re very good at resisting pressure, but, in relation to whether I’m alive, or kidnapped, actually, it is a bit silly. If you look at people like John Pilger, for example, long-term friend of mine, runs my defence fund, is a famously brave investigative reporter, my lawyers, close friends, people like Murray Love, the Ecuadorian government, if you think about the number of people who actually have to conspire and the amount of work that would have to be done to produce these false images, it’s too many. That’s a social proof.”

Assange then went on to provide a slightly more concrete proof by reading out block number #447506, mined by Bitmain, and its hash, produced today, on the 10th of January 2017, at 15:50:25 London time. He misread it at first, thus had to re-do it, joking this will send people crazy before adding that the mistake itself is evidence that the proof of life is genuine as it’s natural for people to make mistakes.

The blockchain based proof of life is in response to widespread speculation that he may be in danger because Ecuador’s Embassy, where Assange currently resides, cut off his internet and all connections to the outside world on the 19th of October 2016, just weeks before the most important presidential election in living memory.

Speculation gradually accelerated as some took the stance of assumed dead until proven otherwise, reaching frenzy levels after some began suggesting videos and voice can be edited, raising awareness of a difficult epistemological question for our generation’s philosophers, just how exactly can you prove something for certain?

The worries, however, were not without cause. Assange’s Wikileaks provided more information than all media outlet combined in the run-up to the election. He revealed collusion between the media and Hillary Clinton’s campaign, private and public stances, as well as the most striking revelation:

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How Cybercriminals Target Victims

Cybercriminals, whose attacks cost organizations millions of dollars a year, do extensive research on their targets. They gather organizational and personal information before deciding which vulnerabilities to exploit.

SurfWatch Labs, a security consultancy, has released a report on research resources cybercriminals use. The purpose of the report is to provide organizations a tool to prevent cyber attacks. The report includes an overview of information resources cybercriminals use to target the victims. Knowing about these resources can help organizations defend against cyber attacks.

The majority of threat awareness training is taking place in medium to large sized businesses, according to Adam Meyer, SurfWatch Labs’ chief security strategist. “However, much of this training is geared toward protecting the employer and less about employees protecting themselves and their personal lives, even though some would transfer over and provide benefit to the employer,”

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What is a Hacker?

An Overview of Hacking History and the Evolution of the Term Hacker

 

The term “hacking” has its roots in a time and place that had no major influence by personal computing. The ubiquitous PC and the Internet were still decades off when people began “hacking” at the Tech Model Railroad Club, in 1946. A “hack” would be an interesting innovation in the model trains the group played with. Such a fascination with trains and things can be seen still today in a less physical way, though the TMRC remains, in games like OpenTTD, which is a hacked extension of a game released commercially in the 1990s. The point is: to “hack” does not have to mean “to destroy.” In contrast, the spirit of the hacker is that of determination to achieve. Whatever the goal and whatever the obstacles, the hacker strives to achieve. One of the most famous hackers in history is Gary McKinnon, whose belief that the US government had evidence of alien life on earth was so strong it drove him to compromise several top secret systems within the US government.

The term has garnered quite a bit of negativity over the decades, as mass media have labeled it to various famous miscreants, be they childish and somewhat benign or outright dangerous. News clips like the following illustrate the point:

For the purpose of clarity, the reader should note that in our age the term “hacking” relates strictly to computers, programming, and the like. Various bastardizations of the term, like “lifehack,” are often met with disdain by members of the security community. Hacking almost exclusively now refers to computer network security, although it is occasionally used to refer to programming with very strict goals in mind. One might say “I’ve been hacking on my Python project all weekend,” and merely mean they’ve been trying to achieve certain goals in their project.

So, what is a hacker? A hacker is someone who will stop at nothing to achieve their goal, particularly in terms of computing. A hacker will learn programming languages in order to write scripts that can compromise an obstacle system. A hacker will stay awake for weeks on end trying different methods to make a given thing work. The spirit of the hacker is that of endless curiosity and spurious determination, or, as Richard Stallman once put it: “Hackers typically had little respect for the silly rules that administrators like to impose, so they looked for ways around.”

Types of Hackers

As humans, we like to classify things in little boxes that can be checked. When we see an automobile, we like to know it’s not just a sedan, but a red 2016 Chevy Impala. Thus, over the years, to distinguish the various types of hackers, both professional and amateur, a few terms have been settled upon.

