Chelsea Manning Is Back, And Hacking Again, Only This Time For A Bitcoin-Based Privacy Startup

Five years ago, from her prison cell, trans whistleblower Chelsea Manning sketched out a new way to protect online privacy. Now, she is helping an MIT-affiliated cryptographer bring the next generation of privacy software online.

Chelsea Manning’s long blonde hair catches in a cool summer breeze as she turns the corner into Brooklyn’s Starr Bar, a dimly lit counter-cultural haunt in the heart of the hipster enclave of Bushwick. The 33-year-old best known for leaking hundreds of thousands of top-secret government documents to Julian Assange in 2010, then coming out as a transgender woman, walks past a poster depicting sea turtles, humans and geese merging to form the outline of a dove. Beside the image are the words, “Your Nations Cannot Contain Us.”

Dressed in a black suit and wearing a silver Omega watch, she makes her way to a small wooden table illuminated by a shaft of sunlight. She orders a Coke. Contrary to what one might expect, this whistleblower turned trans icon looks uncomfortable in the hip surroundings. A fan reverently approaches her and welcomes her back. “This is my life,” she says after he leaves, expressing gratitude for the well wishes and lamenting the loss of her privacy. “I’m not just famous—I’m in the history books.”

While serving the longest sentence ever doled out to a whistleblower after she used the privacy-protecting Tor Network to anonymously leak 700,000 government documents, she used her time in incarceration to devise a better way to cover the tracks of other online users.

Knowing that the nonprofit Tor Project she used to send files to Wikileaks had become increasingly vulnerable to the prying eyes of intelligence agencies and law enforcement, she sketched out a new way to hide internet traffic using blockchain, the technology behind bitcoin, to build a similar network, without troublesome government funding. The entire plan was hatched in a military prison, on paper.

Fixing the known weaknesses of these networks is about more than just protecting future whistleblowers and criminals. Private networks are also vital for big businesses who want to protect trade secrets. The privacy network industry, including the virtual private networks (VPNs) familiar to many corporate users, generated $29 billion in revenue in 2019 and is expected to triple to $75 billion by 2027.

Manning thinks that not-for-profit efforts like Tor, which relies on U.S. government funding and a worldwide network of volunteers to run its anonymous servers, aren’t robust enough. “Nonprofits are unsustainable,” says Manning casually, sipping from her Coke. “They require constant upholding by large capital funds, by large governments.”

By January 2017, she was 7 years into a 35-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth, home to the likes of former Army Major Nidal Hasan, who killed 14 fellow soldiers in 2009. As President Barack Obama prepared to leave office, he granted Manning an unconditional commutation of her sentence. Newly tasting freedom, she was contacted by Harry Halpin, the 41-year-old mathematician who worked for World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee at MIT from 2013 to 2016 helping standardize the use of cryptography across Web browsers.

Halpin asked Manning to look for security weaknesses in his new privacy project, which eventually became Nym, a Neuchâtel, Switzerland-based crypto startup. Halpin founded Nym in 2018 to send data anonymously around the Internet using the same blockchain technology underlying Bitcoin. To date, Nym has raised some $8.5 million from a group of crypto investors including Binance, Polychain Capital and NGC Ventures. The firm now employs ten people and is using its latest round of capital to double its team size.

Halpin was impressed by Manning’s technical knowledge. More than just a famous leaker who happened to have access to secret documents, Manning struck Halpin as someone with a deep technological understanding of how governments and big business seek to spy on private messages.

“We’ve very rarely had access to people who really were inside the machine, who can explain what they believe the actual capabilities of these kinds of adversaries are, what kinds of attacks are more likely,” says Halpin. “She’ll help us fix holes in our design.”

Born in Oklahoma on December 17, 1987, Manning had her first exposure to what’s called network traffic analysis in high school. She and her Welsh mother, Susan, had moved to Haverfordwest, Wales, in 2001, when Manning was 13. In a computer class there, in 2003, she first learned to circumvent blocks put in place by the school to prevent students downloading certain files—and got caught pirating music by Linkin Park, Jay-Z and others.

