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Summary: Everyone knows that when you give your assets to someone else, they always keep them safe. If this is true for individuals, it is certainly true for businesses. Custodians always tell the truth and manage funds properly. They won't have any interest in taking the assets as an exchange operator would. Auditors tell the truth and can't be misled. That's because organizations that are regulated are incapable of lying and don't make mistakes. First, some background. Here is a summary of how custodians make us more secure: Previously, we might give Alice our crypto assets to hold. There were risks:
Alice might take the assets and disappear.
Alice might spend the assets and pretend that she still has them (fractional model).
Alice might store the assets insecurely and they'll get stolen.
Alice might give the assets to someone else by mistake or by force.
Alice might lose access to the assets.
But "no worries", Alice has a custodian named Bob. Bob is dressed in a nice suit. He knows some politicians. And he drives a Porsche. "So you have nothing to worry about!". And look at all the benefits we get:
Alice can't take the assets and disappear (unless she asks Bob or never gives them to Bob).
Alice can't spend the assets and pretend that she still has them. (Unless she didn't give them to Bob or asks him for them.)
Alice can't store the assets insecurely so they get stolen. (After all - she doesn't have any control over the withdrawal process from any of Bob's systems, right?)
Alice can't give the assets to someone else by mistake or by force. (Bob will stop her, right Bob?)
Alice can't lose access to the funds. (She'll always be present, sane, and remember all secrets, right?)
See - all problems are solved! All we have to worry about now is:
Bob might take the assets and disappear.
Bob might spend the assets and pretend that he still has them (fractional model).
Bob might store the assets insecurely and they'll get stolen.
Bob might give the assets to someone else by mistake or by force.
Bob might lose access to the assets.
It's pretty simple. Before we had to trust Alice. Now we only have to trust Alice, Bob, and all the ways in which they communicate. Just think of how much more secure we are! "On top of that", Bob assures us, "we're using a special wallet structure". Bob shows Alice a diagram. "We've broken the balance up and store it in lots of smaller wallets. That way", he assures her, "a thief can't take it all at once". And he points to a historic case where a large sum was taken "because it was stored in a single wallet... how stupid". "Very early on, we used to have all the crypto in one wallet", he said, "and then one Christmas a hacker came and took it all. We call him the Grinch. Now we individually wrap each crypto and stick it under a binary search tree. The Grinch has never been back since." "As well", Bob continues, "even if someone were to get in, we've got insurance. It covers all thefts and even coercion, collusion, and misplaced keys - only subject to the policy terms and conditions." And with that, he pulls out a phone-book sized contract and slams it on the desk with a thud. "Yep", he continues, "we're paying top dollar for one of the best policies in the country!" "Can I read it?' Alice asks. "Sure," Bob says, "just as soon as our legal team is done with it. They're almost through the first chapter." He pauses, then continues. "And can you believe that sales guy Mike? He has the same year Porsche as me. I mean, what are the odds?" "Do you use multi-sig?", Alice asks. "Absolutely!" Bob replies. "All our engineers are fully trained in multi-sig. Whenever we want to set up a new wallet, we generate 2 separate keys in an air-gapped process and store them in this proprietary system here. Look, it even requires the biometric signature from one of our team members to initiate any withdrawal." He demonstrates by pressing his thumb into the display. "We use a third-party cloud validation API to match the thumbprint and authorize each withdrawal. The keys are also backed up daily to an off-site third-party." "Wow that's really impressive," Alice says, "but what if we need access for a withdrawal outside of office hours?" "Well that's no issue", Bob says, "just send us an email, call, or text message and we always have someone on staff to help out. Just another part of our strong commitment to all our customers!" "What about Proof of Reserve?", Alice asks. "Of course", Bob replies, "though rather than publish any blockchain addresses or signed transaction, for privacy we just do a SHA256 refactoring of the inverse hash modulus for each UTXO nonce and combine the smart contract coefficient consensus in our hyperledger lightning node. But it's really simple to use." He pushes a button and a large green checkmark appears on a screen. "See - the algorithm ran through and reserves are proven." "Wow", Alice says, "you really know your stuff! And that is easy to use! What about fiat balances?" "Yeah, we have an auditor too", Bob replies, "Been using him for a long time so we have quite a strong relationship going! We have special books we give him every year and he's very efficient! Checks the fiat, crypto, and everything all at once!" "We used to have a nice offline multi-sig setup we've been using without issue for the past 5 years, but I think we'll move all our funds over to your facility," Alice says. "Awesome", Bob replies, "Thanks so much! This is perfect timing too - my Porsche got a dent on it this morning. We have the paperwork right over here." "Great!", Alice replies. And with that, Alice gets out her pen and Bob gets the contract. "Don't worry", he says, "you can take your crypto-assets back anytime you like - just subject to our cancellation policy. Our annual management fees are also super low and we don't adjust them often". How many holes have to exist for your funds to get stolen? Just one. Why are we taking a powerful offline multi-sig setup, widely used globally in hundreds of different/lacking regulatory environments with 0 breaches to date, and circumventing it by a demonstrably weak third party layer? And paying a great expense to do so? If you go through the list of breaches in the past 2 years to highly credible organizations, you go through the list of major corporate frauds (only the ones we know about), you go through the list of all the times platforms have lost funds, you go through the list of times and ways that people have lost their crypto from identity theft, hot wallet exploits, extortion, etc... and then you go through this custodian with a fine-tooth comb and truly believe they have value to add far beyond what you could, sticking your funds in a wallet (or set of wallets) they control exclusively is the absolute worst possible way to take advantage of that security. The best way to add security for crypto-assets is to make a stronger multi-sig. With one custodian, what you are doing is giving them your cryptocurrency and hoping they're honest, competent, and flawlessly secure. It's no different than storing it on a really secure exchange. Maybe the insurance will cover you. Didn't work for Bitpay in 2015. Didn't work for Yapizon in 2017. Insurance has never paid a claim in the entire history of cryptocurrency. But maybe you'll get lucky. Maybe your exact scenario will buck the trend and be what they're willing to cover. After the large deductible and hopefully without a long and expensive court battle. And you want to advertise this increase in risk, the lapse of judgement, an accident waiting to happen, as though it's some kind of benefit to customers ("Free institutional-grade storage for your digital assets.")? And then some people are writing to the OSC that custodians should be mandatory for all funds on every exchange platform? That this somehow will make Canadians as a whole more secure or better protected compared with standard air-gapped multi-sig? On what planet? Most of the problems in Canada stemmed from one thing - a lack of transparency. If Canadians had known what a joke Quadriga was - it wouldn't have grown to lose $400m from hard-working Canadians from coast to coast to coast. And Gerald Cotten would be in jail, not wherever he is now (at best, rotting peacefully). EZ-BTC and mister Dave Smilie would have been a tiny little scam to his friends, not a multi-million dollar fraud. Einstein would have got their act together or been shut down BEFORE losing millions and millions more in people's funds generously donated to criminals. MapleChange wouldn't have even been a thing. And maybe we'd know a little more about CoinTradeNewNote - like how much was lost in there. Almost all of the major losses with cryptocurrency exchanges involve deception with unbacked funds. So it's great to see transparency reports from BitBuy and ShakePay where someone independently verified the backing. The only thing we don't have is:
ANY CERTAINTY BALANCES WEREN'T EXCLUDED. Quadriga's largest account was $70m. 80% of funds are in 20% of accounts (Pareto principle). All it takes is excluding a few really large accounts - and nobody's the wiser. A fractional platform can easily pass any audit this way.
ANY VISIBILITY WHATSOEVER INTO THE CUSTODIANS. BitBuy put out their report before moving all the funds to their custodian and ShakePay apparently can't even tell us who the custodian is. That's pretty important considering that basically all of the funds are now stored there.
ANY IDEA ABOUT THE OTHER EXCHANGES. In order for this to be effective, it has to be the norm. It needs to be "unusual" not to know. If obscurity is the norm, then it's super easy for people like Gerald Cotten and Dave Smilie to blend right in.
It's not complicated to validate cryptocurrency assets. They need to exist, they need to be spendable, and they need to cover the total balances. There are plenty of credible people and firms across the country that have the capacity to reasonably perform this validation. Having more frequent checks by different, independent, parties who publish transparent reports is far more valuable than an annual check by a single "more credible/official" party who does the exact same basic checks and may or may not publish anything. Here's an example set of requirements that could be mandated:
First report within 1 month of launching, another within 3 months, and further reports at minimum every 6 months thereafter.
No auditor can be repeated within a 12 month period.
All reports must be public, identifying the auditor and the full methodology used.
All auditors must be independent of the firm being audited with no conflict of interest.
Reports must include the percentage of each asset backed, and how it's backed.
The auditor publishes a hash list, which lists a hash of each customer's information and balances that were included. Hash is one-way encryption so privacy is fully preserved. Every customer can use this to have 100% confidence they were included.
If we want more extensive requirements on audits, these should scale upward based on the total assets at risk on the platform, and whether the platform has loaned their assets out.