The black hat hacker is perhaps the most infamous and well-known type of hacker. The black hat hacker can be a mercenary or government-sponsored hacker, or they can just be a maladjusted kid doing it for the laughs. The primary defining characteristic of a black hat hacker is their unwillingness to disclose security vulnerabilities to software vendors or system administrators. Instead, black hats often seek to profit from these, or in the case of particular missions from state agencies, seeks to establish regular access for the purpose of spying or other murky activity. The black hat is often what has come to encompass the meaning of the term “hacker” overall in the popular lexicon. When someone says “hacker” on television, they often mean a black hat hacker.

In direct contrast to black hat hackers, and perhaps most responsible for the persistence of these terms, are “white hat” hackers. These are individuals who do the same type of work as black hats, but seek to inform those who’d be victimized by black hats. Instead of selling exploits, white hats disclose them. Often, they are rewarded for doing so. A whole community is dedicated to this process, called HackerOne, where hackers can submit vulnerabilities and other bugs they’ve found in various commercial applications. Once their discoveries are vetted, they are rewarded with cash. The goal of such organizations is to make it profitable to “do the right thing.”

Lastly, you have the gray hat hackers. Gray hats are somewhere in between. They are not as motivated to “do the right thing” if, for instance, they don’t like the organization they’ve found to be vulnerable. They might engage in white hat and black hat activities during the same week. Some of the most famous hackers have been gray hats, notably the l0pht group, who developed l0pht crack and other software to help less-skilled people achieve their ends. One of their members coined the term in 1997 at the first Black Hat Conference. Contrary to its name, the Black Hat Conference mostly plays host to white hat hackers and professional computer security firms. It is not some gathering of super villains.

Motivations For Hacking

As in all things, the biggest motivator for hackers in the modern age is money. Hackers find and sell exploits to other hackers, to government agencies, and, as previously stated, even to the would-be victims of the exploits. A common compromise of systems in recent years has been the “cryptolocker,” also known as “ransomware,” which makes a computer’s filesystem inaccessible to the owner until they pay a ransom. However, other motivations also exist.

In the early days of networked computing, the simplest motivation was curiosity. What would happen if I did this, the hacker would ask, and then simply do it, regardless if it was against the rules. Government agencies like the NSA hack as part of their mission, which changes with the political atmosphere. Thanks to the hacker Edward Snowden, we’ve learned that they actively seek to weaken security in commercial communication protocols for the purpose of eavesdropping.

Speaking of politics, many hackers have had political motivations. Perhaps the most infamous hacking group of the past decade has been Anonymous, a group which has often hacked in the name of various social justice causes. One of the most high-profile hacking incidents in recent memory is the December, 2014 hack of Sony Pictures, a hack which was conducted by the so-called “Guardians of Peace,” who sought to force the company to not release “The Interview,” a film which made raucous fun of North Korean dictator Kim Jung-un. This hack was successful in scope, and the film was canceled in many theaters for security concerns. Instead, it was released directly via Google Play and other online distribution services.

Proper attribution of hackers can often be hard, as most competent hackers are well-versed in the art of remaining anonymous or a few steps ahead of those who would apprehend them. The group “Anonymous,” for instance, could be attributed with all the hacks ever conducted, since the group technically has no center or driving body. Actual claiming of hacks by Anonymous is only verifiable on the basis of reputable sources, such as Twitter handles that are known to have connections inside the actual group. In the case of the Sony Pictures hack, the North Korean government was blamed despite there being evidence that it could have been an inside job.

So, What Is A Hacker?

Like most words in English, “hacker” means different things to different people. The common citizen probably perceives the word with either fear or admiration. In a sense, the hacker is the one responsible for the continued improvement of computer security the world over. He or she is the reason that large corporations you trust with your data have entire departments working to ensure that your data is secured, and often enough, at his day job, also the one finding ways to ensure as much.

The hacker disregards petty rules in favor of actual results. The World Wide Web presented untold intellectual freedom and the hacker is perhaps the last line of defense between power-hungry despots and the elimination of that freedom. Hackers have been responsible for some of the most important involuntary disclosures by the US government in recent years, including the revelation of war crimes and spying on citizens. Without such bold people in the world, as we increasingly rely on technology for nearly every part of human life, liberty might all but cease to exist in practice, with every facet of life having come easily under the control of powerful lunatics.

How to Avoid Bitcoin Scams

Since bitcoin’s inception in 2009, it has grown exponentially making it a widely popular digital currency that is used around the world. Unfortunately, it is due to the popularity of bitcoin and its market cap growth rate that scammers are realizing the monetary benefits they could get from it.

According to Bitstamp, the first fully licensed bitcoin exchange, the bitcoin to USD market cap is more than $11.3 billion, with the cost of one bitcoin around the $708 mark, at the time of publishing. It goes without saying that the bitcoin space and its worth has attracted online scammers who want to get their hands on the digital currency by employing devious methods in the process.

