Many of us are familiar with Iceland, the sparsely populated North Atlantic nation on the Arctic Circle’s edge. Richly endowed with scenic vistas and a historically rich Viking legacy, the region continues to be a popular tourist destination for travelers throughout the world.
Worldwide interest in Bitcoin continues to usher in new possibilities for free markets and global economies. This comes as growing numbers of global citizens are beginning to recognize its value as an alternative to fiat-based monetary systems.
Despite these gains, a prevailing challenge exists, namely, the lack of mechanisms for day-to-day consumer transactions. Enter the world of debit cards, a legacy tool for everyday payments or purchases that’s now making its way into the Bitcoin space. This mechanism of exchange, which became popular in the 1980s, has served as convenient means of purchasing goods and services throughout the world. Now, through a growing number of exchanges and vendors, Bitcoin enthusiasts can make use of both traditional plastic and electronic debit cards for their everyday purchases.
Two companies, BitPlastic and Xapo, were among the early entrants to the bitcoin debit card market. Since then, Coinbase (Shift Card), Wirex (previously known as ECoin), and several others have entered this emerging space.
Through the use of these cards, bitcoin can be converted into cash currency for everyday use. This alignment of legacy point-of-sale systems with the crypto world solves one of the major hindrances to Bitcoin adoption – the limited number of merchants and services that directly accept it as payment.
Consumers can also make use of bank debit and prepaid cards by linking them to either a bitcoin exchange or mobile wallet. Here, through a bitcoin sell order, users can fund their card via a traditional bank transfer. Once a card is funded, purchases can be made. Additionally, cash can be withdrawn through an ATM machine.
Wirex is just one example of a company that’s actively involved in the bitcoin debit card space. For a fee, they offer both a plastic card as well as a virtual one for instant, online use. According to their statistics, they have issued over 15,000 debit cards to users in over 130 countries in their brief existence.
The company has partnered with leading Bitcoin security platform BitGo, in order to offer superior protection to their debit card users. Moreover, all funds are protected by automatic insurance coverage.
Recently, Wirex developed an API integration with ShapeShift.io, an instant exchange for bitcoin and other blockchain tokens. This allows Wirex users to fund their Mastercard debit cards with not just bitcoin but Ethereum, Monero, Litecoin and dozens of other leading blockchain assets instantly.
And on October 11th it was announced that the alt-currency Dash has now partnered with Shake Debit Cards, thereby allowing Dash owners the ability to purchase from millions of merchants that accept Euros and USDs. This partnership establishes one of the first commercial applications for Dash’s InstantSend technology.
A New Normal For Spending?
Will debit cards ultimately solve one of the biggest concerns relative to cryptocurrencies, namely, a means for the masses to purchase products or services via crypto? The answer to this question remains to be seen. But it certainly appears that this creative application has promise.
Optimism aside, there has been plenty of talk among bitcoin debit card users about fees. Some view these expenses as out of alignment with efforts to ensure the affordability of bitcoin use. Others see it as simply a necessary cost for fresh innovation.
On the consumer side, identity fraud and/or having cash taken from one’s card account remains a major issue. Privacy is another concern, with identity theft ensuing from a trail of information tied to a debit card a real possibility. Finally, unlike the use of bitcoin wallets for transactions, debit cards typically require the same levels of financial disclosure as traditional financial institutions, which can lead to consumer spending level and other restrictions.
Long time Bitcoin enthusiast Mike Miller, despite advancements in the bitcoin debit card space, is reticent about their deeper utility. Says Miller: “I don’t really see the point. The main reason I have no interest in these cards is that they require you to give custody of your bitcoin to someone else. This defeats a significant part of the reason I use Bitcoin in the first place.”
Merchants see issues with debit cards as well. They have to contend with high swipe and other fees to settle payments through an increasingly archaic network of third-party processors. They are also subjected to those pesky customer chargeback claims, a problem that transactions made directly through bitcoin solve.
Despite uncertainty among both consumers and merchants regarding the intersection of bitcoin and debit cards, Software Developer and Colorado Bitcoin Network member Chris Guida says that he finds them incredibly useful. “They have allowed me to minimize my fiat holdings. The only thing I still need my bank account for is paying my rent. I’m currently trying to find a way to eliminate that as well so I can completely exit the dollar.”
Concludes Guida: “I realize it defeats the purpose of bitcoin to have to use an intermediary to spend my money, but I think debit cards are a necessary first step for consumer adoption.”
As we usher in 2017, a new book has been released by one of Bitcoin’s most well known and respected figures, Andreas M Antonopoulos. Entitled “The Internet of Money”, this 132 page read provided an engaging compendium of talks, lectures, radio interviews and print articles by Antonopoulos over the past three years.
In the spirit of the New Year, promising immense new possibilities for bitcoin and the world of digital money, a few excerpts from each of the book’s chapters has been provided below:
Bitcoin debit cards have become more popular over the past two years with various choices on the table for consumers to choose from. Cards enable a user to load the account with bitcoin reserves and spend the funds where major credit cards are accepted.
Bitcoin.com decided to review the popular bitcoin debit card currently available to U.S. cryptocurrency supporters. We hope to explain in detail how this loadable card works so our readers can get an idea of what it’s like to utilize these types of cards.
Anthony Murgio pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiring to operate an illicit bitcoin exchange, according to The Palm Beach Post. He will be sentenced in June.
Murgio was accused of operating the bitcoin exchange, Coin.mx, that laundered cash for Internet criminals, including drug dealers, and facilitated extortion schemes.
He was accused of operating an unlicensed money transfer business that used bitcoin to launder cash.
The plea comes less than three weeks after prosecutors released a new indictment against Murgio and two others.
Case Ensnares Murgio’s Father
The case against Murgio, who was initially indicted in July 2015, ensnared his father, Mike Murgio, a Palm Beach County School board member. Prosecutors charged the father with participating in a bribery scheme to hide the bitcoin exchange operations.
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:
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,”
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.
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.
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.