There are ways to structure audits such that neither crypto assets nor customer information are ever put at risk, and both can still be properly validated and publicly verifiable. There are also ways to structure audits such that they are completely reasonable for small platforms and don't inhibit innovation in any way. By making the process as reasonable as possible, we can completely eliminate any reason/excuse that an honest platform would have for not being audited. That is arguable far more important than any incremental improvement we might get from mandating "the best of the best" accountants. Right now we have nothing mandated and tons of Canadians using offshore exchanges with no oversight whatsoever. Transparency does not prove crypto assets are safe. CoinTradeNewNote, Flexcoin ($600k), and Canadian Bitcoins ($100k) are examples where crypto-assets were breached from platforms in Canada. All of them were online wallets and used no multi-sig as far as any records show. This is consistent with what we see globally - air-gapped multi-sig wallets have an impeccable record, while other schemes tend to suffer breach after breach. We don't actually know how much CoinTrader lost because there was no visibility. Rather than publishing details of what happened, the co-founder of CoinTrader silently moved on to found another platform - the "most trusted way to buy and sell crypto" - a site that has no information whatsoever (that I could find) on the storage practices and a FAQ advising that “[t]rading cryptocurrency is completely safe” and that having your own wallet is “entirely up to you! You can certainly keep cryptocurrency, or fiat, or both, on the app.” Doesn't sound like much was learned here, which is really sad to see. It's not that complicated or unreasonable to set up a proper hardware wallet. Multi-sig can be learned in a single course. Something the equivalent complexity of a driver's license test could prevent all the cold storage exploits we've seen to date - even globally. Platform operators have a key advantage in detecting and preventing fraud - they know their customers far better than any custodian ever would. The best job that custodians can do is to find high integrity individuals and train them to form even better wallet signatories. Rather than mandating that all platforms expose themselves to arbitrary third party risks, regulations should center around ensuring that all signatories are background-checked, properly trained, and using proper procedures. We also need to make sure that signatories are empowered with rights and responsibilities to reject and report fraud. They need to know that they can safely challenge and delay a transaction - even if it turns out they made a mistake. We need to have an environment where mistakes are brought to the surface and dealt with. Not one where firms and people feel the need to hide what happened. In addition to a knowledge-based test, an auditor can privately interview each signatory to make sure they're not in coercive situations, and we should make sure they can freely and anonymously report any issues without threat of retaliation. A proper multi-sig has each signature held by a separate person and is governed by policies and mutual decisions instead of a hierarchy. It includes at least one redundant signature. For best results, 3of4, 3of5, 3of6, 4of5, 4of6, 4of7, 5of6, or 5of7. History has demonstrated over and over again the risk of hot wallets even to highly credible organizations. Nonetheless, many platforms have hot wallets for convenience. While such losses are generally compensated by platforms without issue (for example Poloniex, Bitstamp, Bitfinex, Gatecoin, Coincheck, Bithumb, Zaif, CoinBene, Binance, Bitrue, Bitpoint, Upbit, VinDAX, and now KuCoin), the public tends to focus more on cases that didn't end well. Regardless of what systems are employed, there is always some level of risk. For that reason, most members of the public would prefer to see third party insurance. Rather than trying to convince third party profit-seekers to provide comprehensive insurance and then relying on an expensive and slow legal system to enforce against whatever legal loopholes they manage to find each and every time something goes wrong, insurance could be run through multiple exchange operators and regulators, with the shared interest of having a reputable industry, keeping costs down, and taking care of Canadians. For example, a 4 of 7 multi-sig insurance fund held between 5 independent exchange operators and 2 regulatory bodies. All Canadian exchanges could pay premiums at a set rate based on their needed coverage, with a higher price paid for hot wallet coverage (anything not an air-gapped multi-sig cold wallet). Such a model would be much cheaper to manage, offer better coverage, and be much more reliable to payout when needed. The kind of coverage you could have under this model is unheard of. You could even create something like the CDIC to protect Canadians who get their trading accounts hacked if they can sufficiently prove the loss is legitimate. In cases of fraud, gross negligence, or insolvency, the fund can be used to pay affected users directly (utilizing the last transparent balance report in the worst case), something which private insurance would never touch. While it's recommended to have official policies for coverage, a model where members vote would fully cover edge cases. (Could be similar to the Supreme Court where justices vote based on case law.) Such a model could fully protect all Canadians across all platforms. You can have a fiat coverage governed by legal agreements, and crypto-asset coverage governed by both multi-sig and legal agreements. It could be practical, affordable, and inclusive. Now, we are at a crossroads. We can happily give up our freedom, our innovation, and our money. We can pay hefty expenses to auditors, lawyers, and regulators year after year (and make no mistake - this cost will grow to many millions or even billions as the industry grows - and it will be borne by all Canadians on every platform because platforms are not going to eat up these costs at a loss). We can make it nearly impossible for any new platform to enter the marketplace, forcing Canadians to use the same stagnant platforms year after year. We can centralize and consolidate the entire industry into 2 or 3 big players and have everyone else fail (possibly to heavy losses of users of those platforms). And when a flawed security model doesn't work and gets breached, we can make it even more complicated with even more people in suits making big money doing the job that blockchain was supposed to do in the first place. We can build a system which is so intertwined and dependent on big government, traditional finance, and central bankers that it's future depends entirely on that of the fiat system, of fractional banking, and of government bail-outs. If we choose this path, as history has shown us over and over again, we can not go back, save for revolution. Our children and grandchildren will still be paying the consequences of what we decided today. Or, we can find solutions that work. We can maintain an open and innovative environment while making the adjustments we need to make to fully protect Canadian investors and cryptocurrency users, giving easy and affordable access to cryptocurrency for all Canadians on the platform of their choice, and creating an environment in which entrepreneurs and problem solvers can bring those solutions forward easily. None of the above precludes innovation in any way, or adds any unreasonable cost - and these three policies would demonstrably eliminate or resolve all 109 historic cases as studied here - that's every single case researched so far going back to 2011. It includes every loss that was studied so far not just in Canada but globally as well. Unfortunately, finding answers is the least challenging part. Far more challenging is to get platform operators and regulators to agree on anything. My last post got no response whatsoever, and while the OSC has told me they're happy for industry feedback, I believe my opinion alone is fairly meaningless. This takes the whole community working together to solve. So please let me know your thoughts. Please take the time to upvote and share this with people. Please - let's get this solved and not leave it up to other people to do. Facts/background/sources (skip if you like):
The inspiration for the paragraph about splitting wallets was an actual quote from a Canadian company providing custodial services in response to the OSC consultation paper: "We believe that it will be in the in best interests of investors to prohibit pooled crypto assets or ‘floats’. Most Platforms pool assets, citing reasons of practicality and expense. The recent hack of the world’s largest Platform – Binance – demonstrates the vulnerability of participants’ assets when such concessions are made. In this instance, the Platform’s entire hot wallet of Bitcoins, worth over $40 million, was stolen, facilitated in part by the pooling of client crypto assets." "the maintenance of participants (and Platform) crypto assets across multiple wallets distributes the related risk and responsibility of security - reducing the amount of insurance coverage required and making insurance coverage more readily obtainable". For the record, their reply also said nothing whatsoever about multi-sig or offline storage.
In addition to the fact that the $40m hack represented only one "hot wallet" of Binance, and they actually had the vast majority of assets in other wallets (including mostly cold wallets), multiple real cases have clearly demonstrated that risk is still present with multiple wallets. Bitfinex, VinDAX, Bithumb, Altsbit, BitPoint, Cryptopia, and just recently KuCoin all had multiple wallets breached all at the same time, and may represent a significantly larger impact on customers than the Binance breach which was fully covered by Binance. To represent that simply having multiple separate wallets under the same security scheme is a comprehensive way to reduce risk is just not true.
Private insurance has historically never covered a single loss in the cryptocurrency space (at least, not one that I was able to find), and there are notable cases where massive losses were not covered by insurance. Bitpay in 2015 and Yapizon in 2017 both had insurance policies that didn't pay out during the breach, even after a lengthly court process. The same insurance that ShakePay is presently using (and announced to much fanfare) was describe by their CEO himself as covering “physical theft of the media where the private keys are held,” which is something that has never historically happened. As was said with regard to the same policy in 2018 - “I don’t find it surprising that Lloyd’s is in this space,” said Johnson, adding that to his mind the challenge for everybody is figuring out how to structure these policies so that they are actually protective. “You can create an insurance policy that protects no one – you know there are so many caveats to the policy that it’s not super protective.”
The most profitable policy for a private insurance company is one with the most expensive premiums that they never have to pay a claim on. They have no inherent incentive to take care of people who lost funds. It's "cheaper" to take the reputational hit and fight the claim in court. The more money at stake, the more the insurance provider is incentivized to avoid payout. They're not going to insure the assets unless they have reasonable certainty to make a profit by doing so, and they're not going to pay out a massive sum unless it's legally forced. Private insurance is always structured to be maximally profitable to the insurance provider.
The circumvention of multi-sig was a key factor in the massive Bitfinex hack of over $60m of bitcoin, which today still sits being slowly used and is worth over $3b. While Bitfinex used a qualified custodian Bitgo, which was and still is active and one of the industry leaders of custodians, and they set up 2 of 3 multi-sig wallets, the entire system was routed through Bitfinex, such that Bitfinex customers could initiate the withdrawals in a "hot" fashion. This feature was also a hit with the hacker. The multi-sig was fully circumvented.
Bitpay in 2015 was another example of a breach that stole 5,000 bitcoins. This happened not through the exploit of any system in Bitpay, but because the CEO of a company they worked with got their computer hacked and the hackers were able to request multiple bitcoin purchases, which Bitpay honoured because they came from the customer's computer legitimately. Impersonation is a very common tactic used by fraudsters, and methods get more extreme all the time.
A notable case in Canada was the Canadian Bitcoins exploit. Funds were stored on a server in a Rogers Data Center, and the attendee was successfully convinced to reboot the server "in safe mode" with a simple phone call, thus bypassing the extensive security and enabling the theft.
The very nature of custodians circumvents multi-sig. This is because custodians are not just having to secure the assets against some sort of physical breach but against any form of social engineering, modification of orders, fraudulent withdrawal attempts, etc... If the security practices of signatories in a multi-sig arrangement are such that the breach risk of one signatory is 1 in 100, the requirement of 3 independent signatures makes the risk of theft 1 in 1,000,000. Since hackers tend to exploit the weakest link, a comparable custodian has to make the entry and exit points of their platform 10,000 times more secure than one of those signatories to provide equivalent protection. And if the signatories beef up their security by only 10x, the risk is now 1 in 1,000,000,000. The custodian has to be 1,000,000 times more secure. The larger and more complex a system is, the more potential vulnerabilities exist in it, and the fewer people can understand how the system works when performing upgrades. Even if a system is completely secure today, one has to also consider how that system might evolve over time or work with different members.
By contrast, offline multi-signature solutions have an extremely solid record, and in the entire history of cryptocurrency exchange incidents which I've studied (listed here), there has only been one incident (796 exchange in 2015) involving an offline multi-signature wallet. It happened because the customer's bitcoin address was modified by hackers, and the amount that was stolen ($230k) was immediately covered by the exchange operators. Basically, the platform operators were tricked into sending a legitimate withdrawal request to the wrong address because hackers exploited their platform to change that address. Such an issue would not be prevented in any way by the use of a custodian, as that custodian has no oversight whatsoever to the exchange platform. It's practical for all exchange operators to test large withdrawal transactions as a general policy, regardless of what model is used, and general best practice is to diagnose and fix such an exploit as soon as it occurs.
False promises on the backing of funds played a huge role in the downfall of Quadriga, and it's been exposed over and over again (MyCoin, PlusToken, Bitsane, Bitmarket, EZBTC, IDAX). Even today, customers have extremely limited certainty on whether their funds in exchanges are actually being backed or how they're being backed. While this issue is not unique to cryptocurrency exchanges, the complexity of the technology and the lack of any regulation or standards makes problems more widespread, and there is no "central bank" to come to the rescue as in the 2008 financial crisis or during the great depression when "9,000 banks failed".
In addition to fraudulent operations, the industry is full of cases where operators have suffered breaches and not reported them. Most recently, Einstein was the largest case in Canada, where ongoing breaches and fraud were perpetrated against the platform for multiple years and nobody found out until the platform collapsed completely. While fraud and breaches suck to deal with, they suck even more when not dealt with. Lack of visibility played a role in the largest downfalls of Mt. Gox, Cryptsy, and Bitgrail. In some cases, platforms are alleged to have suffered a hack and keep operating without admitting it at all, such as CoinBene.
It surprises some to learn that a cryptographic solution has already existed since 2013, and gained widespread support in 2014 after Mt. Gox. Proof of Reserves is a full cryptographic proof that allows any customer using an exchange to have complete certainty that their crypto-assets are fully backed by the platform in real-time. This is accomplished by proving that assets exist on the blockchain, are spendable, and fully cover customer deposits. It does not prove safety of assets or backing of fiat assets.
If we didn't care about privacy at all, a platform could publish their wallet addresses, sign a partial transaction, and put the full list of customer information and balances out publicly. Customers can each check that they are on the list, that the balances are accurate, that the total adds up, and that it's backed and spendable on the blockchain. Platforms who exclude any customer take a risk because that customer can easily check and see they were excluded. So together with all customers checking, this forms a full proof of backing of all crypto assets.
However, obviously customers care about their private information being published. Therefore, a hash of the information can be provided instead. Hash is one-way encryption. The hash allows the customer to validate inclusion (by hashing their own known information), while anyone looking at the list of hashes cannot determine the private information of any other user. All other parts of the scheme remain fully intact. A model like this is in use on the exchange CoinFloor in the UK.
A Merkle tree can provide even greater privacy. Instead of a list of balances, the balances are arranged into a binary tree. A customer starts from their node, and works their way to the top of the tree. For example, they know they have 5 BTC, they plus 1 other customer hold 7 BTC, they plus 2-3 other customers hold 17 BTC, etc... until they reach the root where all the BTC are represented. Thus, there is no way to find the balances of other individual customers aside from one unidentified customer in this case.
Proposals such as this had the backing of leaders in the community including Nic Carter, Greg Maxwell, and Zak Wilcox. Substantial and significant effort started back in 2013, with massive popularity in 2014. But what became of that effort? Very little. Exchange operators continue to refuse to give visibility. Despite the fact this information can often be obtained through trivial blockchain analysis, no Canadian platform has ever provided any wallet addresses publicly. As described by the CEO of Newton "For us to implement some kind of realtime Proof of Reserves solution, which I'm not opposed to, it would have to ... Preserve our users' privacy, as well as our own. Some kind of zero-knowledge proof". Kraken describes here in more detail why they haven't implemented such a scheme. According to professor Eli Ben-Sasson, when he spoke with exchanges, none were interested in implementing Proof of Reserves.
And yet, Kraken's places their reasoning on a page called "Proof of Reserves". More recently, both BitBuy and ShakePay have released reports titled "Proof of Reserves and Security Audit". Both reports contain disclaimers against being audits. Both reports trust the customer list provided by the platform, leaving the open possibility that multiple large accounts could have been excluded from the process. Proof of Reserves is a blockchain validation where customers see the wallets on the blockchain. The report from Kraken is 5 years old, but they leave it described as though it was just done a few weeks ago. And look at what they expect customers to do for validation. When firms represent something being "Proof of Reserve" when it's not, this is like a farmer growing fruit with pesticides and selling it in a farmers market as organic produce - except that these are people's hard-earned life savings at risk here. Platforms are misrepresenting the level of visibility in place and deceiving the public by their misuse of this term. They haven't proven anything.