Of course, regardless of whether you are a newbie in the bitcoin space or you’ve been dabbling in the technology for a few years, it’s always a good idea to keep yourself up-to-date on the bitcoin scams. Here we will highlight the existing bitcoin scams that people should be aware of and what you can do to avoid becoming a victim of one.

Bitcoin Exchange Scams

These types of scams may not necessarily be easy to decipher simply because the organizations may have a high standing level within the bitcoin space. There are some, though, that do fall through the net. For example, in 2014, the digital currency exchange platform, Cryptsy, is reported to have lost 13,000 BTC and 300,000 LTC after the exchange was hacked; however, it then proceeded to fail to inform its users of the situation for fear of causing mass panic. This has led many to believe that Cryptsy is Mt. Gox’s junior.

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Scammers in Australia Demand Bitcoin and Gift Cards from Facebook Users

Facebook users in Australia are being tricked into handing over money as scammers use the social media site to demand bitcoin or iTunes gift cards as payment.

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), thieves are hiding behind familiar organizations that the general public are likely to trust such as utilities and telecommunication agencies.

In a report from SBS, a regional news site, Australians had lost over AU$70 million to scams by October’s end.

However, according to Delia Rickard, ACCC deputy chair, this figure doesn’t represent the overall number of scams that target Australians. Not only that, but nowadays, scammers are changing the tactics that they use when targeting their victims.

Payment in Bitcoin

With the introduction of bitcoin cyber criminals are now demanding this as a form of payment from their victims instead of the traditional wire transfer. Scammers seem to particularly prefer payment in bitcoin when they deploy ransomware as computers need to be unlocked. In many cases this can cost victims hundreds and thousands of dollars to retrieve the keys from the thieves.

Last August, research from Check Point discovered that the sophisticated organization of Cerber, a Ransom-as-a-Service (RaaS), was reported to have had a total estimated profit of $195,000 in July alone from ransom payments from victims.

At the time of reporting researchers stated that the average ransom payment was one bitcoin, which at the time was worth around $590 to decrypt files locked by the Cerber ransomware. If the deadline was not met, then the ransom was doubled to two bitcoins.

In June, an improved version of CryptXXX ransomware raked in 70 bitcoins, worth more than $45,000 in three weeks at the time, after fixing a crypto flaw that allowed victims to recover their data for free.

While a Canadian university was ordered to pay a bitcoin ransom totaling around CAD$20,000 to obtain the decryption keys to restore its data.

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The Best Cryptocurrency Investments For 2017

Last December I published an article on Cryptorials about the ‘best altcoin investments for 2016’. It turned out to be one of the more popular articles of the year (and potentially very profitable for anybody who read it too), so I decided to repeat it with an updated article for 2017. The only difference is that in order to broaden the scope and avoid controversy about what is and isn’t an ‘altcoin’ I have tweaked the topic, so instead of writing about the best altcoin investments I am writing about the best cryptocurrency investments.

As with my selection from last year, these are all medium to long term picks which I expect to perform well over the course of the next 12 months. They are what I would consider investments rather than short term trades. The selections were made through a combination of fundamental analysis of each network’s current and potential value, consideration of established price trends, and anticipation of future developments, releases and general market conditions and their likely impact.

It is important to note that I am not a trained financial advisor and this should not be considered financial advice. I have been involved in cryptocurrency for several years, running this blog for almost 2 years, and I am an active trader and investor who has made a good profit in the past. But I can in no way guarantee that these investments will be profitable – there is always a significant risk with and investments and especially with such volatile markets and bleeding edge technology.

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The best cryptocurrency investments for 2017



Last December we published an article on Cryptorials about the ‘best altcoin investments for 2016’. It turned out to be one of the more popular articles of the year (and potentially very profitable for anybody who read it too), so I decided to repeat it with an updated article for 2017. The only difference is that in order to broaden the scope and avoid controversy about what is and isn’t an ‘altcoin’ I have tweaked the topic, so instead of writing about the best altcoin investments I am writing about the best cryptocurrency investments.

As with my selection from last year, these are all medium to long term picks which I expect to perform well over the course of the next 12 months. They are what I would consider investments rather than short term trades. The selections were made through a combination of fundamental analysis of each network’s current and potential value, consideration of established price trends, and anticipation of future developments, releases and general market conditions and their likely impact.

It is important to note that I am not a trained financial advisor and this should not be considered financial advice. I have been involved in cryptocurrency for several years, running this blog for almost 2 years, and I am an active trader and investor who has made a good profit in the past. But I can in no way guarantee that these investments will be profitable – there is always a significant risk with and investments and especially with such volatile markets and bleeding edge technology.

