The new cryptocurrency gold rush: digital tokens that raise millions in minutes

The new cryptocurrency gold rush: digital tokens that raise millions in minutes

The new cryptocurrency gold rush: digital tokens that raise millions in minutes

 

New York City

About a dozen rain-soaked people were crammed between the revolving doors and security barriers in the lobby of New York University’s Stern School of Business as torrents pelted down outside. All desperately wanted in to the hottest ticket in town, one that promised to make some of them overnight millionaires, if not billionaires. Among them was Dan Morehead, a former Wall Street titan turned bitcoin investor, and a dentist working on a blockchain startup who had flown in from Seoul.

“I don’t really care that you overbooked, it’s not my problem! I don’t care about a refund,” one agitated man seeking entry barked at two T-shirt clad twentysomethings on the other side, one of them clutching a clipboard.

“You can be upset and raise your voice, but we can’t change anything,” one of the gatekeepers replied.

“We have three clients down there!” another man interjected.

The clipboard holder dutifully scribbled down names. When it was my turn, she said NYU wanted to clear out the huddled mass blocking the building’s entrance: “The auditorium holds like 470 people. We have more than 500 people down there right now. NYU is calling security.”

Inside, a conference called “Token Summit” was in full swing. The event was the first to focus on a rapidly snowballing phenomenon called cryptocurrency token offerings—a new fundraising method that allows companies to raise millions of dollars in mere minutes.

The cryptocurrency world has gone mad for token offerings. These launches, popularly known as ICOs or initial coin offerings, have already raised more than $150 million this year, according to research firm Smith + Crown. They are seen as a disruptive new mechanism that could displace traditional venture capitalists from the fund raising process—a view that’s been endorsed by a coterie of brand name VCs themselves—and remake the internet’s business model with decentralized applications and cryptocurrencies. Take an outfit known as Gnosis, a decentralized prediction market, which raised $12 million in under 15 minutes, valuing it at $300 million. Investors had invested based solely on a PDF prepared by its founders (recently a firm called Brave raised $35 million in 30 seconds).

As cryptocurrency prices exploded, ICO fever gripped the over 2,700 blockchain tech enthusiasts who descended on New York in late May for a series of back-to-back industry conferences. Rumors flew about the fortunes being made, as the cryptocurrency ethereum climbed from $127 per unit of ether at the start of the week to $228 by Thursday. The head of an ethereum app development shop was said to hold 6 million ether, meaning he went from being a mere millionaire on Monday to an ether billionaire, holding $1.4 billion worth of the stuff, three days later. “Out of the 2,700 attendees there were at least 500 millionaires, and between zero to five billionaires,” said one longtime observer of the cryptocurrency scene, who wanted to remain anonymous.

Why are tokens a big deal?

The oracles of Silicon Valley say token offerings could reinvent the “freemium” business model of the internet, upending the huge centralized services—think of Facebook or Google—that have emerged. Instead of enticing users with free services, paid for by venture capital, and then eventually turning a profit by showing ads to those users, tokens offer a direct channel for capital to flow between user and the technologist.

The user would pay for a token upfront, providing funds for coders to develop the promised technology. If the technology works as advertised and gains popularity, it should attract more users, thus increasing demand for the token offered at the start. As the token value increases, those early users who bought tokens will benefit from appreciating token prices. Each token offering has different rules around the total supply of tokens and when they are released.

“This is a ‘better-than-free’ business model, where users make money for being early adopters,” write Balaji Srinivasan and Naval Ravikant, a partner at venture firm Andreessen Horowitz and the founder of investing platform AngelList, respectively. Ravikant has launched a platform called CoinList that will help accredited investors put money into token launches.

Token offerings could also correct an imbalance in the way financial rewards are distributed among technologists. Historically, the people who develop foundational technologies, such as protocols, have watched from the sidelines as others—firms that build the applications running atop those protocols—reap the riches. The Google search engine, for instance, is an application that trawls the world wide web, which is made up of a collection of open-source protocols. Yet it’s Google’s founders who are billionaires and not Tim Berners-Lee, who came up with the protocols that made not just Google, but the entire web, possible.

Cryptotokens could change that because protocol creators now have a way to be rewarded for the success of their technology, without having to create a hit application on top of it. “With tokens … the creators of a protocol can ‘monetize’ it directly and will in fact benefit more as others build businesses on top of that protocol,” writes Albert Wenger, a partner at Union Square Ventures.

This is the argument behind the “fat protocol” investment thesis: the protocols of the past were “thin” and unable to accrue financial value. The application layer resting atop those protocols were the ones to reap the rewards. But cryptotokens could enable the protocols of today to become “fat”—creating more wealth and value than even the enormously successful applications of the past. “These new ‘fat protocols’ may eventually create and capture more value than the last generation of Internet companies,” Srinivasan and Ravikant write.