Fraud isn't a problem that is unique to cryptocurrency. Fraud happens all the time. Enron, WorldCom, Nortel, Bear Stearns, Wells Fargo, Moser Baer, Wirecard, Bre-X, and Nicola are just some of the cases where frauds became large enough to become a big deal (and there are so many countless others). These all happened on 100% reversible assets despite regulations being in place. In many of these cases, the problems happened due to the over-complexity of the financial instruments. For example, Enron had "complex financial statements [which] were confusing to shareholders and analysts", creating "off-balance-sheet vehicles, complex financing structures, and deals so bewildering that few people could understand them". In cryptocurrency, we are often combining complex financial products with complex technologies and verification processes. We are naïve if we think problems like this won't happen. It is awkward and uncomfortable for many people to admit that they don't know how something works. If we want "money of the people" to work, the solutions have to be simple enough that "the people" can understand them, not so confusing that financial professionals and technology experts struggle to use or understand them.
For those who question the extent to which an organization can fool their way into a security consultancy role, HB Gary should be a great example to look at. Prior to trying to out anonymous, HB Gary was being actively hired by multiple US government agencies and others in the private sector (with glowing testimonials). The published articles and hosted professional security conferences. One should also look at this list of data breaches from the past 2 years. Many of them are large corporations, government entities, and technology companies. These are the ones we know about. Undoubtedly, there are many more that we do not know about. If HB Gary hadn't been "outted" by anonymous, would we have known they were insecure? If the same breach had happened outside of the public spotlight, would it even have been reported? Or would HB Gary have just deleted the Twitter posts, brought their site back up, done a couple patches, and kept on operating as though nothing had happened?
In the case of Quadriga, the facts are clear. Despite past experience with platforms such as MapleChange in Canada and others around the world, no guidance or even the most basic of a framework was put in place by regulators. By not clarifying any sort of legal framework, regulators enabled a situation where a platform could be run by former criminal Mike Dhanini/Omar Patryn, and where funds could be held fully unchecked by one person. At the same time, the lack of regulation deterred legitimate entities from running competing platforms and Quadriga was granted a money services business license for multiple years of operation, which gave the firm the appearance of legitimacy. Regulators did little to protect Canadians despite Quadriga failing to file taxes from 2016 onward. The entire administrative team had resigned and this was public knowledge. Many people had suspicions of what was going on, including Ryan Mueller, who forwarded complaints to the authorities. These were ignored, giving Gerald Cotten the opportunity to escape without justice.
There are multiple issues with the SOC II model including the prohibitive cost (you have to find a third party accounting firm and the prices are not even listed publicly on any sites), the requirement of operating for a year (impossible for new platforms), and lack of any public visibility (SOC II are private reports that aren't shared outside the people in suits).
Securities frameworks are expensive. Sarbanes-Oxley is estimated to cost $5.1 million USD/yr for the average Fortune 500 company in the United States. Since "Fortune 500" represents the top 500 companies, that means well over $2.55 billion USD (~$3.4 billion CAD) is going to people in suits. Isn't the problem of trust and verification the exact problem that the blockchain is supposed to solve?
To use Quadriga as justification for why custodians or SOC II or other advanced schemes are needed for platforms is rather silly, when any framework or visibility at all, or even the most basic of storage policies, would have prevented the whole thing. It's just an embarrassment.
We are now seeing regulators take strong action. CoinSquare in Canada with multi-million dollar fines. BitMex from the US, criminal charges and arrests. OkEx, with full disregard of withdrawals and no communication. Who's next?
We have a unique window today where we can solve these problems, and not permanently destroy innovation with unreasonable expectations, but we need to act quickly. This is a unique historic time that will never come again.
Here is how to play the altcoin game - for newbies & champs
I have been here for many previous altcoin seasons (2013,2017 etc) and wanted to share knowedle. It's a LOOONG article. The evaluation of altcoins (i.e not Bitcoin) is one of the most difficult and profitable exercises. Here I will outline my methodology and thinking but we have to take some things as a given. The first is that the whole market is going up or down with forces that we can't predict or control. Bitcoin is correlated with economic environments, money supply increases, safe havens such as Gold, hype and country regulations. This is an impossible mix to analyze and almost everyone fails at it. That's why you see people valuing Bitcoin from $100 to $500k frequently. Although I am bullish on the prospects of Bitcoin and decentralization and smart contract platforms, this is not the game I will be describing. I am talking about a game where you try to maximize your BTC holdings by investing in altcoins. We win this game even if we are at a loss in fiat currency value. To put it another way:
If you are not bullish in general on cryptocurrencies you have no place in investing or trading cryptocurrencies since it's always a losing proposition to trade in bubbles, a scientifically proven fact. If on the other hand you are then your goal is to grow your portfolio more than you would if holding BTC/ETH for example.
Bitcoin is the big boy
How the market works is not easily identifiable if you haven't graduated from the 2017 crypto university. When there is a bull market everything seems amazingly profitable and things keep going up outgrowing Bitcoin by orders of magnitude and you are a genius. The problem with this is that it only works while Bitcoin is going up a little bit or trades sideways. When it decides to move big then altcoins lose value both on the way up and on the way down. The second part is obvious and proven since all altcoins from 2017 are at a fraction of their BTC value (usually in the range of 80% or more down). Also, when BTC is making a big move upwards everyone exits altcoins to ride the wave. It is possible that the altcoin market behaves as an inversed leveraged ETF with leakage where in a certain period while Bitcoin starts at 10k and ends at 10k for example, altcoins have lost a lot of value because of the above things happening.
We are doing it anyway champ!
OK so we understand the risks and just wanna gambol with our money right? I get it. Why do that? Because finding the ideal scenario and period can be extremely profitable. In 2017 several altcoins went up 40x more than BTC. But again, if you don't chose wisely many of them have gone back to zero (the author has first hand experience in this!), they have been delisted and nobody remembers them. The actual mentality to have is very important and resembles poker and other speculative games: A certain altcoin can go up in value indefinitely but can only lose it's starting investment. Think about it. You either lose 1 metric or gain many many more. Now that sounds amazing but firstly as we said we have the goal to outperform our benchmark (BTC) and secondly that going up in value a lot means that the probability is quite low. There is this notion of Expected Value (EV) that poker players apply in these kind of situations and it goes like that. If you think that a certain coin has a probability let's say 10% to go up 10X and 90% probability it goes to zero it's an even bet. If you think that probability is 11% then it's a good bet, a profitable bet and you should take it. You get the point right? It's not that it can only go 10X or 0X, there is a whole range of probability outcomes that are too mathematical to explain here and it doesn't help so much because nobody can do such analysis with altcoins. See below on how we can approximate it.
How to evaluate altcoins
A range of different things to take into account outlined below will form our decision making. Not a single one of them should dictate 100% of our strategy.
It's all about market cap. Repeat after me. The price of a coin doesn't mean anything. Say it 10 times until you believe it. I can't remember how many times I had conversations with people that were comparing coins using their coin price instead of their market cap. To make this easy to get.
If I decide because the sky is blue to make my coin supply 100 Trillion FoolCoins with a price of $0.001 and there is another WiseCoin with a supply of 100 Million and price of $1 then FoolCoins are more expensive. - Alex Fin's Cap Law
This is done usually in the stock world and it means that each company has some fundamental value that includes it's assets, customers, growth prospects, sector prospects and leadership competence but mostly centered in financial measures such as P/E ratios etc. Valuation is a proper economic discipline by itself taught in universities. OK, now throw everything out of the window!. This kind of analysis is impossible in vague concepts and innovations that are currently cryptocurrencies. Ethereum was frequently priced at the fictional price of gas when all financial systems on earth run on the platform after decades (a bit of exaggeration here). No project is currently profitable enough to justify a valuation multiple that is usually equal to P/E in the thousands or more. As such we need to take other things into account. What I do is included in the list below:
Check Github. You need to make sure there is active development for the platform and it's a very bad sign if the project is either keeping the code closed source or even worse there is simply no development. No projects are "complete".
Check Website. If the website is written in bad English the Chinese google translate type it means that they are not serious enough to produce an unbreakable decentralized project. If you can't write English you can't change the world, period. That's a deal breaker.
Check Team's Linkedin. Numerous projects have either fake Linkedin accounts or the team is comprised mainly by unexperienced employees that are even shown to be working in other companies currently.
Check backers. Projects that have Binance, Coinbase or Silicon Valley VC funds backing them are way more legit but way more overpriced too!
One of my favorite ways to value altcoins that is based on the same principle in the stock market is to look at peers and decide what is the maximum cap it can grow to. As an example you take a second layer Ethereum solution that has an ICO and you want to decide if you will enter or not. You can take a look at other coins that are in the same business and compare their market caps. Thinking that your coin will outperform by a lot the top coins currently is overly optimistic so I usually take a lower valuation as a target price. If the initial offering is directly implying a valuation that is more than that then there is no room to grow according to my analysis and I skip it. Many times this has proven me wrong because it's a game theory problem where if many people think irrationally in a market it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. But since there is opportunity cost involved, in the long run, getting in initial offerings that have a lot of room to grow will pay off as a strategy.
In 2017 the sexiest sector was platforms and then coins including privacy ones. Platforms are obviously still a highly rated sector because everything is being built on them, but privacy is not as hot as it used to be. In 2018 DEXes were all they hype but still people are massively using centralized exchanges. In 2020 Defi is the hottest sector and it includes platforms, oracles and Defi projects. What I am saying is that a project gets extra points if it's a Defi one in 2020 and minus points if it's a payment system that will conquer the world as it was in 2017 because that's old news. This is closely related to the next section.
Needless to say that the crypto market is a worse FOMO type of inexperienced trigger happy yolo investors , much worse than the Robinhood crowd that drove a bankrupt company's stock 1200% after they declared bankruptcy. The result is that there are numerous projects that are basically either vaporware or just so overhyped that their valuation has no connection to reality. Should we avoid those kind of projects? No and I will explain why. There are many very good technically projects that had zero hype potential due to incompetent marketing departments that made them tank. An example (without shilling because I sold out a while back) is Quantum Resistant Ledger. This project has amazing quantum resistant blockchain, the only one running now, has a platform that people can build tokens and messaging systems and other magnificent stuff. Just check how they fared up to now and you will get the point. A project *needs* to have a hype factor because you cannot judge it as normal stocks that you can do value investing like Warren Buffet does where a company will inevitable post sales and profitability numbers and investors will get dividends. Actually the last sentence is the most important: No dividends. Even projects that give you tokens or coins as dividends are not real dividends because if the coin tanks the value of the dividend tanks. This is NOT the case with company stocks where you get dollars even if the company stock tanks. All that being said, I would advice against betting on projects that have a lot of hype but little substance (but that should be obvious!).
How to construct your portfolio
My strategy and philosophy in investing is that risk should be proportional to investment capital. That means that if you are investing 100K in the crypto market your portfolio should be very different than someone investing 1K because 10% annual gains are nothing in the latter while they are very significant in the former. Starting from this principle each individual needs to construct a portfolio according to how much risk he wants to take. I will emphasize two important concepts that play well with what I said. In the first instance of a big portfolio you should concentrate on this mantra: "Diversification is the only free meal in finance". In the case of a small portfolio then this mantra is more important: "Concentrate to create wealth, diversify to maintain wealth". Usually in a big portfolio you would want to hold some big coins such as BTC and ETH to weather the ups and downs explained in previous paragraphs while generating profits and keep progressively smaller parts of your portfolio for riskier investments. Maybe 50% of this portfolio could be big caps and 10% very risky initial offerings. Adapting risk progressively to smaller portfolios makes sense but I think it would be irrational to keep more than 30% of a portfolio no matter what tied to one coin due to the very high risk of bankruptcy.
The altseason is supposedly coming every 3 months. Truth is that nobody can predict it but altcoins can be profitable no matter what. Forget about maximalists who are stuck in their dogmas. Altcoins deliver different value propositions and it makes sense because we are very far from a situation where some project offers everything like Amazon and we wouldn't even want that in the first place since we are talking about decentralization and not a winner takes all and becomes a monster kind of scenario! Some last minute advice:
Stay out of paid telegram/discord pump groups. They are deadly for your wallet.
Avoid jumping on overhyped coins that have pumped massively during the last days without any very important news.
Don't keep coins in obscure exchanges for too long or you will get burned with certainty.
Stop thinking that your coin will 1000x and overtake Bitcoin!
P.S If you find value in reading this and want more weekly consider subscribing to my newsletterhere
Hey all, I've been researching coins since 2017 and have gone through 100s of them in the last 3 years. I got introduced to blockchain via Bitcoin of course, analyzed Ethereum thereafter and from that moment I have a keen interest in smart contact platforms. I’m passionate about Ethereum but I find Zilliqa to have a better risk-reward ratio. Especially because Zilliqa has found an elegant balance between being secure, decentralized and scalable in my opinion.