#1 Bitcoin!!!

OK, so this is the other reason why I decided not to make this a list of ‘altcoins’. I really think that Bitcoin may turn out to be one of the best cryptocurrency investments of 2017.

Not only do I think there is an excellent chance that the price will go over $1000 at least by the end of the year and potentially a lot higher, but crucially I think the chances of it dropping below ~$550 are relatively slim. Although some lower market cap coins and tokens may well outperform BTC as they have more room to grow, the risk reward ratio for Bitcoin is looking very nice right now, and you can always increase your profits further by holding your coins in interest bearing bitcoin accounts.

Anybody holding alternative tokens or coins needs to take this into consideration and decide whether the risk is worth it when compared to a Bitcoin value in what looks to be a robust bull trend.

#2 Zcash & Zcoin

After a great deal of hype, many people got burned with the launch of Zcash. Unrealistic expectations, and I suspect a misunderstanding on the part of many traders as to the effects of low coins supply in the early days and how this would change over time, lead to the price of Zcash coins soaring to orders of magnitude higher than a Bitcoin immediately after launch (despite an identical maximum supply), followed by a massive crash in which some people must have lost a lot of money.

But despite this, the potential of zerocoin technology is significant. There is little argument that it is the best privacy tech for blockchains, and there is a big market for enhanced privacy in cryptocurrency.

At some point the price of Zcash will bottom out, and I suspect that it will be soon. It may even happen around the $50 mark that its hovering above at the moment, as it has already bounced from this price range once. When a solid floor is established and some confidence returns to the market, I can see this one doing well.

But even more interesting from my perspective is Zcash’s little cousin Zcoin. Based on the same technology but with a slightly different approach, Zcoin is currently valued at less than 1% of Zcash. This gives plenty of room for very significant appreciation over the next year.

Without going into too much detail, the main difference is that Zcoin conceals every part of a transaction except the amount sent, whereas Zcash conceals everything. This means the privacy protection for ZCoin is not as complete, but it does reduce the risk associated with the ‘trusted set up’ which ZCash suffers from and which could allow an attacker who has compromised the set up parameters to create as many coins as they want for themselves without anybody knowing. The Zcoin team are also working on a new mining algorithm to allow mining using an ordinary CPU while at the same time combating the problem of the botnets controlled by hackers which usually end up dominating CPU mined coins.

#3 Dash

This may be a controversial choice to some people, but I really think Dash could have a great year in 2017. Although the price has fallen back somewhat from a high in mid-summer, the YTD chart still looks great for Dash, and with a big upgrade called ‘evolution’ set for release at some point in 2017 there are good reasons to be bullish.



Evolution will bring a range of new features that will make use of the second-tier ‘masternode’ network that Dash is known for to do things that coins without these masternodes cannot do. Perhaps the most significant is also the most simple in appearance: users will be able to create accounts and log in to their wallet from any device with an username and password, without sacrificing decentralization by trusting their coins to a third party wallet.

The Dash governance system, although controversial in that it is dominated by a small number of large ‘whales’ who control most of the coins, seems to me to be proving itself effective in funding both core development, broader ecosystem development, and even marketing. This funding could end up being a great help in capitalizing on any increased attention from the Evolution release, and ultimately in reaching out to more mainstream users.

#4 Maidsafecoin / Safecoin

Perhaps the most long-awaited project in cryptocurrency today, Maidsafe is a grand and ambitious project to decentralized the internet.

The maidsafecoin price has been flagging in recent months. I believe this is because investors are growing weary of the long wait and don’t want to miss out on gains from Bitcoin’s bull trend. But this may well end up making the surge when (or perhaps I should say if) it is finally released even more dramatic.

There are lots of projects now trying to decentralize content publishing and hosting, but with a development history going back to before Bitcoin was even invented (only later modified to include cryptocurrency style rewards using ‘safecoin’) Maidsafe is arguably the mother of them all.

Despite the slow progress, development is continuing and an alpha release which shows the core features but without Safecoin rewards and with no guarantee of data permanence does give one a real feeling of the potential that this project has. What’s more, the long wait is largely because the team have taken on such a massive task and are intent on making sure it works very well before releasing it (something many crytocurrency projects don’t do) so I expect the eventual release to be very exciting. I also think there is a very good chance it will happen at some point in 2017, and that if it is then it will prove to be one of the best investments of the year.

#5 Antshares

Following a successful crowdsale and release in Q3 2016, Antshares has a current marketcap of just over $7 million at the time of publishing.