The headmaster had been watching remotely. “It was the first moment where it dawned on me, ‘Oh, this is a thing. You can do this.’ By 2008 Manning’s interest in network traffic analysis first brought her to The Onion Router (Tor), a volunteer network of computers that sits on top of the internet and helps hide a user’s identity. The nonprofit organization leveraged something called “onion routing,” which hides messages beneath layers of encryption.

Each message is only decipherable by a different member of the network, which routes the message to the next router, ensuring that only the sender and receiver can decipher it all. Ironically, the network colloquially known as the “Dark Web,” used by Manning to send classified documents to WikiLeaks, was developed by the U.S. government to protect spies and other government agents operating online.

At around the same time Manning discovered Tor, she joined the U.S. Army. As a young intelligence analyst her job was to sort through classified databases in search of tactical patterns. After becoming disillusioned with what she learned about the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, she plugged into her computer, put in her headphones, and loaded a CD with music from another of her favorite musicians, Lady Gaga.

Instead of listening to the album, though, she erased it and downloaded what would eventually be known as the largest single leak in U.S. history, ranging from sensitive diplomatic cables to video showing U.S. soldiers killing civilians, including two Reuters journalists.

In prison she studied carpentry, but she never stopped exploring her earlier vocation. “I’m a certified carpenter,” she says. “But when I wasn’t doing that, I would read a lot of cryptography papers.” In 2016, she was visited in prison by Yan Zhu, a physicist from MIT who would later go on to become chief security officer of Brave, a privacy-protecting internet browser that pays users in cryptocurrency in exchange for agreeing to see ads.

She and Zhu were concerned with vulnerabilities they saw in Tor, including its dependence on the goodwill of governments and academic institutions. In 2020 53% of its $5 million funding came from the U.S. government and 27% came from other Western governments, tax-subsidized nonprofits, foundations and companies. Worse, in their opinion, the technology being developed to break privacy was being funded at a higher rate than the technology to protect it.

“As the Dark Web, or Tor and VPN and all these other services became more prolific, the tools to do traffic analysis had dramatically improved,” says Manning. “And there’s sort of been a cold war that’s been going on between the Tor project developers, and a number of state actors and large internet service providers.” In 2014, the FBI learned how to decipher Tor data. By 2020 a single user reportedly controlled enough Tor nodes to steal bitcoin transactions initiated over the network.

Using two lined pieces of composition paper from the prison commissary, Manning drew a schematic for Zhu of what she called Tor Plus. Instead of just encrypting the data she proposed to inject the information equivalent of noise into network communications. In the margins of the document she even postulated that blockchain, the technology popularized by bitcoin, could play a role.

Then, this February Halpin woke her up late one night with an encrypted text message asking her to take a look at a paper describing Nym. Developed completely separately from Manning’s jailhouse sketch, the paper detailed an almost identical system disguising real messages with white noise. A hybrid of the decentralized Tor that relies on donor support and a corporate-owned VPN that requires trusting a company, this network promised the best of both worlds.

Organized as a for-profit enterprise, Nym would pay people and organizations running the network in cryptocurrency. “The next day I cleared my schedule,” she says. By July she’d signed a contract with Nym to run a security audit that could eventually include a closer look at the code, the math and the defensive scenarios against government attacks.

Unlike Tor, which uses the onion router to obscure data sent on a shared network, Nym uses what’s called a mix network, or mixnet, that not only shuffles the data, but also alternates the methods by which the data is shuffled, making it nearly impossible to reassemble.

“Imagine you have a deck of cards,” says Manning. “What’s really unique here is that what’s being done is that you are taking essentially a deck of cards, and you are taking a bunch of other decks of cards, and you are shuffling those decks of cards as well.”

And, as it, turns out, not every government is comfortable using a privacy network largely funded by the U.S. government. Despite Halpin’s commitment to build a network that doesn’t require government funding to operate, in July Nym accepted a €200,000 grant from the European Commission to help get it off the ground.


“Knowing that Wikileaks had become increasingly vulnerable to prying eyes from intelligence agencies and law enforcement, she sketched out a new way to hide internet traffic using blockchain, the technology behind bitcoin.”