Below I post my analysis of why from all the coins I went through I’m most bullish on Zilliqa (yes I went through Tezos, EOS, NEO, VeChain, Harmony, Algorand, Cardano etc.). Note that this is not investment advice and although it's a thorough analysis there is obviously some bias involved. Looking forward to what you all think!
Fun fact: the name Zilliqa is a play on ‘silica’ silicon dioxide which means “Silicon for the high-throughput consensus computer.”
This post is divided into (i) Technology, (ii) Business & Partnerships, and (iii) Marketing & Community. I’ve tried to make the technology part readable for a broad audience. If you’ve ever tried understanding the inner workings of Bitcoin and Ethereum you should be able to grasp most parts. Otherwise, just skim through and once you are zoning out head to the next part.
Technology and some more:
The technology is one of the main reasons why I’m so bullish on Zilliqa. First thing you see on their website is: “Zilliqa is a high-performance, high-security blockchain platform for enterprises and next-generation applications.” These are some bold statements.
Before we deep dive into the technology let’s take a step back in time first as they have quite the history. The initial research paper from which Zilliqa originated dates back to August 2016: Elastico: A Secure Sharding Protocol For Open Blockchains where Loi Luu (Kyber Network) is one of the co-authors. Other ideas that led to the development of what Zilliqa has become today are: Bitcoin-NG, collective signing CoSi, ByzCoin and Omniledger.
The technical white paper was made public in August 2017 and since then they have achieved everything stated in the white paper and also created their own open source intermediate level smart contract language called Scilla (functional programming language similar to OCaml) too.
Mainnet is live since the end of January 2019 with daily transaction rates growing continuously. About a week ago mainnet reached 5 million transactions, 500.000+ addresses in total along with 2400 nodes keeping the network decentralized and secure. Circulating supply is nearing 11 billion and currently only mining rewards are left. The maximum supply is 21 billion with annual inflation being 7.13% currently and will only decrease with time.
Zilliqa realized early on that the usage of public cryptocurrencies and smart contracts were increasing but decentralized, secure, and scalable alternatives were lacking in the crypto space. They proposed to apply sharding onto a public smart contract blockchain where the transaction rate increases almost linear with the increase in the amount of nodes. More nodes = higher transaction throughput and increased decentralization. Sharding comes in many forms and Zilliqa uses network-, transaction- and computational sharding. Network sharding opens up the possibility of using transaction- and computational sharding on top. Zilliqa does not use state sharding for now. We’ll come back to this later.
Before we continue dissecting how Zilliqa achieves such from a technological standpoint it’s good to keep in mind that a blockchain being decentralised and secure and scalable is still one of the main hurdles in allowing widespread usage of decentralised networks. In my opinion this needs to be solved first before blockchains can get to the point where they can create and add large scale value. So I invite you to read the next section to grasp the underlying fundamentals. Because after all these premises need to be true otherwise there isn’t a fundamental case to be bullish on Zilliqa, right?
Down the rabbit hole
How have they achieved this? Let’s define the basics first: key players on Zilliqa are the users and the miners. A user is anybody who uses the blockchain to transfer funds or run smart contracts. Miners are the (shard) nodes in the network who run the consensus protocol and get rewarded for their service in Zillings (ZIL). The mining network is divided into several smaller networks called shards, which is also referred to as ‘network sharding’. Miners subsequently are randomly assigned to a shard by another set of miners called DS (Directory Service) nodes. The regular shards process transactions and the outputs of these shards are eventually combined by the DS shard as they reach consensus on the final state. More on how these DS shards reach consensus (via pBFT) will be explained later on.
The Zilliqa network produces two types of blocks: DS blocks and Tx blocks. One DS Block consists of 100 Tx Blocks. And as previously mentioned there are two types of nodes concerned with reaching consensus: shard nodes and DS nodes. Becoming a shard node or DS node is being defined by the result of a PoW cycle (Ethash) at the beginning of the DS Block. All candidate mining nodes compete with each other and run the PoW (Proof-of-Work) cycle for 60 seconds and the submissions achieving the highest difficulty will be allowed on the network. And to put it in perspective: the average difficulty for one DS node is ~ 2 Th/s equaling 2.000.000 Mh/s or 55 thousand+ GeForce GTX 1070 / 8 GB GPUs at 35.4 Mh/s. Each DS Block 10 new DS nodes are allowed. And a shard node needs to provide around 8.53 GH/s currently (around 240 GTX 1070s). Dual mining ETH/ETC and ZIL is possible and can be done via mining software such as Phoenix and Claymore. There are pools and if you have large amounts of hashing power (Ethash) available you could mine solo.
The PoW cycle of 60 seconds is a peak performance and acts as an entry ticket to the network. The entry ticket is called a sybil resistance mechanism and makes it incredibly hard for adversaries to spawn lots of identities and manipulate the network with these identities. And after every 100 Tx Blocks which corresponds to roughly 1,5 hour this PoW process repeats. In between these 1,5 hour, no PoW needs to be done meaning Zilliqa’s energy consumption to keep the network secure is low. For more detailed information on how mining works click here. Okay, hats off to you. You have made it this far. Before we go any deeper down the rabbit hole we first must understand why Zilliqa goes through all of the above technicalities and understand a bit more what a blockchain on a more fundamental level is. Because the core of Zilliqa’s consensus protocol relies on the usage of pBFT (practical Byzantine Fault Tolerance) we need to know more about state machines and their function. Navigate to Viewblock, a Zilliqa block explorer, and just come back to this article. We will use this site to navigate through a few concepts.
We have established that Zilliqa is a public and distributed blockchain. Meaning that everyone with an internet connection can send ZILs, trigger smart contracts, etc. and there is no central authority who fully controls the network. Zilliqa and other public and distributed blockchains (like Bitcoin and Ethereum) can also be defined as state machines.
Taking the liberty of paraphrasing examples and definitions given by Samuel Brooks’ medium article, he describes the definition of a blockchain (like Zilliqa) as: “A peer-to-peer, append-only datastore that uses consensus to synchronize cryptographically-secure data”.
Next, he states that: "blockchains are fundamentally systems for managing valid state transitions”. For some more context, I recommend reading the whole medium article to get a better grasp of the definitions and understanding of state machines. Nevertheless, let’s try to simplify and compile it into a single paragraph. Take traffic lights as an example: all its states (red, amber, and green) are predefined, all possible outcomes are known and it doesn’t matter if you encounter the traffic light today or tomorrow. It will still behave the same. Managing the states of a traffic light can be done by triggering a sensor on the road or pushing a button resulting in one traffic lights’ state going from green to red (via amber) and another light from red to green.
With public blockchains like Zilliqa, this isn’t so straightforward and simple. It started with block #1 almost 1,5 years ago and every 45 seconds or so a new block linked to the previous block is being added. Resulting in a chain of blocks with transactions in it that everyone can verify from block #1 to the current #647.000+ block. The state is ever changing and the states it can find itself in are infinite. And while the traffic light might work together in tandem with various other traffic lights, it’s rather insignificant comparing it to a public blockchain. Because Zilliqa consists of 2400 nodes who need to work together to achieve consensus on what the latest valid state is while some of these nodes may have latency or broadcast issues, drop offline or are deliberately trying to attack the network, etc.
Now go back to the Viewblock page take a look at the amount of transaction, addresses, block and DS height and then hit refresh. Obviously as expected you see new incremented values on one or all parameters. And how did the Zilliqa blockchain manage to transition from a previous valid state to the latest valid state? By using pBFT to reach consensus on the latest valid state.
After having obtained the entry ticket, miners execute pBFT to reach consensus on the ever-changing state of the blockchain. pBFT requires a series of network communication between nodes, and as such there is no GPU involved (but CPU). Resulting in the total energy consumed to keep the blockchain secure, decentralized and scalable being low.
pBFT stands for practical Byzantine Fault Tolerance and is an optimization on the Byzantine Fault Tolerant algorithm. To quote Blockonomi: “In the context of distributed systems, Byzantine Fault Tolerance is the ability of a distributed computer network to function as desired and correctly reach a sufficient consensus despite malicious components (nodes) of the system failing or propagating incorrect information to other peers.” Zilliqa is such a distributed computer network and depends on the honesty of the nodes (shard and DS) to reach consensus and to continuously update the state with the latest block. If pBFT is a new term for you I can highly recommend the Blockonomi article.
The idea of pBFT was introduced in 1999 - one of the authors even won a Turing award for it - and it is well researched and applied in various blockchains and distributed systems nowadays. If you want more advanced information than the Blockonomi link provides click here. And if you’re in between Blockonomi and the University of Singapore read the Zilliqa Design Story Part 2 dating from October 2017. Quoting from the Zilliqa tech whitepaper: “pBFT relies upon a correct leader (which is randomly selected) to begin each phase and proceed when the sufficient majority exists. In case the leader is byzantine it can stall the entire consensus protocol. To address this challenge, pBFT offers a view change protocol to replace the byzantine leader with another one.”
pBFT can tolerate ⅓ of the nodes being dishonest (offline counts as Byzantine = dishonest) and the consensus protocol will function without stalling or hiccups. Once there are more than ⅓ of dishonest nodes but no more than ⅔ the network will be stalled and a view change will be triggered to elect a new DS leader. Only when more than ⅔ of the nodes are dishonest (66%) double-spend attacks become possible.
If the network stalls no transactions can be processed and one has to wait until a new honest leader has been elected. When the mainnet was just launched and in its early phases, view changes happened regularly. As of today the last stalling of the network - and view change being triggered - was at the end of October 2019.
Another benefit of using pBFT for consensus besides low energy is the immediate finality it provides. Once your transaction is included in a block and the block is added to the chain it’s done. Lastly, take a look at this article where three types of finality are being defined: probabilistic, absolute and economic finality. Zilliqa falls under the absolute finality (just like Tendermint for example). Although lengthy already we skipped through some of the inner workings from Zilliqa’s consensus: read the Zilliqa Design Story Part 3 and you will be close to having a complete picture on it. Enough about PoW, sybil resistance mechanism, pBFT, etc. Another thing we haven’t looked at yet is the amount of decentralization.
Currently, there are four shards, each one of them consisting of 600 nodes. 1 shard with 600 so-called DS nodes (Directory Service - they need to achieve a higher difficulty than shard nodes) and 1800 shard nodes of which 250 are shard guards (centralized nodes controlled by the team). The amount of shard guards has been steadily declining from 1200 in January 2019 to 250 as of May 2020. On the Viewblock statistics, you can see that many of the nodes are being located in the US but those are only the (CPU parts of the) shard nodes who perform pBFT. There is no data from where the PoW sources are coming. And when the Zilliqa blockchain starts reaching its transaction capacity limit, a network upgrade needs to be executed to lift the current cap of maximum 2400 nodes to allow more nodes and formation of more shards which will allow to network to keep on scaling according to demand. Besides shard nodes there are also seed nodes. The main role of seed nodes is to serve as direct access points (for end-users and clients) to the core Zilliqa network that validates transactions. Seed nodes consolidate transaction requests and forward these to the lookup nodes (another type of nodes) for distribution to the shards in the network. Seed nodes also maintain the entire transaction history and the global state of the blockchain which is needed to provide services such as block explorers. Seed nodes in the Zilliqa network are comparable to Infura on Ethereum.
The seed nodes were first only operated by Zilliqa themselves, exchanges and Viewblock. Operators of seed nodes like exchanges had no incentive to open them for the greater public. They were centralised at first. Decentralisation at the seed nodes level has been steadily rolled out since March 2020 ( Zilliqa Improvement Proposal 3 ). Currently the amount of seed nodes is being increased, they are public-facing and at the same time PoS is applied to incentivize seed node operators and make it possible for ZIL holders to stake and earn passive yields. Important distinction: seed nodes are not involved with consensus! That is still PoW as entry ticket and pBFT for the actual consensus.
5% of the block rewards are being assigned to seed nodes (from the beginning in 2019) and those are being used to pay out ZIL stakers. The 5% block rewards with an annual yield of 10.03% translate to roughly 610 MM ZILs in total that can be staked. Exchanges use the custodial variant of staking and wallets like Moonlet will use the non-custodial version (starting in Q3 2020). Staking is being done by sending ZILs to a smart contract created by Zilliqa and audited by Quantstamp.
With a high amount of DS; shard nodes and seed nodes becoming more decentralized too, Zilliqa qualifies for the label of decentralized in my opinion.