Venture firms who subscribe to this theory have wasted no time putting their money where their mouths are. This is why firms like Union Square Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz have backed funds like Polychain Capital, which invest exclusively in token offerings. While the tokens are being raised for digital services at the moment—things like storage, identity management, or chat room stickers—one can imagine them being used for offline products and services someday in the future, too.

Nor are tokens limited to new projects. The chat platform Kik, with 15 million monthly active users, launched its own token last week at the conference, in the hopes of seeding an “economy built around chat (pdf).” In practice this means Kik users can earn and spend on special stickers, images, or even entry to celebrity chat rooms using the chat app’s Kin token. Unlike traditional loyalty points issued by a merchant, however, the Kin tokens are decentralized because they are issued on top of ethereum (more on that below). The Kin digital currency could exist even if the chat app vanished after issuance—although it probably wouldn’t be used very much and would be worth little.

What are tokens, exactly?

At this stage, an explainer on what tokens are, exactly, is helpful. You can think of a token offering as a hybrid between a Kickstarter campaign and a stock market flotation. On one hand, the launch lets customers reserve a product or service before it’s completed and ready for the market—that’s the Kickstarter part. On the other hand, it also gives those customers a stake in the future of that product or service; if the service gains in popularity, the token should rise in price, enriching the original users, making it a lot like getting in on a hot IPO. However, one of those analogies puts token issuers squarely in the sights of securities regulators, so the distinction is crucial. More on that later when we discuss the legal gray area that tokens occupy.

Like the rest of the cryptocurrency industry, token offerings rely on a basic circular logic: A token has as much value as its users bestow on it, just as bitcoin rises in price so long as demand outstrips supply. But token boosters say their units of digital currency are different from bitcoin in one critical respect: they are programmable, and have been coded to perform various useful functions.

Tokens issued today are built atop ethereum, the second most valuable cryptocurrency on the market. Ethereum is like bitcoin because it is a tradable digital currency, which is called ether. It’s unlike bitcoin because it was designed with its own programming language—a significant departure from, and its creators say, an upgrade over, bitcoin. This language allows people to write “smart contracts” or automatically executed agreements on ethereum. A bond, for instance, might automatically pay out its coupon, without the need for an intermediary or paperwork.

It turns out that ethereum’s programming language is powerful enough that coders can write smart contracts that issue new units of digital currency, bound by their own rules. This is what the tokens offered today are: a series of complicated ethereum smart contracts. The ethereum network itself is being used as a giant token-issuing machine. “Right now ethereum is a token factory,” says Muneeb Ali, co-founder of Blockstack, a startup working on building tools for a decentralized internet.

The circularity of cryptocurrency economics is at play again here: Ethereum itself raised capital from its users by offering ether tokens in 2014, raising $18 million. The ethereum protocol then became a staging ground for experiments in token funding: A vehicle called the Decentralized Autonomous Organization managed to raise $150 million on the promise that it would be a new form of business structure, one that automated away managers using a combination of smart contracts and tokens. It was promptly hacked for millions and flamed out spectacularly.

An ethereum-based token is to ether as a concert ticket is to a US dollar, Peter Van Valkenburgh, director of research at the Coin Center think tank, suggests. “In the real world we often use all sorts of items rather like we use cash,” he writes. “We use tickets, coupons … and a variety of bearer instruments because they entitle the holder to different things.” These customized tokens can be traded on secondary markets, like exchanges, and have their own value, independent of the price of ether.

Orange groves and securities law

While the potential of token launches remains vague, though powerful, almost everyone I spoke to at the New York conferences agreed on one thing: The US government would crack down on the offerings eventually. No one seems to think the good times for ICOs will last.

The legality of tokens hinges on something called the “Howey test,” named after a Florida company in the 1940s that tried to raise capital by selling contracts against its citrus groves—a practice that the US Supreme Court ruled was similar to a stock offering. At the Consensus conference, the debate about whether or not ICOs were like citrus grove contracts was captured by an exchange between Van Valkenburg, who argued that tokens are like products and not securities, and Preston Bryne, a lawyer and founder of a blockchain company called Monax.

“It’s like buying gold … it’s not like buying a security in a gold mine,” said Van Valkenburg. Responded Bryne, “This is complete nonsense. Everybody knows what this is. It’s, in substance and form, the sale of investments that people are purchasing with expectation of profit at a later date.”