In many ways it can be characterized as a Chinese take on the Ethereum network. Although I don’t expect Antshares to rival Ethereum in value, the size of the Chinese market and the considerable success that the Antshares team has had in developing partnerships in the short time since it was launched – which already include Alibaba (one of the biggest multinationals in the world) as well as several other interesting deals – makes me think that there is plenty of room to grow.

#6 Syscoin

The Syscoin project is building a decentralized marketplace, and has been under active development since 2014 despite the development team losing most of their funding to the fraud and then bankruptcy of the exchange operator which ran the escrow for their crowdsale.



In many ways the Syscoin marketplace is similar to Open Bazaar, but operating over its own blockchain. In my view, this brings significant advantages over Open Bazzar, such as the ability for users to post offers without having to keep their computer online the whole time for the offer to remain valid. Shoppers can pay using Bitcoin, or even Zcash for privacy, as well as using the native Syscoin tokens.

A big release expected early in 2017 will bring the introduction of ‘blockmarket’, a white label store front that will enable anybody to create a web-based front end to the marketplace. I can see this being a strong driver of new users and with a current marketcap of under $4 million USD a successful release and influx of new users could easily see this proving to be a really great investment. Personally, I see this as being somewhat higher risk than my other selections, as Open Bazzar has a strong brand name within the cryptocurrency community and reaching out beyond that community will be difficult (I think possible with blockmarket, but undoubtedly difficult) but I also see it has having higher potential profits if things do go well.



Bitcoin Price Prediction for 2017. 6 Major Events to Impact Bitcoin Value

 

The price of Bitcoin is difficult to predict as various factors impact the value of the digital currency. However, there are six major events that could lead to a surge in the price of Bitcoin in 2017. These include the activation of Segregated Witness, hereinafter Segwit, the  release of Lightning Network and Tumblebit, approval of Bitcoin ETFs, the financial crash and economic instability.

Segwit, Lightning, Tumblebit

Segwit, Lightning and Tumblebit are all scalability solutions initially introduced to facilitate larger amounts of transactions primarily to deal with the increasing user base and transaction volume of Bitcoin.

By far, Segwit has the highest probability of being activated due to the support from wallet platforms, startups and miners. Bitnodes, a platform build by 21 Inc., states that 39.3% of all nodes are in support of Segwit. Once Segwit reaches its activation threshold, which would require the consensus of 95% of miners, it will increase the capacity of the Bitcoin network by at least 2.1x, according to the latest research from Alex Petrov of Bitfury.

A study of Whale Panda, which featured Petrov’s research read, “The actual size of a block under Segwit depends on the kind of transactions being included, however, the figure of 1.7MB was based on the average transaction profile in January 2015. At the time of writing in November of 2016, it would be around 2.1MB.”

Lightning and Tumblebit will also scale the Bitcoin network but in methods dissimilar to Segwit. Instead of increasing the capacity of Bitcoin blocks, Lightning enables the settlement of instantaneous micropayments that are currently not possible to execute due to the settlement times of transactions.

On top of enhanced scalability, Tumblebit will provide anonymity to Bitcoin users, offering financial freedom and privacy.

The activation of these three major scalability and privacy solutions will play a vital role in increasing the value of Bitcoin as the network becomes more efficient and anonymous.

Approval of Bitcoin ETFs

Bitcoin ETFs or exchange traded funds are considered by many experts, businesses and investors as an important product that could introduce Bitcoin to the mainstream. High profile investors and traders will be able to purchase and own Bitcoin through stock markets and regulated platforms.

Currently, two Bitcoin ETFs are undergoing the approval process of the SEC. The Winklevoss Twins partnered with multi-bln dollar auditing and financial services firm State Street to help the SEC acknowledge the legitimacy of their ETF.

SolidX ETF seemed to be making great progress until it was purposely delayed by the SEC again in September. Unlike the Winklevoss Twins’ ETF, SolidX provides insurance to its investors, which could appeal to a broader range of traders and firms looking to make safe investments on Bitcoin.

Once these two Bitcoin ETFs are approved by the SEC, this would lead to mainstream adoption and investment from traditional investment firms as well as high profile traders.

Financial crash and economic instability

Global financial crash and economic instability will also lead to a surge in Bitcoin’s price. If governments and local authorities continue to impose heavy capital controls and impractical financial regulations, more individuals and businesses will seek out for alternatives like Bitcoin.

With high liquidity and transportability, Bitcoin will appeal to a wide range of users, particularly to people located in areas such as China or Venezuela that have strict cash outflow regulations.