Generalized: programming languages can be divided into being ‘object-oriented’ or ‘functional’. Here is an ELI5 given by software development academy: * “all programs have two basic components, data – what the program knows – and behavior – what the program can do with that data. So object-oriented programming states that combining data and related behaviors in one place, is called “object”, which makes it easier to understand how a particular program works. On the other hand, functional programming argues that data and behavior are different things and should be separated to ensure their clarity.” *
Scilla is on the functional side and shares similarities with OCaml: OCaml is a general-purpose programming language with an emphasis on expressiveness and safety. It has an advanced type system that helps catch your mistakes without getting in your way. It's used in environments where a single mistake can cost millions and speed matters, is supported by an active community, and has a rich set of libraries and development tools. For all its power, OCaml is also pretty simple, which is one reason it's often used as a teaching language.
Scilla is blockchain agnostic, can be implemented onto other blockchains as well, is recognized by academics and won a so-called Distinguished Artifact Award award at the end of last year.
One of the reasons why the Zilliqa team decided to create their own programming language focused on preventing smart contract vulnerabilities is that adding logic on a blockchain, programming, means that you cannot afford to make mistakes. Otherwise, it could cost you. It’s all great and fun blockchains being immutable but updating your code because you found a bug isn’t the same as with a regular web application for example. And with smart contracts, it inherently involves cryptocurrencies in some form thus value.
Another difference with programming languages on a blockchain is gas. Every transaction you do on a smart contract platform like Zilliqa or Ethereum costs gas. With gas you basically pay for computational costs. Sending a ZIL from address A to address B costs 0.001 ZIL currently. Smart contracts are more complex, often involve various functions and require more gas (if gas is a new concept click here ).
So with Scilla, similar to Solidity, you need to make sure that “every function in your smart contract will run as expected without hitting gas limits. An improper resource analysis may lead to situations where funds may get stuck simply because a part of the smart contract code cannot be executed due to gas limits. Such constraints are not present in traditional software systems”.Scilla design story part 1
Some examples of smart contract issues you’d want to avoid are: leaking funds, ‘unexpected changes to critical state variables’ (example: someone other than you setting his or her address as the owner of the smart contract after creation) or simply killing a contract.
Scilla also allows for formal verification. Wikipedia to the rescue: In the context of hardware and software systems, formal verification is the act of proving or disproving the correctness of intended algorithms underlying a system with respect to a certain formal specification or property, using formal methods of mathematics.
Formal verification can be helpful in proving the correctness of systems such as: cryptographic protocols, combinational circuits, digital circuits with internal memory, and software expressed as source code.
“Scilla is being developed hand-in-hand with formalization of its semantics and its embedding into the Coq proof assistant — a state-of-the art tool for mechanized proofs about properties of programs.”
Simply put, with Scilla and accompanying tooling developers can be mathematically sure and proof that the smart contract they’ve written does what he or she intends it to do.
Smart contract on a sharded environment and state sharding
There is one more topic I’d like to touch on: smart contract execution in a sharded environment (and what is the effect of state sharding). This is a complex topic. I’m not able to explain it any easier than what is posted here. But I will try to compress the post into something easy to digest.
Earlier on we have established that Zilliqa can process transactions in parallel due to network sharding. This is where the linear scalability comes from. We can define simple transactions: a transaction from address A to B (Category 1), a transaction where a user interacts with one smart contract (Category 2) and the most complex ones where triggering a transaction results in multiple smart contracts being involved (Category 3). The shards are able to process transactions on their own without interference of the other shards. With Category 1 transactions that is doable, with Category 2 transactions sometimes if that address is in the same shard as the smart contract but with Category 3 you definitely need communication between the shards. Solving that requires to make a set of communication rules the protocol needs to follow in order to process all transactions in a generalised fashion.
There is no strict defined roadmap but here are topics being worked on. And via the Zilliqa website there is also more information on the projects they are working on.
Business & Partnerships
It’s not only technology in which Zilliqa seems to be excelling as their ecosystem has been expanding and starting to grow rapidly. The project is on a mission to provide OpenFinance (OpFi) to the world and Singapore is the right place to be due to its progressive regulations and futuristic thinking. Singapore has taken a proactive approach towards cryptocurrencies by introducing the Payment Services Act 2019 (PS Act). Among other things, the PS Act will regulate intermediaries dealing with certain cryptocurrencies, with a particular focus on consumer protection and anti-money laundering. It will also provide a stable regulatory licensing and operating framework for cryptocurrency entities, effectively covering all crypto businesses and exchanges based in Singapore. According to PWC 82% of the surveyed executives in Singapore reported blockchain initiatives underway and 13% of them have already brought the initiatives live to the market. There is also an increasing list of organizations that are starting to provide digital payment services. Moreover, Singaporean blockchain developers Building Cities Beyond has recently created an innovation $15 million grant to encourage development on its ecosystem. This all suggests that Singapore tries to position itself as (one of) the leading blockchain hubs in the world.
Zilliqa seems to already take advantage of this and recently helped launch Hg Exchange on their platform, together with financial institutions PhillipCapital, PrimePartners and Fundnel. Hg Exchange, which is now approved by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), uses smart contracts to represent digital assets. Through Hg Exchange financial institutions worldwide can use Zilliqa's safe-by-design smart contracts to enable the trading of private equities. For example, think of companies such as Grab, Airbnb, SpaceX that are not available for public trading right now. Hg Exchange will allow investors to buy shares of private companies & unicorns and capture their value before an IPO. Anquan, the main company behind Zilliqa, has also recently announced that they became a partner and shareholder in TEN31 Bank, which is a fully regulated bank allowing for tokenization of assets and is aiming to bridge the gap between conventional banking and the blockchain world. If STOs, the tokenization of assets, and equity trading will continue to increase, then Zilliqa’s public blockchain would be the ideal candidate due to its strategic positioning, partnerships, regulatory compliance and the technology that is being built on top of it.
What is also very encouraging is their focus on banking the un(der)banked. They are launching a stablecoin basket starting with XSGD. As many of you know, stablecoins are currently mostly used for trading. However, Zilliqa is actively trying to broaden the use case of stablecoins. I recommend everybody to read this text that Amrit Kumar wrote (one of the co-founders). These stablecoins will be integrated in the traditional markets and bridge the gap between the crypto world and the traditional world. This could potentially revolutionize and legitimise the crypto space if retailers and companies will for example start to use stablecoins for payments or remittances, instead of it solely being used for trading.
Zilliqa also released their DeFi strategic roadmap (dating November 2019) which seems to be aligning well with their OpFi strategy. A non-custodial DEX is coming to Zilliqa made by Switcheo which allows cross-chain trading (atomic swaps) between ETH, EOS and ZIL based tokens. They also signed a Memorandum of Understanding for a (soon to be announced) USD stablecoin. And as Zilliqa is all about regulations and being compliant, I’m speculating on it to be a regulated USD stablecoin. Furthermore, XSGD is already created and visible on block explorer and XIDR (Indonesian Stablecoin) is also coming soon via StraitsX. Here also an overview of the Tech Stack for Financial Applications from September 2019. Further quoting Amrit Kumar on this:
There are two basic building blocks in DeFi/OpFi though: 1) stablecoins as you need a non-volatile currency to get access to this market and 2) a dex to be able to trade all these financial assets. The rest are built on top of these blocks.
So far, together with our partners and community, we have worked on developing these building blocks with XSGD as a stablecoin. We are working on bringing a USD-backed stablecoin as well. We will soon have a decentralised exchange developed by Switcheo. And with HGX going live, we are also venturing into the tokenization space. More to come in the future.”
Additionally, they also have this ZILHive initiative that injects capital into projects. There have been already 6 waves of various teams working on infrastructure, innovation and research, and they are not from ASEAN or Singapore only but global: see Grantees breakdown by country. Over 60 project teams from over 20 countries have contributed to Zilliqa's ecosystem. This includes individuals and teams developing wallets, explorers, developer toolkits, smart contract testing frameworks, dapps, etc. As some of you may know, Unstoppable Domains (UD) blew up when they launched on Zilliqa. UD aims to replace cryptocurrency addresses with a human-readable name and allows for uncensorable websites. Zilliqa will probably be the only one able to handle all these transactions onchain due to ability to scale and its resulting low fees which is why the UD team launched this on Zilliqa in the first place. Furthermore, Zilliqa also has a strong emphasis on security, compliance, and privacy, which is why they partnered with companies like Elliptic, ChainSecurity (part of PwC Switzerland), and Incognito. Their sister company Aqilliz (Zilliqa spelled backwards) focuses on revolutionizing the digital advertising space and is doing interesting things like using Zilliqa to track outdoor digital ads with companies like Foodpanda.
Zilliqa is listed on nearly all major exchanges, having several different fiat-gateways and recently have been added to Binance’s margin trading and futures trading with really good volume. They also have a very impressive team with good credentials and experience. They don't just have “tech people”. They have a mix of tech people, business people, marketeers, scientists, and more. Naturally, it's good to have a mix of people with different skill sets if you work in the crypto space.
Marketing & Community
Zilliqa has a very strong community. If you just follow their Twitter their engagement is much higher for a coin that has approximately 80k followers. They also have been ‘coin of the day’ by LunarCrush many times. LunarCrush tracks real-time cryptocurrency value and social data. According to their data, it seems Zilliqa has a more fundamental and deeper understanding of marketing and community engagement than almost all other coins. While almost all coins have been a bit frozen in the last months, Zilliqa seems to be on its own bull run. It was somewhere in the 100s a few months ago and is currently ranked #46 on CoinGecko. Their official Telegram also has over 20k people and is very active, and their community channel which is over 7k now is more active and larger than many other official channels. Their local communities also seem to be growing.
Moreover, their community started ‘Zillacracy’ together with the Zilliqa core team ( see www.zillacracy.com ). It’s a community-run initiative where people from all over the world are now helping with marketing and development on Zilliqa. Since its launch in February 2020 they have been doing a lot and will also run their own non-custodial seed node for staking. This seed node will also allow them to start generating revenue for them to become a self sustaining entity that could potentially scale up to become a decentralized company working in parallel with the Zilliqa core team. Comparing it to all the other smart contract platforms (e.g. Cardano, EOS, Tezos etc.) they don't seem to have started a similar initiative (correct me if I’m wrong though). This suggests in my opinion that these other smart contract platforms do not fully understand how to utilize the ‘power of the community’. This is something you cannot ‘buy with money’ and gives many projects in the space a disadvantage.
Zilliqa also released two social products called SocialPay and Zeeves. SocialPay allows users to earn ZILs while tweeting with a specific hashtag. They have recently used it in partnership with the Singapore Red Cross for a marketing campaign after their initial pilot program. It seems like a very valuable social product with a good use case. I can see a lot of traditional companies entering the space through this product, which they seem to suggest will happen. Tokenizing hashtags with smart contracts to get network effect is a very smart and innovative idea.
Regarding Zeeves, this is a tipping bot for Telegram. They already have 1000s of signups and they plan to keep upgrading it for more and more people to use it (e.g. they recently have added a quiz features). They also use it during AMAs to reward people in real-time. It’s a very smart approach to grow their communities and get familiar with ZIL. I can see this becoming very big on Telegram. This tool suggests, again, that the Zilliqa team has a deeper understanding of what the crypto space and community needs and is good at finding the right innovative tools to grow and scale.
To be honest, I haven’t covered everything (i’m also reaching the character limited haha). So many updates happening lately that it's hard to keep up, such as the International Monetary Fund mentioning Zilliqa in their report, custodial and non-custodial Staking, Binance Margin, Futures, Widget, entering the Indian market, and more. The Head of Marketing Colin Miles has also released this as an overview of what is coming next. And last but not least, Vitalik Buterin has been mentioning Zilliqa lately acknowledging Zilliqa and mentioning that both projects have a lot of room to grow. There is much more info of course and a good part of it has been served to you on a silver platter. I invite you to continue researching by yourself :-) And if you have any comments or questions please post here!