Of course, what really matters is the regulator’s opinion. The US Securities and Exchange Commission hasn’t weighed in on the matter yet. But an SEC official who spoke at the Consensus conference, Valerie Szczepanik, who heads its unit looking at blockchain tech, sounded a note of caution, according to Reuters: “Whether or not you are regulated by the SEC, you still have fiduciary duties to your investors. If you want this industry to flourish, protection of investors should be at the forefront.”

Token boosters await official intervention with a mixture of trepidation and relief. Take Stan Miroshnik, who was a veteran investment banker with Morgan Stanley in London. He now runs a firm called Argon that corrals big investors—like cryptocurrency “whales,” adventurous family offices, and hedge funds—into token launches to ensure they’re sold out.

When a group of coders wants to raise money for their project, Miroshnik hits Slack teams, Telegram groups, and gets press in the cryptocurrency trade media to rustle up business. “Having seen the technology boom in the 90s, this is just another emerging capital market,” he says. “It needs institutional grade providers like ourselves who come out of traditional investment banks. One day Fidelity is going to show up and say, ‘I want $4 billion of that token, help me buy it.’ You need someone who can, frankly, speak their language.”

For Miroshnik, the sooner the SEC steps in, the better. “I welcome it,” he says. “It would be helpful to figure out where the boundaries are.”

WRITTEN BY
Joon Ian Wong

David Ogden
Entrepreneur

 

David

How to get started in the cryptocurrency game

How to get  started in the cryptocurrency game

How to get started in the cryptocurrency game

 

As bitcoin reaches for $2,500 again, I thought this would be a good time to let readers know exactly how digital currencies work and how to get more information if you wish to partake in this alternative investment.

There will be only 21 million bitcoins created, and as of last month, roughly 16.8 million or 80 percent of all the bitcoins have been “mined,” or created. So unlike the paper currencies in the world today, no governing body can print more bitcoin to dilute its value.

To get started, the first thing you will need is a digital wallet.

The wallet can be thought of more like a bank account, which can reside on your computer, phone or other smart device. It is always advisable to have your wallet backed up in another location so that a crashed hard drive does not wipe out your bitcoins.

There are many wallets out there to choose from, depending on your security needs and whether you wish to be an active trader or a more passive buy-and-hold investor.

Once you have set up your wallet, then you can go to one of the many digital currency exchanges to purchase a bitcoin.

Many exchanges now allow you to buy bitcoin with a credit card over the Web. Coinbase.com and Coindesk.com are two of the largest, and offer tutorials on digital currencies.

However, if you do not wish to use your bank account, there is one site called LocalBitcoins.com that allows face-to-face purchases.

Bitcoins are mined, or searched for, by using computing processing power in a distributed network to locate and solve mathematical problems to acquire the code for the “coin.”

This distributed network also provides the backbone to use bitcoin to purchase items or identify the bitcoin you hold.

There are a growing number of outlets that are accepting bitcoin for payment, including an Acura dealership in Valley Stream, LI, which offers pricing using bitcoin.

Bitpremier.com has an entire Web site dedicated to high-end Brooklyn real estate listing for $1.975 million or 809 bitcoin and other luxury items including a Peter Max print for $5,000 or 2.05 bitcoin all just a mouse click away.

As the value of bitcoin has skyrocketed, most bitcoin holders are investors, however, not consumers.

One year ago, bitcoin was trading at $525. It is now nearing $2,500, so at this point it does not make sense to purchase items using bitcoin until the price finds its level.

Like any other investment, there’s no guarantee that bitcoin will continue this rapid rise, but there are some aspects of bitcoin that point in that direction.
 

A bullish marker for bitcoin is that a vast majority of the planet does not know of, or is yet involved in, digital currencies, so as this news moves into the mainstream, more investors may jump in.

There are some very outlandish predictions for bitcoin’s value over the next three years due to its scarcity and a growing number of investors becoming aware. But as I said, no investment goes straight up.

As the value rises, a very important aspect to bitcoin is it can be divided into smaller parts. The smallest divisible amount is one hundred millionth of a bitcoin, and is called a “Satoshi,” after Satoshi Nakamoto, the software developer who founded bitcoin.

Remember, this is just a primer, and there are many resources out there to help you to study up on this new form of currency.

By Michael Gray

Once you have purchased you first bitcoin there is a way to continue to grow your number of bitcoin and that is to invest in Trade Coin Club which will help to continue to grow your wealth even if the price goes up or down.

David Ogden
Entrepreneur

 

 

David

Move Over Bitcoin, These 4 Cryptocurrencies are Making Their Mark

Move Over Bitcoin, These 4 Cryptocurrencies are Making Their Mark

Move Over Bitcoin, These 4 Cryptocurrencies are Making Their Mark

 

Just a few years ago if you thought of cryptocurrency you thought of Bitcoin and Bitcoin only.