“The problem is that there was never a financial model that made any sense to build this technology,” says Halpin. “There was no interest from users, venture capital and big companies. And now you’re seeing what we consider a once-in-a-lifetime alignment of the stars, where there’s interest in privacy from venture capital. There’s an interest in privacy for users.

There’s interest in privacy from companies. And most of the interest from the venture capital side and the company side and the user side has been driven by cryptocurrency. And this was not the case even five years ago.”Even Tor itself is exploring how to use blockchain to create the next generation of its software. After receiving 26% of its total donations in cryptocurrency last year, the Tor Project received a $670,000 grant from advocates of the Zcash cryptocurrency and sold a non-fungible token (NFT) representing the first .onion address for $2 million in May, 2021.

Now, Tor cofounder Nick Mathewson says the Seattle-based nonprofit is exploring some of the same techniques developed by cryptocurrency companies to create Tor credentials that let users develop a reputation without revealing their identity. What he calls an “anonymous blacklistable credential.”

“If you’ve got a website, and somebody does something you don’t like, you can ban them,” says Mathewson. “You can ban the person who did that activity without ever finding out what other activities they did or figuring out whom you banned.”

Though Mathewson is interested in the possibility of using blockchain to upgrade Tor itself, he warns that making for-profit privacy infrastructure could lead to more money being spent on marketing than product development. “Our mission is to encourage the use of privacy technology,” says Mathewson. “I don’t really care whether that privacy tool is the one I made or not.”

Ironically, the same cryptocurrency culture Halpin says brought so much attention from investors, deterred Manning from getting involved earlier. Though she counts herself among the earliest bitcoin adopters, claiming to have mined cryptocurrency shortly after Satoshi Nakomoto activated it in 2009, she sold her bitcoin last year for decidedly nonmonetary reasons.

“I am not a fan of the culture around blockchain and cryptocurrency,” she says. “There’s a lot of large personalities that are very out there, like your Elon Musks and whatnot,” she says. “And it‘s very, like, ‘Oh, we’re going to get rich off of blockchain.’ It’s very nouveau riche. Like a new-yuppies-bro-culture that’s surrounded it. It has gotten a little bit better in some corners. But I think that culture is what I’m talking about. It’s like Gordon Gekko, but blockchain.”

Michael del Castillo

By: Michael del Castillo

Source: Chelsea Manning Is Back, And Hacking Again, Only This Time For A Bitcoin-Based Privacy Startup

.

Related Contents:

On the Malleability of Bitcoin Transactions

Cryptocurrency thefts, fraud hit $1.2 billion in first quarter: report

Cryptocurrency Anti-Money Laundering Report

Hackers Steal $60 Million From Japanese Crypto Exchange Zaif

More than $90 million in cryptocurrency stolen after a top Japanese exchange is hacked

Major issues resulting in lost or stuck funds

$300m in cryptocurrency’ accidentally lost forever due to bug

The Multi-sig Hack: A Postmortem

Smart contracts vulnerabilities: a call for blockchain software engineering

Ethereum Fork Could Help Restore Frozen Parity Cryptocurrency

Police steamroll 1,000 bitcoin mines after ‘electricity theft’ prompts power outages

Sandwell Bitcoin mine found stealing electricity

Mac OS X Trojan steals processing power to produce Bitcoins

The Hacker News The Hacker News +1,440,833 ThAlleged Skynet Botnet creator arrested in Germany

When bitcoins go bad: 4 stories of fraud, hacking, and digital currencies

Bitstamp exchange hacked, $5M worth of bitcoin stolen

Teen Hacker and Crew of ‘Evil Geniuses’ Accused of $24 Million Crypto Theft

All About Bitcoin Mining: Road To Riches Or Fool’s Gold

US police force pay bitcoin ransom in Cryptolocker malware scam

Watch out! Mac malware spread disguised as cracked versions of Angry Birds……

Hack Brief: Hackers Stole $40 Million from Binance Cryptocurrency Exchange

Crypto Exchange And XRP Refuge Bitsane Vanishes, Scamming As Many As 246,000 Users

Exchange for Ripple's XRP scam users.