Syscoin Platform’s Great Reddit Scaling Bake-off Proposal
https://preview.redd.it/rqt2dldyg8e51.jpg?width=1044&format=pjpg&auto=webp&s=777ae9d4fbbb54c3540682b72700fc4ba3de0a44 We are excited to participate and present Syscoin Platform's ideal characteristics and capabilities towards a well-rounded Reddit Community Points solution! Our scaling solution for Reddit Community Points involves 2-way peg interoperability with Ethereum. This will provide a scalable token layer built specifically for speed and high volumes of simple value transfers at a very low cost, while providing sovereign ownership and onchain finality. Token transfers scale by taking advantage of a globally sorting mempool that provides for probabilistically secure assumptions of “as good as settled”. The opportunity here for token receivers is to have an app-layer interactivity on the speed/security tradeoff (99.9999% assurance within 10 seconds). We call this Z-DAG, and it achieves high-throughput across a mesh network topology presently composed of about 2,000 geographically dispersed full-nodes. Similar to Bitcoin, however, these nodes are incentivized to run full-nodes for the benefit of network security, through a bonded validator scheme. These nodes do not participate in the consensus of transactions or block validation any differently than other nodes and therefore do not degrade the security model of Bitcoin’s validate first then trust, across every node. Each token transfer settles on-chain. The protocol follows Bitcoin core policies so it has adequate code coverage and protocol hardening to be qualified as production quality software. It shares a significant portion of Bitcoin’s own hashpower through merged-mining. This platform as a whole can serve token microtransactions, larger settlements, and store-of-value in an ideal fashion, providing probabilistic scalability whilst remaining decentralized according to Bitcoin design. It is accessible to ERC-20 via a permissionless and trust-minimized bridge that works in both directions. The bridge and token platform are currently available on the Syscoin mainnet. This has been gaining recent attention for use by loyalty point programs and stablecoins such as Binance USD.
Syscoin Foundation identified a few paths for Reddit to leverage this infrastructure, each with trade-offs. The first provides the most cost-savings and scaling benefits at some sacrifice of token autonomy. The second offers more preservation of autonomy with a more narrow scope of cost savings than the first option, but savings even so. The third introduces more complexity than the previous two yet provides the most overall benefits. We consider the third as most viable as it enables Reddit to benefit even while retaining existing smart contract functionality. We will focus on the third option, and include the first two for good measure.
Distribution, burns and user-to-user transfers of Reddit Points are entirely carried out on the Syscoin network. This full-on approach to utilizing the Syscoin network provides the most scalability and transaction cost benefits of these scenarios. The tradeoff here is distribution and subscription handling likely migrating away from smart contracts into the application layer.
The Reddit Community Points ecosystem can continue to use existing smart contracts as they are used today on the Ethereum mainchain. Users migrate a portion of their tokens to Syscoin, the scaling network, to gain much lower fees, scalability, and a proven base layer, without sacrificing sovereign ownership. They would use Syscoin for user-to-user transfers. Tips redeemable in ten seconds or less, a high-throughput relay network, and onchain settlement at a block target of 60 seconds.
Integration between Matic Network and Syscoin Platform - similar to Syscoin’s current integration with Ethereum - will provide Reddit Community Points with EVM scalability (including the Memberships ERC777 operator) on the Matic side, and performant simple value transfers, robust decentralized security, and sovereign store-of-value on the Syscoin side. It’s “the best of both worlds”. The trade-off is more complex interoperability.
Syscoin + Matic Integration
Matic and Blockchain Foundry Inc, the public company formed by the founders of Syscoin, recently entered a partnership for joint research and business development initiatives. This is ideal for all parties as Matic Network and Syscoin Platform provide complementary utility. Syscoin offers characteristics for sovereign ownership and security based on Bitcoin’s time-tested model, and shares a significant portion of Bitcoin’s own hashpower. Syscoin’s focus is on secure and scalable simple value transfers, trust-minimized interoperability, and opt-in regulatory compliance for tokenized assets rather than scalability for smart contract execution. On the other hand, Matic Network can provide scalable EVM for smart contract execution. Reddit Community Points can benefit from both. Syscoin + Matic integration is actively being explored by both teams, as it is helpful to Reddit, Ethereum, and the industry as a whole.
Total cost for these 100k transactions: $0.63 USD See the live fee comparison for savings estimation between transactions on Ethereum and Syscoin. Below is a snapshot at time of writing: ETH price: $318.55 ETH gas price: 55.00 Gwei ($0.37) Syscoin price: $0.11 Snapshot of live fee comparison chart Z-DAG provides a more efficient fee-market. A typical Z-DAG transaction costs 0.0000582 SYS. Tokens can be safely redeemed/re-spent within seconds or allowed to settle on-chain beforehand. The costs should remain about this low for microtransactions. Syscoin will achieve further reduction of fees and even greater scalability with offchain payment channels for assets, with Z-DAG as a resilience fallback. New payment channel technology is one of the topics under research by the Syscoin development team with our academic partners at TU Delft. In line with the calculation in the Lightning Networks white paper, payment channels using assets with Syscoin Core will bring theoretical capacity for each person on Earth (7.8 billion) to have five on-chain transactions per year, per person, without requiring anyone to enter a fee market (aka “wait for a block”). This exceeds the minimum LN expectation of two transactions per person, per year; one to exist on-chain and one to settle aggregated value.
Tools to simplify using Syscoin Bridge as a service with dapps and wallets will be released some time after implementation of Syscoin Core 4.2. These will be based upon the same processes which are automated in the current live Sysethereum Dapp that is functioning with the Syscoin mainnet.
The Syscoin Ethereum Bridge is secured by Agent nodes participating in a decentralized and incentivized model that involves roles of Superblock challengers and submitters. This model is open to participation. The benefits here are trust-minimization, permissionless-ness, and potentially less legal/regulatory red-tape than interop mechanisms that involve liquidity providers and/or trading mechanisms. The trade-off is that due to the decentralized nature there are cross-chain settlement times of one hour to cross from Ethereum to Syscoin, and three hours to cross from Syscoin to Ethereum. We are exploring ways to reduce this time while maintaining decentralization via zkp. Even so, an “instant bridge” experience could be provided by means of a third-party liquidity mechanism. That option exists but is not required for bridge functionality today. Typically bridges are used with batch value, not with high frequencies of smaller values, and generally it is advantageous to keep some value on both chains for maximum availability of utility. Even so, the cross-chain settlement time is good to mention here.
Ethereum -> Syscoin: Matic or Ethereum transaction fee for bridge contract interaction, negligible Syscoin transaction fee for minting tokens Syscoin -> Ethereum: Negligible Syscoin transaction fee for burning tokens, 0.01% transaction fee paid to Bridge Agent in the form of the ERC-20, Matic or Ethereum transaction fee for contract interaction.
Zero-Confirmation Directed Acyclic Graph is an instant settlement protocol that is used as a complementary system to proof-of-work (PoW) in the confirmation of Syscoin service transactions. In essence, a Z-DAG is simply a directed acyclic graph (DAG) where validating nodes verify the sequential ordering of transactions that are received in their memory pools. Z-DAG is used by the validating nodes across the network to ensure that there is absolute consensus on the ordering of transactions and no balances are overflowed (no double-spends).
Unique fee-market that is more efficient for microtransaction redemption and settlement
Uses decentralized means to enable tokens with value transfer scalability that is comparable or exceeds that of credit card networks
Provides high throughput and secure fulfillment even if blocks are full
Probabilistic and interactive
99.9999% security assurance within 10 seconds
Can serve payment channels as a resilience fallback that is faster and lower-cost than falling-back directly to a blockchain
Each Z-DAG transaction also settles onchain through Syscoin Core at 60-second block target using SHA-256 Proof of Work consensus
Z-DAG enables the ideal speed/security tradeoff to be determined per use-case in the application layer. It minimizes the sacrifice required to accept and redeem fast transfers/payments while providing more-than-ample security for microtransactions. This is supported on the premise that a Reddit user receiving points does need security yet generally doesn’t want nor need to wait for the same level of security as a nation-state settling an international trade debt. In any case, each Z-DAG transaction settles onchain at a block target of 60 seconds.
Syscoin 3.0 White Paper (4.0 white paper is pending. For improved scalability and less blockchain bloat, some features of v3 no longer exist in current v4: Specifically Marketplace Offers, Aliases, Escrow, Certificates, Pruning, Encrypted Messaging)
16MB block bandwidth per minute assuming segwit witness carrying transactions, and transactions ~200 bytes on average
SHA256 merge mined with Bitcoin
UTXO asset layer, with base Syscoin layer sharing identical security policies as Bitcoin Core
Z-DAG on asset layer, bridge to Ethereum on asset layer
On-chain scaling with prospect of enabling enterprise grade reliable trustless payment processing with on/offchain hybrid solution
Focus only on Simple Value Transfers. MVP of blockchain consensus footprint is balances and ownership of them. Everything else can reduce data availability in exchange for scale (Ethereum 2.0 model). We leave that to other designs, we focus on transfers.
Future integrations of MAST/Taproot to get more complex value transfers without trading off trustlessness or decentralization.
Zero-knowledge Proofs are a cryptographic new frontier. We are dabbling here to generalize the concept of bridging and also verify the state of a chain efficiently. We also apply it in our Digital Identity projects at Blockchain Foundry (a publicly traded company which develops Syscoin softwares for clients). We are also looking to integrate privacy preserving payment channels for off-chain payments through zkSNARK hub & spoke design which does not suffer from the HTLC attack vectors evident on LN. Much of the issues plaguing Lightning Network can be resolved using a zkSNARK design whilst also providing the ability to do a multi-asset payment channel system. Currently we found a showstopper attack (American Call Option) on LN if we were to use multiple-assets. This would not exist in a system such as this.
Web3 and mobile wallets are under active development by Blockchain Foundry Inc as WebAssembly applications and expected for release not long after mainnet deployment of Syscoin Core 4.2. Both of these will be multi-coin wallets that support Syscoin, SPTs, Ethereum, and ERC-20 tokens. The Web3 wallet will provide functionality similar to Metamask. Syscoin Platform and tokens are already integrated with Blockbook. Custom hardware wallet support currently exists via ElectrumSys. First-class HW wallet integration through apps such as Ledger Live will exist after 4.2. Current supported wallets Syscoin Spark Desktop Syscoin-Qt
[Finanzas Personales] Recomendación para ahorro en Stablecoins
Buenas! Actualmente estoy iniciándome en el mundo de las cryptomonedas y mi objetivo particular ahora es mantener el poder adquisitivo como alternativa a la compra de dolares. Estoy estudiando como operar con Altcoins y Stablecoins en diferentes plataformas (exchange vs broker), etc. Mi consulta es la siguiente: ¿Cuales son las mejores metodologías para comprar Stablecoins actualmente en Argentina en términos de liquidez, confiabilidad, precios y comisiones? Algunas alternativas que se me ocurrieron fueron:
Compra directa de stablecoins en plataformas que lo ofrecen como BuenBit. (entiendo que seria lo mas fácil de operar pero es equivalente a comprar dolar blue)
Compra indirecta comprando Bitcoins en algún exchange (Binance por ejemplo) y luego cambiarlo a alguna Stablecoin (USDT, DAI, etc). Entiendo que este metodo tiene la ventaja que capas se consiguen mejores precios y liquidez, o;
Y aca esta mi duda principal.¿Podria comprar con tarjeta de credito Bitcoins al cambio oficial para que me quede un dolar "Turista" y luego cambiarlo por Stablecoins?¿hay alguna plataforma que me permita hacer eso?
Desde ya muchas gracias. Dejo algunas paginas interesantes con las que me he encontrado en el camino de investigar sobre esto: Paginas Web para iniciarse en el tema:
How To End The Cryptocurrency Exchange "Wild West" Without Crippling Innovation
In case you haven't noticed the consultation paper, staff notice, and report on Quadriga, regulators are now clamping down on Canadian cryptocurrency exchanges. The OSC and other regulatory bodies are still interested in industry feedback. They have not put forward any official regulation yet. Below are some ideas/insights and a proposed framework.
Typical securities frameworks will cost Canadians millions of dollars (ie Sarbanes-Oxley estimated at $5m USD/yr per firm). Implementation costs of this proposal are significantly cheaper.
Canadians can maintain a diverse set of exchanges, multiple viable business models are still fully supported, and innovation is encouraged while keeping Canadians safe.
Many of you have limited time to read the full proposal, so here are the highlights:
Effective standards to prevent both internal and external theft. Exchange operators are trained and certified, and have a legal responsibility to users.
Regular Transparent Audits
Provides visibility to Canadians that their funds are fully backed on the exchange, while protecting privacy and sensitive platform information.
Establishment of basic insurance standards/strategy, to expand over time. Removing risk to exchange users of any hot wallet theft.