Bitcoin was propelled into the limelight back in 2013. Around that time The Silk Road was taken down and the U.S. government confiscated hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Bitcoin. Back then, cryptocurrency and Bitcoin was more of an underground thing used mostly for dodgy purposes. But today, the tech and entrepreneurial community has gotten their hands on blockchain and cryptocurrency with the creation of other coins and technology. And now cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum are being used and backed by the biggest companies in the world such as Microsoft, JP Morgan Chase and Samsung to name a few.

Ethereum is leading the pack of the new age cryptocurrencies. The big difference is that these 2.0 and 3.0 versions of digital currencies actually do quite a bit on top of the basic technology that Bitcoin introduced to the world via blockchain. Bitcoin was just the beginning.

Here are 4 cryptocurrencies worth watching this year:

Ethereum (ETH) got popular just a few months ago when the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance was announced. The biggest companies in the world are officially backing and utilizing the new blockchain technology that Ethereum provides, specifically their smart contracts, decentralized applications on the blockchain, the creation of decentralized autonomous organizations and so much more. Ethereum does for code, apps and programming what Bitcion did for peer to peer transactions. Ethereum could eventually, starting with the launch of it’s new web browser Mist, become a complete decentralized internet.

Stratis (STRAT) is a powerful blockchain development platform. They recently got the highest level support from companies like Microsoft. Their aim is to be the one-stop shop for all things blockchain, essentially becoming a Blockchain As A Service (BAAS) platform. They are similar to Ethereum in concept but also very different. Stratis runs on the Bitcoin blockchain. But, where Stratis makes itself unique is that it offers developers the ability to code in C# which opens up a ton of possibilities for app and other developers. Additionally, Stratis is soon to launch their breeze wallet that could revolutionize and redefine transactional privacy. Stratis has a very similar number of circulating supply as Ethereum. So if you wanted to guess where Stratis (STRAT) could be price wise in a short while then look at today’s Ethereum prices.

Ripple (XRP) is a very interesting technology that allows banks to interact with eachother directly without any central point of control or middleman. This could (and is) revolutionize banking. Ripple and it’s token XRP have been critized for not having the technology and the currency truly connected. They also do not currently have their own currency wallet so storing it becomes complicated. But if they were to solve those 2 problems it could be doing very well this year.

Siacoin (SC) is a cryptocurrency and technology that was innovated at MIT at a hackathon in 2013. Siacoin’s blockchain has a technology that allows smart contracts to be created for digital storage. Essentially this could spawn the next Dropbox or Amazon AWS. But instead of Siacoin doing that directly they allow other partners like hosts to connect and compete for the business of consumers via their technology. It is a little early for Siacoin but big developments are already happening. Once they have a few more big use cases things could really take off. Their technology could be backing the next Dropbox or Amazon AWS. And if you have ever paid Amazon AWS hosting or storage costs, you know that needs to be distrupted and made cheaper. Siacoin’s blockchain technology could be the solution.

 

There you have it. These are the 4 cryptocurrencies that I and many others in the community have their eyes on to make big movement in 2017.

Author: Brian D. Evans

 

There is another coin Infinity(XIN) standing in the wings which you will be hearing more about this month so watch this space.

David Ogden
Entrepreneur

David

Will Investing in Cryptocurrency Make You Rich

Will Investing in Cryptocurrency Make You Rich

Will Investing in Cryptocurrency Make You Rich

 

Have you heard? Cyptocurrency is so hot right now. Bitcoin's price has been climbing for the better part of a year, topping $2,000 per coin for the first time in May, and rising to a record high above $2,500 — before dropping down just above $2,400 a coin as of Friday afternoon, per CoinDesk.

Those numbers mean nothing to you? This one might: If you had made a small investment in bitcoin back in 2010 — buying just $100 worth, when each unit was worth a fraction of a cent — your stash would be valued today at more than $70 million. Talk about an early retirement!

Even if you had been late to the party and bought bitcoin last year, you would be feeling pretty good. At one point, bitcoin prices were up roughly 180% for the year, as CNBC reported. Compare that with the broad stock market, which returned between 7.9% and 15%, depending on which index you look at.

Other cryptocurrencies have been on a tear as well. Ethereum, launched in 2015, is a software platform that has a cryptocurrency of its own, called "ether." Ether, or "ether tokens," hit a new all-time high Wednesday after climbing more than 35% in 24 hours, per CoinDesk. (There's also litecoin, which is similar to bitcoin but easier to obtain, more transactional, and seen as less valuable.)