Ireland-based cryptocurrency exchange Bitsane disappeared without a trace last week, likely taking hundreds of thousands of users’ assets with it.

Account holders told Forbes that attempts to withdraw bitcoin, XRP and other cryptocurrencies began failing in May, with Bitsane’s support team writing in emails that withdrawals were “temporarily disabled due to technical reasons.” By June 17, Bitsane’s website was offline and its Twitter and Facebook accounts were deleted. Emails to multiple Bitsane accounts are now returned as undeliverable.

Victims of the scam are comparing notes in a group chat with more than 100 members on the messaging app Telegram and in a similar Facebook group. Most users in the groups claim to have lost up to $5,000, but Forbes spoke with one person in the U.S. who says he had $150,000 worth of XRP and bitcoin stored in Bitsane.

Bitsane’s disappearance is the latest cautionary tale for a cryptocurrency industry trying to shed its reputation as an unsafe asset class. Several exchanges like GateHub and Binance have been breached by hackers this year, but an exchange completely ceasing to exist with no notice or explanation is far more unusual.

Bitsane had 246,000 registered users according to its website as of May 30, the last time its homepage was saved on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. Its daily trading volume was $7 million on March 31, according to CoinMarketCap.

“I was trying to transfer XRP out to bitcoin or cash or anything, and it kept saying ‘temporarily disabled.’ I knew right away there was some kind of problem,” says the user who claims to have lost $150,000 and asked to remain anonymous. “I went back in to try to look at those tickets to see if they were still pending, and you could no longer access Bitsane.”

At the height of the cryptocurrency craze in late 2017 and early 2018, Bitsane attracted casual investors because it allowed them to buy and sell Ripple’s XRP, which at the time was not listed on Coinbase, the most popular U.S. cryptocurrency exchange. CNBC published a story on January 2, 2018 with the headline “How to buy XRP, one of the hottest bitcoin competitors.” It explained how to buy bitcoin or ethereum on Coinbase, transfer it to Bitsane and then exchange it for XRP.

Three of the five Bitsane users Forbes spoke to found out about the exchange through the CNBC article. Ripple also listed Bitsane as an available exchange for XRP on its website until recently. A Ripple spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Bitsane went live in November 2016 according to a press release, registering in Dublin as Bitsane LP under CEO Aidas Rupsys, and its chief technology officer was Dmitry Prudnikov. Prudnikov’s LinkedIn account has been deleted, and neither he nor Rupsys could be reached for comment.

A separate company, Bitsane Limited, was incorporated in England in August 2017 by Maksim Zmitrovich. He wanted to own the intellectual property rights to part of Bitsane’s code and use it for a trading platform his company, Azbit, was building. Zmitrovich says Bitsane’s developers insisted that their exchange’s name be on the new legal entity he was forming. But Azbit never ended up using any of the code since the partnership did not materialize, and Bitsane Limited did not provide any services to Bitsane LP.

On May 16, Bitsane Limited filed for dissolution because Zmitrovich wasn’t doing anything with it and the company’s registration was up for renewal. Some of the Bitsane exchange’s victims have found the public filing and suspected Zmitrovich as part of the scam, but he insists accusations against him are unfounded.

He says he hasn’t spoken to Prudnikov—who was in charge of negotiations with Azbit—in at least five months, and Prudnikov has not returned his calls since account holders searching for answers began contacting him. Azbit wrote a blog post about the Bitsane scam on June 13, explaining Bitsane Limited’s lack of involvement.

“I’m sick and tired of these accusations,” Zmitrovich says. “This company didn’t even have a bank account.”

The location of the money and whereabouts of any of Bitsane LP’s employees remain a mystery to the scam victims, who are unsure about what action to take next. Multiple account holders in the U.S. say they have filed complaints with the FBI, but all of them are concerned that their cash is gone for good.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Send me a secure tip.