Background and Justifications
Cold Storage Custody/Management After reviewing close to 100 cases, all thefts tend to break down into more or less the same set of problems: • Funds stored online or in a smart contract, • Access controlled by one person or one system, • 51% attacks (rare), • Funds sent to the wrong address (also rare), or • Some combination of the above. For the first two cases, practical solutions exist and are widely implemented on exchanges already. Offline multi-signature solutions are already industry standard. No cases studied found an external theft or exit scam involving an offline multi-signature wallet implementation. Security can be further improved through minimum numbers of signatories, background checks, providing autonomy and legal protections to each signatory, establishing best practices, and a training/certification program. The last two transaction risks occur more rarely, and have never resulted in a loss affecting the actual users of the exchange. In all cases to date where operators made the mistake, they've been fully covered by the exchange platforms. • 51% attacks generally only occur on blockchains with less security. The most prominent cases have been Bitcoin Gold and Ethereum Classic. The simple solution is to enforce deposit limits and block delays such that a 51% attack is not cost-effective. • The risk of transactions to incorrect addresses can be eliminated by a simple test transaction policy on large transactions. By sending a small amount of funds prior to any large withdrawals/transfers as a standard practice, the accuracy of the wallet address can be validated. The proposal covers all loss cases and goes beyond, while avoiding significant additional costs, risks, and limitations which may be associated with other frameworks like SOC II. On The Subject of Third Party Custodians Many Canadian platforms are currently experimenting with third party custody. From the standpoint of the exchange operator, they can liberate themselves from some responsibility of custody, passing that off to someone else. For regulators, it puts crypto in similar categorization to oil, gold, and other commodities, with some common standards. Platform users would likely feel greater confidence if the custodian was a brand they recognized. If the custodian was knowledgeable and had a decent team that employed multi-sig, they could keep assets safe from internal theft. With the right protections in place, this could be a great solution for many exchanges, particularly those that lack the relevant experience or human resources for their own custody systems. However, this system is vulnerable to anyone able to impersonate the exchange operators. You may have a situation where different employees who don't know each other that well are interacting between different companies (both the custodian and all their customers which presumably isn't just one exchange). A case study of what can go wrong in this type of environment might be Bitpay, where the CEO was tricked out of 5000 bitcoins over 3 separate payments by a series of emails sent legitimately from a breached computer of another company CEO. It's also still vulnerable to the platform being compromised, as in the really large $70M Bitfinex hack, where the third party Bitgo held one key in a multi-sig wallet. The hacker simply authorized the withdrawal using the same credentials as Bitfinex (requesting Bitgo to sign multiple withdrawal transactions). This succeeded even with the use of multi-sig and two heavily security-focused companies, due to the lack of human oversight (basically, hot wallet). Of course, you can learn from these cases and improve the security, but so can hackers improve their deception and at the end of the day, both of these would have been stopped by the much simpler solution of a qualified team who knew each other and employed multi-sig with properly protected keys. It's pretty hard to beat a human being who knows the business and the typical customer behaviour (or even knows their customers personally) at spotting fraud, and the proposed multi-sig means any hacker has to get through the scrutiny of 3 (or more) separate people, all of whom would have proper training including historical case studies. There are strong arguments both for and against using use of third party custodians. The proposal sets mandatory minimum custody standards would apply regardless if the cold wallet signatories are exchange operators, independent custodians, or a mix of both. On The Subject Of Insurance ShakePay has taken the first steps into this new realm (congratulations). There is no question that crypto users could be better protected by the right insurance policies, and it certainly feels better to transact with insured platforms. The steps required to obtain insurance generally place attention in valuable security areas, and in this case included a review from CipherTrace. One of the key solutions in traditional finance comes from insurance from entities such as the CDIC. However, historically, there wasn't found any actual insurance payout to any cryptocurrency exchange, and there are notable cases where insurance has not paid. With Bitpay, for example, the insurance agent refused because the issue happened to the third party CEO's computer instead of anything to do with Bitpay itself. With the Youbit exchange in South Korea, their insurance claim was denied, and the exchange ultimately ended up instead going bankrupt with all user's funds lost. To quote Matt Johnson in the original Lloyd's article: “You can create an insurance policy that protects no one – you know there are so many caveats to the policy that it’s not super protective.” ShakePay's insurance was only reported to cover their cold storage, and “physical theft of the media where the private keys are held”. Physical theft has never, in the history of cryptocurrency exchange cases reviewed, been reported as the cause of loss. From the limited information of the article, ShakePay made it clear their funds are in the hands of a single US custodian, and at least part of their security strategy is to "decline to confirm the custodian’s name on the record". While this prevents scrutiny of the custodian, it's pretty silly to speculate that a reasonably competent hacking group couldn't determine who the custodian is. A far more common infiltration strategy historically would be social engineering, which has succeeded repeatedly. A hacker could trick their way into ShakePay's systems and request a fraudulent withdrawal, impersonate ShakePay and request the custodian to move funds, or socially engineer their way into the custodian to initiate the withdrawal of multiple accounts (a payout much larger than ShakePay) exploiting the standard procedures (for example, fraudulently initiating or override the wallet addresses of a real transfer). In each case, nothing was physically stolen and the loss is therefore not covered by insurance. In order for any insurance to be effective, clear policies have to be established about what needs to be covered. Anything short of that gives Canadians false confidence that they are protected when they aren't in any meaningful way. At this time, the third party insurance market does not appear to provide adequate options or coverage, and effort is necessary to standardize custody standards, which is a likely first step in ultimately setting up an insurance framework. A better solution compared to third party insurance providers might be for Canadian exchange operators to create their own collective insurance fund, or a specific federal organization similar to the CDIC. Such an organization would have a greater interest or obligation in paying out actual cases, and that would be it's purpose rather than maximizing it's own profit. This would be similar to the SAFU which Binance has launched, except it would cover multiple exchanges. There is little question whether the SAFU would pay out given a breach of Binance, and a similar argument could be made for a insurance fund managed by a collective of exchange operators or a government organization. While a third party insurance provider has the strong market incentive to provide the absolute minimum coverage and no market incentive to payout, an entity managed by exchange operators would have incentive to protect the reputation of exchange operators/the industry, and the government should have the interest of protecting Canadians. On The Subject of Fractional Reserve There is a long history of fractional reserve failures, from the first banks in ancient times, through the great depression (where hundreds of fractional reserve banks failed), right through to the 2008 banking collapse referenced in the first bitcoin block. The fractional reserve system allows banks to multiply the money supply far beyond the actual cash (or other assets) in existence, backed only by a system of debt obligations of others. Safely supporting a fractional reserve system is a topic of far greater complexity than can be addressed by a simple policy, and when it comes to cryptocurrency, there is presently no entity reasonably able to bail anyone out in the event of failure. Therefore, this framework is addressed around entities that aim to maintain 100% backing of funds. There may be some firms that desire but have failed to maintain 100% backing. In this case, there are multiple solutions, including outside investment, merging with other exchanges, or enforcing a gradual restoration plan. All of these solutions are typically far better than shutting down the exchange, and there are multiple cases where they've been used successfully in the past. Proof of Reserves/Transparency/Accountability Canadians need to have visibility into the backing on an ongoing basis. The best solution for crypto-assets is a Proof of Reserve. Such ideas go back all the way to 2013, before even Mt. Gox. However, no Canadian exchange has yet implemented such a system, and only a few international exchanges (CoinFloor in the UK being an example) have. Many firms like Kraken, BitBuy, and now ShakePay use the Proof of Reserve term to refer to lesser proofs which do not actually cryptographically prove the full backing of all user assets on the blockchain. In order for a Proof of Reserve to be effective, it must actually be a complete proof, and it needs to be understood by the public that is expected to use it. Many firms have expressed reservations about the level of transparency required in a complete Proof of Reserve (for example Kraken here). While a complete Proof of Reserves should be encouraged, and there are some solutions in the works (ie TxQuick), this is unlikely to be suitable universally for all exchange operators and users. Given the limitations, and that firms also manage fiat assets, a more traditional audit process makes more sense. Some Canadian exchanges (CoinSquare, CoinBerry) have already subjected themselves to annual audits. However, these results are not presently shared publicly, and there is no guarantee over the process including all user assets or the integrity and independence of the auditor. The auditor has been typically not known, and in some cases, the identity of the auditor is protected by a NDA. Only in one case (BitBuy) was an actual report generated and publicly shared. There has been no attempt made to validate that user accounts provided during these audits have been complete or accurate. A fraudulent fractional exchange, or one which had suffered a breach they were unwilling to publicly accept (see CoinBene), could easily maintain a second set of books for auditors or simply exclude key accounts to pass an individual audit. The proposed solution would see a reporting standard which includes at a minimum - percentage of backing for each asset relative to account balances and the nature of how those assets are stored, with ownership proven by the auditor. The auditor would also publicly provide a "hash list", which they independently generate from the accounts provided by the exchange. Every exchange user can then check their information against this public "hash list". A hash is a one-way form of encryption, which fully protects the private information, yet allows anyone who knows that information already to validate that it was included. Less experienced users can take advantage of public tools to calculate the hash from their information (provided by the exchange), and thus have certainty that the auditor received their full balance information. Easy instructions can be provided. Auditors should be impartial, their identities and process public, and they should be rotated so that the same auditor is never used twice in a row. Balancing the cost of auditing against the needs for regular updates, a 6 month cycle likely makes the most sense. Hot Wallet Management The best solution for hot wallets is not to use them. CoinBerry reportedly uses multi-sig on all withdrawals, and Bitmex is an international example known for their structure devoid of hot wallets. However, many platforms and customers desire fast withdrawal processes, and human validation has a cost of time and delay in this process. A model of self-insurance or separate funds for hot wallets may be used in these cases. Under this model, a platform still has 100% of their client balance in cold storage and holds additional funds in hot wallets for quick withdrawal. Thus, the risk of those hot wallets is 100% on exchange operators and not affecting the exchange users. Since most platforms typically only have 1%-5% in hot wallets at any given time, it shouldn't be unreasonable to build/maintain these additional reserves over time using exchange fees or additional investment. Larger withdrawals would still be handled at regular intervals from the cold storage. Hot wallet risks have historically posed a large risk and there is no established standard to guarantee secure hot wallets. When the government of South Korea dispatched security inspections to multiple exchanges, the results were still that 3 of them got hacked after the inspections. If standards develop such that an organization in the market is willing to insure the hot wallets, this could provide an acceptable alternative. Another option may be for multiple exchange operators to pool funds aside for a hot wallet insurance fund. Comprehensive coverage standards must be established and maintained for all hot wallet balances to make sure Canadians are adequately protected.
Current Draft Proposal
(1) Proper multi-signature cold wallet storage. (a) Each private key is the personal and legal responsibility of one person - the “signatory”. Signatories have special rights and responsibilities to protect user assets. Signatories are trained and certified through a course covering (1) past hacking and fraud cases, (2) proper and secure key generation, and (3) proper safekeeping of private keys. All private keys must be generated and stored 100% offline by the signatory. If even one private keys is ever breached or suspected to be breached, the wallet must be regenerated and all funds relocated to a new wallet. (b) All signatories must be separate background-checked individuals free of past criminal conviction. Canadians should have a right to know who holds their funds. All signing of transactions must take place with all signatories on Canadian soil or on the soil of a country with a solid legal system which agrees to uphold and support these rules (from an established white-list of countries which expands over time). (c) 3-5 independent signatures are required for any withdrawal. There must be 1-3 spare signatories, and a maximum of 7 total signatories. The following are all valid combinations: 3of4, 3of5, 3of6, 4of5, 4of6, 4of7, 5of6, or 5of7. (d) A security audit should be conducted to validate the cold wallet is set up correctly and provide any additional pertinent information. The primary purpose is to ensure that all signatories are acting independently and using best practices for private key storage. A report summarizing all steps taken and who did the audit will be made public. Canadians must be able to validate the right measures are in place to protect their funds. (e) There is a simple approval process if signatories wish to visit any country outside Canada, with a potential whitelist of exempt countries. At most 2 signatories can be outside of aligned jurisdiction at any given time. All exchanges would be required to keep a compliant cold wallet for Canadian funds and have a Canadian office if they wish to serve Canadian customers. (2) Regular and transparent solvency audits. (a) An audit must be conducted at founding, after 3 months of operation, and at least once every 6 months to compare customer balances against all stored cryptocurrency and fiat balances. The auditor must be known, independent, and never the same twice in a row. (b) An audit report will be published featuring the steps conducted in a readable format. This should be made available to all Canadians on the exchange website and on a government website. The report must include what percentage of each customer asset is backed on the exchange, and how those funds are stored. (c) The auditor will independently produce a hash of each customer's identifying information and balance as they perform the audit. This will be made publicly available on the exchange and government website, along with simplified instructions that each customer can use to verify that their balance was included in the audit process. (d) The audit needs to include a proof of ownership for any cryptocurrency wallets included. A satoshi test (spending a small amount) or partially signed transaction both qualify. (e) Any platform without 100% reserves should be assessed on a regular basis by a government or industry watchdog. This entity should work to prevent any further drop, support any private investor to come in, or facilitate a merger so that 100% backing can be obtained as soon as possible. (3) Protections for hot wallets and transactions. (a) A standardized list of approved coins and procedures will be established to constitute valid cold storage wallets. Where a multi-sig process is not natively available, efforts will be undertaken to establish a suitable and stable smart contract standard. This list will be expanded and improved over time. Coins and procedures not on the list are considered hot wallets. (b) Hot wallets can be backed by additional funds in cold storage or an acceptable third-party insurance provider with a comprehensive coverage policy. (c) Exchanges are required to cover the full balance of all user funds as denominated in the same currency, or double the balance as denominated in bitcoin or CAD using an established trading rate. If the balance is ever insufficient due to market movements, the firm must rectify this within 24 hours by moving assets to cold storage or increasing insurance coverage. (d) Any large transactions (above a set threshold) from cold storage to any new wallet addresses (not previously transacted with) must be tested with a smaller transaction first. Deposits of cryptocurrency must be limited to prevent economic 51% attacks. Any issues are to be covered by the exchange. (e) Exchange platforms must provide suitable authentication for users, including making available approved forms of two-factor authentication. SMS-based authentication is not to be supported. Withdrawals must be blocked for 48 hours in the event of any account password change. Disputes on the negligence of exchanges should be governed by case law.