So does that mean you should buy cryptocurrency today? Some say yes: One bitcoin proponent told CNBC he expects its value to keep rising and hit $100,000 within the decade. While digital currencies may seem alien now, it serves to remember that when Apple and other tech brands began gaining steam in the 1980s, people were skeptical anyone would have use for a personal computer. That story had a happy ending for early Apple investors.

Then again, hindsight can be 20/20, and just because an asset's price is going up doesn't mean it's actually getting more valuable. Just ask someone who bought U.S. real estate in 2007, or a tulip bulb during the infamous Dutch tulip bubble. If all that is driving prices to rise is hype, it's a good time to remember that what goes up must come down.

 

What are bitcoin and ether, exactly?

For the uninitiated, cryptocurrencies like ether and bitcoin are digital forms of money that live online, embedded in algorithms that record their movements. Bitcoin was the first major cryptocurrency, invented by an anonymous hacker known as Satoshi Nakamoto, in 2008. In a paper about the technology, Nakamoto envisioned a "peer-to-peer electronic cash system" that would let people conduct business directly, without the need of any outside institution.

The idea can be an exciting one: No more bank fees, for one, and you wouldn't need credit cards or debit cards, either. You also wouldn't need central banks or treasuries, since the price of currency would be set on the global stage by computers. Proponents of bitcoin, and its underlying technology, blockchain, hope that it could make most middlemen irrelevant by making all transactions instantly trustworthy and automated by Bluetooth.

If you needed a ride somewhere? You'd just summon your self-driving car, it would automatically read your digital wallet and take its fee, and you'd get out. It's a future that could save billions in transaction fees, protect identities and be a whole lot more sanitary. But we're not there yet, not by a long shot.

Currently, the system of using bitcoin relies on programmers to record transactions and build out what's known as a blockchain in exchange for a small bitcoin bounty. That process is called "bitcoin mining," and anyone can participate, although the reward will diminish over time

 

The case for investing in cryptocurrency

Cryptocurrency has come a long way from bitcoin's roots as the shadow currency favored by criminals on the Silk Road. Skepticism over bitcoin reached a boiling point in 2014, when Mt. Gox, the largest bitcoin exchange in the world, abruptly declared bankruptcy after than $460 million in bitcoin essentially disappeared.

Despite a rocky start, bitcoin has arguably entered the mainstream. For one, you can actually use it to buy stuff now. Many retailers, like Microsoft and Overstock, have started accepting bitcoin directly, and for the retailers that don't — notably Amazon — proponents have found a workaround by buying gift cards with their bitcoin and making purchases that way.

"The vast majority of bitcoin proponents are now either in finance or government," said Ian Bogost, an author, professor and game designer who has written about bitcoin for the Atlantic. "And for them, the speculative aspect is like a repurposing. The speculatists couldn’t give a shit what they’re speculating on, what the object is. Just that there is the possibility of substantial gain."

Ironically, given its roots, many of bitcoin's recent wins have been thanks to governments. Most recently, Japan voted to make bitcoin an officially sanctioned currency, and other countries like Barbados are looking into whether they should start purchasing bitcoin of their own.

Interestingly, many fans of cryptocurrency argue that the real value might not be in the currency itself, but in the technology that enables it — ways to safely and securely move value, for example, or trustworthy ways to validate identity.

"Bitcoin basically operated in obscurity until 2012, when media began reporting on its pseudonymous payments on Silk Road and it hit $1,000 before crashing," said Amanda Gutterman, chief marketing officer of ConsenSys, a blockchain studio which builds products on Ethereum. "As interest picked up, there was a desire to create more sophisticated financial products."

Bitcoin started as an experiment in monetary theory, Gutterman said, but it has already started to inspire real technology. ConsenSys, for example, is working with the city of Dubai to leverage blockchain and make the city government paperless by 2020. Because it's easier to build products around, many experts believe Ethereum could soon supplant Bitcoin.

 

The case against buying cryptocurrency

While the price of cryptocurrencies might be going up, there are still a lot of reasons to be wary, not least because it's virtually impossible to determine what a fair price for bitcoin or ether might be.

Part of what makes currencies and other assets valuable is that they have a history of appreciation, which cryptocurrencies do not share. Then there's the fact that people don't exactly agree on what the rules for bitcoin should be. It's not really a currency, since currencies are backed by a government, which issues them. It's also not really like a stock, either — cryptocurrencies don't report earnings or generate profits, and earnings and profits are how people try to determine what a "fair price" for a given stock might actually be.

Now, a few people have developed formulas to figure out the fair price for bitcoin: The Financial Times spoke to one anonymous London financial analyst who developed a model for pricing bitcoin based on the assumption that its "core utility value" is as the currency for shadow markets. By comparing the total amount of money that's laundered around the world with the overall GDP, he estimates that bitcoin's current price is about 238% higher than it should be. Other skeptics say that bitcoin has no real underlying value at all.