Continued review of existing OSC feedback is still underway. More feedback and opinions on the framework and ideas as presented here are extremely valuable. The above is a draft and not finalized. The process of further developing and bringing a suitable framework to protect Canadians will require the support of exchange operators, legal experts, and many others in the community. The costs of not doing such are tremendous. A large and convoluted framework, one based on flawed ideas or implementation, or one which fails to properly safeguard Canadians is not just extremely expensive and risky for all Canadians, severely limiting to the credibility and reputation of the industry, but an existential risk to many exchanges. The responsibility falls to all of us to provide our insight and make our opinions heard on this critical matter. Please take the time to give your thoughts.
Crypto Banking Wars: Can BlockFi & Celsius Disrupt Banking?
These crypto lending & borrowing services found early traction. Are they capable of bundling more financial services and winning the broader consumer finance market? https://reddit.com/link/icps9l/video/98kl1y596zh51/player This is the third part ofCrypto Banking Wars— a new series that examines what crypto-native company is most likely to become thebank of the future. Who is best positioned toreach mainstream adoptionin consumer finance? While crypto allows the world to get rid of banks, a bank will still very much be necessary for this verypowerfultechnology to reach the masses. As we laid out in our previous series, Crypto-Powered, we believe a crypto-native company will ultimately become the bank of the future. We’re confident Genesis Block will have a seat at that table, but we aren’t the only game in town. In the first post of this series, we did an analysis of big crypto exchanges like Coinbase & Binance. In our second episode, we looked at the world of non-custodial wallets. Today we’re analyzing crypto lending & borrowing services. The Earn and Borrow use-case covers a lot of what traditional banks deliver today. This category of companies is a threat worth analyzing. As we look at this market, we’ll mostly be focused on custodial, centralized products like BlockFi, Nexo, and Celsius. Many of these companies found early traction among crypto users. Are they capable of bundling more financial services and winning the broader consumer finance market? Let’s find out.
Because speculation and trading remains one of the most popular use-cases of crypto, a new crypto sub-industry around credit has emerged. Much of the borrowing demand has been driven by institutional needs. For example, a Bitcoin mining company might need to borrow fiat to pay for operational costs (salaries, electricity). Or a crypto company might need to borrow USD to pay for engineering salaries. Or a crypto hedge fund needs to borrow for leverage or to take a specific market position. While all of these companies have sufficient crypto to cover the costs, they might not want to sell it — either for tax or speculative reasons (they may believe these crypto assets will appreciate, as with most in the industry). Instead of selling their crypto, these companies can use their crypto as collateral for loans. For example, they can provide $1.5M in Bitcoin as collateral, and borrow $1M. Given the collateralization happening, the underwriting process becomes straightforward. Companies all around the world can participate — language and cultural barriers are removed. https://preview.redd.it/z9pby83d6zh51.png?width=600&format=png&auto=webp&s=54bf425215c3ed6d5ff0ca7dbe571e735b994613 The leader (and one of our partners) in this space is Genesis Capital. While they are always the counterparty for both lenders and borrowers, they are effectively a broker. They are at the center of the institutional crypto lending & borrowing markets. Their total active loans as of March 2020 was $649M. That number shot up to $1.42B in active loans as of June 2020. The growth of this entire market segment is impressive and it’s what is driving this opportunity for consumers downstream.
While most of the borrowing demand comes from institutional players, there is a growing desire from consumers to participate on the lend/supply side of the market. Crypto consumers would love to be able to deposit their assets with a service and watch it grow. Why let crypto assets sit on an exchange or in cold storage when it can be earning interest? A number of consumer-facing products have emerged in the last few years to make this happen. While they also allow users to borrow (always with collateral), most of the consumer attraction is around growing their crypto, even while they sleep. Earning interest. These products usually partner with institutional players like Genesis Capital to match the deposits with borrowing demand. And it’s exactly part of our strategy as well, beyond leveraging DeFi (decentralized finance protocols). A few of the most popular consumer services in this category include BlockFi, Nexo, and Celsius. https://preview.redd.it/vptig5mg6zh51.png?width=1051&format=png&auto=webp&s=b5fdc241cb9b6f5b495173667619f8d2c93371ca
BlockFi (Crunchbase) is the leader in this category (at least in the West). They are well-capitalized. In August 2019, they raised $18.3M in their Series A. In Feb 2020, they raised $30M in their Series B. In that same time period, they went from $250M in assets under management to $650M. In a recent blog post, they announced that they saw a 100% revenue increase in Q2 and that they were on track to do $50M in revenue this year. Their growth is impressive. BlockFi did not do an ICO, unlike Celsius, Nexo, Salt, and Cred. BlockFi has a lot of institutional backing so it is perceived as the most reputable in the space. BlockFi started with borrowing — allowing users to leverage their crypto as collateral and taking out a loan against it. They later got into Earning — allowing users to deposit assets and earn interest on it. They recently expanded their service to “exchange” functionality and say they are coming out with a credit card later this year. https://preview.redd.it/byv2tbui6zh51.png?width=800&format=png&auto=webp&s=bac080dcfc85e89574c30dfb396db0b537d46706 Security Woes It’s incredible that BlockFi has been able to see such strong growth despite their numerous product and security woes. A few months ago, their systems were compromised. A hacker was able to access confidential data, such as names, dates of birth, postal addresses, and activity histories. While no funds were lost, this was a massive embarrassment and caused reputational damage. https://preview.redd.it/lwmxbz5l6zh51.png?width=606&format=png&auto=webp&s=ebd8e6e5c31c56da055824254b35b218b49f80e0 Unrelated to that massive security breach and earlier in the year, a user discovered a major bug that allowed him to send the same funds to himself over and over again, ultimately accumulating more than a million dollars in his BlockFi account. BlockFi fortunately caught him just before withdrawal. Poor Product Execution Beyond their poor security — which they are now trying to get serious about — their products are notoriously buggy and hard-to-use. I borrowed from them a year ago and used their interest account product until very recently. I have first-hand experience of how painful it is. But don’t take my word for it… here are just a few tweets from customers just recently. https://preview.redd.it/wcqu3icn6zh51.png?width=1055&format=png&auto=webp&s=870e2f06a6ec377a87e5d6d1f24579a901de66b5 For a while, their interest-earning product had a completely different authentication system than their loan product (users had two sets of usernames/passwords). Many people have had issues with withdrawals. The app is constantly logging people out, blank screens, ugly error messages. Emails with verification codes are sometimes delayed by hours (or days). I do wonder if their entire app has been outsourced. The sloppiness shines through. Not only is their product buggy and UX confusing, but their branding & design is quite weak. To the left is a t-shirt they once sent me. It looks like they just found a bunch of quirky fonts, added their name, and slapped it on a t-shirt. https://preview.redd.it/mi6yeppp6zh51.png?width=600&format=png&auto=webp&s=fd4cd8201ad0d5bc667498096388377895b72953 Culture To the innocent bystander, many of these issues seem totally fixable. They could hire an amazing design agency to completely revamp their product or brand. They could hire a mercenary group of engineers to fix their bugs, etc. While it could stop the bleeding for a time, it may not solve the underlying issues. Years of sloppy product execution represents something much more destructive. It represents a top-down mentality that shipping anything other than excellence is okay: product experience doesn’t matter; design doesn’t matter; craftsmanship doesn’t matter; strong execution doesn’t matter; precision doesn’t matter. That’s very different from our culture at Genesis Block. This cancerous mentality rarely stays contained within product & engineering — this leaks to all parts of the organization. No design agency or consulting firm will fix some of the pernicious values of a company’s soul. These are deeper issues that only leadership can course-correct. If BlockFi’s sloppiness were due to constant experimentation, iteration, shipping, or some “move fast and break things” hacker culture… like Binance… I would probably cut them more slack. But there is zero evidence of that. “Move fast and break things” is always scary when dealing with financial products. But in BlockFi’s case, when it’s more like “move slow and break things,” they are really playing with fire. Next time a massive security breach occurs, like what happened earlier this year, they may not be so lucky. Institutional Focus Based on who is on their team, their poor product execution shouldn’t be a surprise. Their team comes mostly from Wall Street, not the blockchain community (where our roots are). Most of BlockFi’s blockchain/crypto integration is very superficial. They take crypto assets as deposits, but they aren’t leveraging any of the exciting, low-level DeFi protocols like we are. While their Wall Street heritage isn’t doing them any favors on the product/tech side, it’s served them very well on winning institutional clients. This is perhaps their greatest strength. BlockFi has a strong institutional business. They recently brought on Three Arrows Capital as a strategic investor — a crypto hedge fund who does a lot of borrowing. In that announcement, BlockFi’s founder said that bringing them on “aligns well with our focus on international expansion of our institutional services offering.” They also recently brought someone on who will lead business development in Asia among institutional clients. BlockFi Wrap Up There are certainly BlockFi features that overlap with Genesis Block’s offering. It’s possible that they are angling to become the bank of the future. However, they simply have not proven they are capable of designing, building, and launching world-class consumer products. They’ve constantly had issues around security and poor product execution. Their company account and their founder’s account seem to onlytweetaboutBitcoin. I don’t think they understand, appreciate, or value the power of DeFi. It’s unlikely they’ll be leveraging it any time soon. All of these reasons are why I don’t see them as a serious threat to Genesis Block. However, because of their strong institutional offering, I hope that Genesis Block will ultimately have a very collaborative and productive partnership with them. Assuming they figure out their security woes, we could park some of our funds with BlockFi (just as we will with Genesis Capital and others). I think what’s likely to happen is that we’ll corner the consumer market and we’ll work closely with BlockFi on the institutional side. I’ve been hard on BlockFi because I care. I think they have a great opportunity at helping elevate the entire industry in a positive way. But they have a lot of issues they need to work through. I really don’t want to see users lose millions of dollars in a security breach. It could set back the entire industry. But if they do things well… a rising tide lifts all boats.
While many companies in this category seem to be slowly adding more financial services, I don’t believe any of them are focused on the broader consumer market like we are. To use services like BlockFi, Nexo, or Celsius, users need to be onboarded and educated on how crypto works. At Genesis Block, we don’t believe that’s the winning approach. We think blockchain complexity should be abstracted away from the end-user. We did an entire series about this, Spreading Crypto. For many of these services, there is additional friction due to ICO tokens that are forcefully integrated into the product (see NEXO token or CEL Token). None of these services have true banking functionality or integration with traditional finance —for example, easy offramp or spending methods like debit cards. None of them are taking DeFi seriously — they are leveraging crypto for only the asset class, not the underlying technology around financial protocols. So are these companies potential competitors to Genesis Block? For the crypto crowd, yes. For the mass market, no. None of these companies are capable of reaching the billions of people around the world that we hope to reach at Genesis Block. ------ Other Ways to Consume Today's Episode:
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