Despite being embraced by corporations and governments, bitcoin is still associated with criminal activity: When the WannaCry ransomware attack hit computers all over the world in May, the hackers involved requested their bounties in bitcoin. That means that even as some governments embrace bitcoin, others are cracking down: In Florida, for example, the state legislature recently passed a law that would make it easier to prosecute criminals who use bitcoin for money laundering.

Somewhat paradoxically, these types of criminal activity might actually be part of what's making bitcoin more valuable at the moment. Confronted with a rise in bitcoin ransoms from hackers, Bogost noted that a very natural response for a company is to buy a little bitcoin in case it happens again.

Bogost said she fears that bitcoin is particularly susceptible to monopoly — as hackers have very successfully cornered the market in the past. "We’ve seen with these sort of ups and downs, these small groups of mostly Chinese pools end up with more than 50% of the capacity. And we don’t know anything about these organizations. Are they state controlled?" Bogost said. "The moment [there is too much consolidation in the mining pools] then effectively the platform is dead, at least as a currency."

Finally, there's the possibility people are unwisely romanticizing a future without middlemen. The people who lost their bitcoin in the 2014 Mt. Gox hack are still trying to get their money back, and are unlikely to. After all, when the value of your cash is held in anonymous, poorly-understood algorithms, it's hard to hold somebody accountable if you lose it.

If you still feel like investing a small amount of money in cryptocurrency, be sure not to dip into your emergency savings. It's rarely a good idea to buy something when its price is at its all-time high. And remember that there are a lot of horses in this race: In addition to bitcoin, ether, and litecoin there's also ripple, namecoin and peercoin.

 

How to buy and store cryptocurrency

If you have some "play" money and want to make a bet on cryptocurrency, you should absolutely feel 100% comfortable with the idea of losing all that money. Cryptocurrencies have crashed before, often, and probably will again in the future. They're also historically expensive — if you must buy some, you might be served by waiting a bit for prices to drop, so you're more likely to get a deal.

There are lots of ways to buy cryptocurrencies, and some countries have even set up ways to purchase them via an ATM.

Coinbase is one of the more well-known bitcoin brokers, and often recommended for beginners. Coinbase allows you buy bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies by linking to your debit or credit card account. Business Insider reports that the mobile app is buggy, and banks will sometimes lock a card after making these transactions. To that end, BI recommends letting your financial institution know before trying to make a purchase.

There are a few other options, though they have less of a track record: Kraken is one reputable alternative; it has been around since 2011 and works with a wide range of traders and governments. There's also Gemini, but it is not yet available in every state.

Finally, because exchanges, even the largest ones, have crashed abruptly, it's also important to get yourself a safe place to store your bitcoin, in case your provider goes out of business or suffers a hack. These devices are often referred to as bitcoin "wallets." Ledger is a popular option.

by James Dennin

 

David Ogden
Entrepreneur

David

How Do Bitcoin Transactions Actually Work

How Do Bitcoin Transactions Actually Work

How Do Bitcoin Transactions Actually Work

 

Whether you’re interested in becoming a developer for blockchain applications, or you’re just looking to understand what happens under the hood when you send bitcoin to a friend, it’s good to have a working knowledge of what happens when you create and broadcast Bitcoin transactions to the Bitcoin network. Why?

Because transactions are a basic entity on top of which the bitcoin blockchain is constructed. Transactions are the result of a brilliant collision of cryptography, data structures, and simple non-turing-complete scripting. They’re simple enough that common transaction types aren’t overly-complex, but flexible enough to allow developers to encode fairly customized transactions types as well. Today we’ll take a tour of the former.

As a developer, how does your bitcoin client post a new transaction to the network (and what happens when it’s received)?

What exactly is happening when you send some bitcoin to a friend?

This post will assume that the reader has a basic understanding of hashing, asymmetric cryptography, and P2P networking. It’s also a good idea to have a good sense for what exactly a blockchain is, even if you’re unfamiliar with any specific mechanics.

Bitcoin Transactions and their role in the bigger picture

Bitcoin is comprised of a few major pieces: nodes and a blockchain. The role of a typical node is to maintain its own blockchain version and update it once it hears of a “better” (longer) version. Simply put, the blockchain has blocks, and blocks have transactions.

 

With this simplified but accurate picture in mind, you might be wondering what exactly a transaction is made out of.

How will understanding transactions help me to become a better blockchain developer?How do transactions allow me to transfer some bitcoin to a friend?

It turns out that the answers to these questions vary based on many things. Even assuming that we’re talking only bitcoin, we can use transactions in a number of creative ways to accomplish a variety of personalized goals. Let’s start at the beginning, that is, let’s take a look a good old-fashioned pay-to-PK-hash transaction type. After all, this type of transaction accounts for over 99% of all transactions on the bitcoin blockchain.

First, let’s build a mental model. It’s tempting to think of bitcoin as an account-based system. After all, when I send bitcoin to somebody, that person receives money and I’m left with a remaining balance. In the real world though, things are represented a bit differently. Generally speaking, when I send money to somebody I am sending spending all of that money (minus transaction fees). Some of that money will be spent back to my own personal account if there exists a remaining balance. The point is that all of the money moves every single time.

How Do Bitcoin Transactions Actually Work?Save

This was somewhat confusing to me when I first saw it, so I’ll elaborate a bit. When I post a transaction, I’m essentially “claiming” an output and proving that I have permission to spend the amount of money at that output. So if I’m Bob and I want to pay Alice, those inputs are my proof that I have been given a certain amount of money (although this might just be a portion of my total balance), and the outputs will correspond to Alice’s account. In this simple case, there would be only a single input and a single output.

A deeper look into Bitcoin transactions

Let’s understand the mechanics of a real bitcoin transaction. We’ll use the image above as a reference.

If you were to cut open a typical bitcoin transaction, you’d end up with three major pieces: the header, the input(s), and the output(s). Let’s briefly look at the fields available to us in these sections, as they’ll be important for discussion. Note that these are the fields that are in a so-called raw transaction. Raw transactions are broadcast between peers when a transaction is created.

The Header

hash: The hash over this entire transaction. Bitcoin generally uses hash values both a pointer and a means to check the integrity of a piece of data. We’ll look at this more in the next section.

ver: The version number that should be used to verify this block. The latest version was introduced in a soft fork that became active in December 2015.

vin_sz: The number of inputs to this transaction. Similarly, vout_sz counts the number of outputs.

lock_time: We’ll look at this more in later articles, but this basically describes the earliest time at which a block can be added to the blockchain. It is either the block height or a unix timestamp.

Input

previous output hash: This is a hash pointer to a previously unspent transaction output (UTXO). Essentially, this is money that belongs to you that you are about to spend in this transaction.

n: An index into the list of outputs of the previous transaction. This is the actual output that you are spending.

scriptSig: This is a spending script that proves that the creator of this transaction has permission to spend the money referenced by 1. and 2.

 

Output

value: The amount of Satoshi being spent (1 BTC = 100,000,000 Satoshi).

scriptPubKey: The second of two scripts provided in a bitcoin transaction, which points to a recipient’s hashed public key. More on this in the last section of this article.

Transaction verification

One of the jobs of a bitcoin node is the verify that incoming transactions are correct (data hasn’t been tampered with, money isn’t being created, only intended recipients spend UTXOs, etc). A more exhaustive list can be found online, but I’ll list out a few of the important ones here:

 

All outputs claimed by inputs of this transaction are in the UTXO pool. Unspent outputs can only ever be claimed once.

The signatures on each input are valid. More precisely, we’re saying that the combined scripts return true after executing them one after the other. More on this in the last section.

No UTXO is spent more than once by this transaction. Notice how this is different than the first item.

All of the transaction’s output values are non-negative.

The sum of this transaction’s input values is greater than the sum of its output values. Note that if the numbers are different, the difference is considered to be a transaction fee that can be claimed by the miner.

A basic pay-to-PK-hash transaction

Bitcoin has its own custom (Forth-like) scripting language that is powerful enough to allow developers to create complicated and custom types of transactions. There are five or so standard transaction types that are accepted by standard bitcoin clients [5], however, there exist other clients that will accept other types of transactions for a fee. We’ll just cover the mechanics of pay-to-PK-hash here.

For any transaction to be valid, a combined scriptSig/scriptPubKey pair must evaluate to true. More specifically, a transaction spender provides a scriptSig that is executed and followed by the scriptPubKey of the claimed transaction output (remember how we said inputs claim previous unspent transaction outputs?). Both scripts share the same stack.

In the interest of efficiency, let’s use (official bitcoin wiki) a reference as we discuss. When you visit the link, go about halfway down to find a table containing 7 rows. This table shows how the scripts are combined, how execution occurs, and what the stack looks like at each step.

One thing to note is that, because bitcoin addresses are actually hashes (well, it gets even a bit more complicated. See ), there is no way for the sender to know the actual public key to check against the private key. Therefore, the Redeemer specifies both the public key and private key, and the scriptPubKey will duplicate and hash the public key to make sure that the Redeemer is indeed the intended recipient.

During execution, you can see that constants are placed directly onto the stack when they are encountered. Operations add or remove items from the stack as they are evaluated. For example, OP_HASH160 will take the top item from the stack, and has it twice, first with SHA-256 and then with RIPEMD-160. When all items in our script have been evaluated, our entire script will evaluate to true if true remains on the stack, and false otherwise.

All in all, the pay-to-PK-hash is a pretty straightforward transaction type. It ensures that only a redeemer with the appropriate public/private key pair can claim and subsequently spend bitcoin. Assuming that all other criteria are met (see the previous section), then the transaction is a good one and it can be placed into a block.

David Ogden
Entrepreneur

David

Russia is looking to regulate bitcoin but still doesn’t see it as a currency

Russia is looking to regulate bitcoin but still doesn't see it as a currency

Russia is looking to regulate bitcoin but still doesn’t see it as a currency

Russia is exploring ways to regulate bitcoin, the country's central bank governor has told CNBC, but sees "doubts" over the benefits of the cryptocurrency and even questions whether it should be considered a virtual currency at all.

In an interview with CNBC, Elvira Nabiullina, governor of the Russian Central Bank, explained that she views bitcoin as a digital asset rather than a currency, and this is the way it should be thought about with regards to regulation.

When asked whether the Russian Central Bank is looking to regulate bitcoin, Nabiullina said that the authority is "analyzing" the possibility and needs to "understand more about this internalization of bitcoin and our regulatory systems." She added that there are "risks" with the cryptocurrency.

"We don't consider that bitcoin can be considered as a virtual currency. It's more digital assets with the regulation of assets," Nabiullina told CNBC in a TV interview.

The central banker did not elaborate on what specific regulation would look like and said she is in no rush to put any policy into place. The governor said that the central bank does have doubts about bitcoin.

"We have some doubts, we don't see some huge benefits from introducing digital assets in our economy," Nabiullina said.

Bitcoin recently hit a record high of $2,791, according to data from industry website CoinDesk, marking around a 180 percent rally year-to-date. There's bullishness in the market with some predicting the price could go as high as $6,000 this year and even $100,000 in a decade.

With surging prices and a market capitalization of around $38 billion, governments are becoming increasingly interested in ways to regulate the digital currency, especially as more retail investors are getting involved in the market.

Japan recently passed a law to legalize payments in bitcoin which helped boost the price, with major trading volumes now coming from the country.

The stance of Nabiullina marks a changed view from Russian authorities who have been trying over the years to ban bitcoin. If Russia somehow regulates bitcoin, this could potentially affect the price, especially if more investors get involved in the asset.

Sean Walsh, a partner at Redwood City Ventures which invests in bitcoin and blockchain companies, said that further regulation could boost the price of the cryptocurrency and get rid of the handful of "bad actors" using it for illegal things.

"I agree with the view that for retail and professional investors greater regulatory structure is very supportive because it adds to the legitimacy of the whole network," Walsh told CNBC in a phone interview.

Taxation plan?

Still, it's unclear where Russia plans to go with bitcoin regulation. The country's Deputy Finance Minister Alexey Moiseev recently said the authorities hope to recognize bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as a legal financial instrument in 2018 in a bid to tackle money laundering.

"The state needs to know who at every moment of time stands on both sides of the financial chain," Moiseev told Bloomberg in an interview.

"If there's a transaction, the people who facilitate it should understand from whom they bought and to whom they were selling, just like with bank operations."

The Russian Central Bank's Deputy Chairwoman Olga Skorobogatova has also reportedly revealed plans to tax the cryptocurrency.

"(Digital currencies already circulating in Russia will see) certain regulations with regard to taxes, monitoring and reporting, as a digital commodity," Skorobogatova said, according to news agency Interfax.

Blockchain in focus

Bitcoin has traditionally been known to allow users to make payments and money transfers anonymously. So it may seem that any taxation policy from the authorities could be difficult. But Walsh said some developments in the bitcoin community could make this policy feasible.

Firstly, bitcoin transactions have become slower and more expensive. This makes the practice of trying to split up transactions to cover your tracks very difficult. Secondly, several start-ups have emerged that are able to use algorithms to track transactions on the blockchain – the public ledger of bitcoin activity. This could allow authorities to see who owns bitcoin.

While Nabiullina admitted there were still risks with bitcoin, she expressed the Russian Central Bank's interest in blockchain technology. Because of the way blockchain technology can create a tamper-proof ledger of activity, many major banks are looking into how it can be used for tasks such as trading.

"I think it's more important to understand (the) benefits of new technologies … like blockchain which is on the basis of bitcoin," Nabiullina told CNBC.

David Ogden
Entrepreneur

 

Authors :
Arjun Kharpal Technology Correspondent
Geoff Cutmore Anchor, CNBC

David