I’m a reporter on Forbes’ wealth team covering billionaires and their fortunes. I was previously an assistant editor reporting on money and markets for Forbes, and I covered stocks as an intern at Bloomberg. I graduated from Duke University in 2019, where I majored in math and was the sports editor for our student newspaper, The Chronicle. Send news tips to htucker@forbes.com.

Source: Crypto Exchange And XRP Refuge Bitsane Vanishes, Scamming As Many As 246,000 Users

.

Critics:

Cryptocurrency and crime describes attempts to obtain digital currencies by illegal means, for instance through phishing, scamming, a supply chain attack or hacking, or the measures to prevent unauthorized cryptocurrency transactions, and storage technologies. In extreme cases even a computer which is not connected to any network can be hacked.

In 2018, around US$1.7 billion in cryptocurrency was lost due to scams theft and fraud. In the first quarter 2019, the amount of such losses was US$1.2 billion.

Exchanges

Notable cryptrocurrency exchange hacks, resulting in the theft of cryptocurrencies include:

  • Bitstamp In 2015 cryptocurrencies worth $5 million were stolen
  • Mt. Gox Between 2011 and 2014, $350 million worth of bitcoin were stolen
  • Bitfinex In 2016, $72 million were stolen through exploiting the exchange wallet, users were refunded.
  • NiceHash In 2017 more than $60 million worth of cryptocurrency was stolen.
  • Coincheck NEM tokens worth $400 million were stolen in 2018
  • Zaif $60 million in Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash and Monacoin stolen in September 2018
  • Binance In 2019 cryptocurrencies worth $40 million were stolen.

Josh Garza, who founded the cryptocurrency startups GAW Miners and ZenMiner in 2014, acknowledged in a plea agreement that the companies were part of a pyramid scheme, and pleaded guilty to wire fraud in 2015. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission separately brought a civil enforcement action against Garza, who was eventually ordered to pay a judgment of $9.1 million plus $700,000 in interest. The SEC’s complaint stated that Garza, through his companies, had fraudulently sold “investment contracts representing shares in the profits they claimed would be generated” from mining.

Following its shut-down, in 2018 a class action lawsuit for $771,000 was filed against the cryptocurrency platform known as BitConnect, including the platform promoting YouTube channels. Prior fraud warnings in regards to BitConnect, and cease-and-desist orders by the Texas State Securities Board cited the promise of massive monthly returns.

OneCoin was a massive world-wide multi-level marketing Ponzi scheme promoted as (but not involving) a cryptocurrency, causing losses of $4 billion worldwide. Several people behind the scheme were arrested in 2018 and 2019.

See also

BlockFi Mistakenly Deposits Outsized Bitcoin Payments

In this photo illustration the cryptocurrency exchange...

BlockFi, the crypto lending and trading business, mistakenly deposited large amounts of crypto to user accounts. The payments were associated with a promotion they were running, in which users would receive bonuses in USD stablecoins.

The promotion was intended to be “paid out in one lump sum in GUSD” according to their website. Instead, some accounts were paid the amount denominated in Bitcoin, with some receiving over 700 BTC (worth >$28,000,000 at current prices).

A screenshot from one affected user who withdrew the funds shows threat of possible legal action should they not be returned, and a pay-out of $500 should they return them by a set time.

BlockFi clearly has their hands full dealing with the mistakenly deposited bonus payments, and users have reported experiencing additional issues with the company’s services. The BlockFi subreddit is full of posts with individuals receiving the mistaken funds, having difficulty withdrawing, and being unable to trade. One user claims to have been falsely accused of withdrawing mistaken funds after withdrawing USDC which he or she had been deposited a month earlier.

A statement by BlockFi, noted that “fewer than 100 clients were incorrectly credited,” and “BlockFi has contacted these clients and is working with them to rectify the issue.”

There are risks with using centralized services like lending platforms and exchanges—these are especially well known by early Bitcoiner’s who have witnesses a great number of hacks, exit-scams, and insolvencies wipe out customer funds held by large custodians.

BlockFi claims that “client funds are not impacted and are safeguarded.” After raising a recent $350 million funding round, the company likely has large pools of capital to pull from should they be unable to recoup any of the mis-credited funds from users who withdrew to personal wallets.

BlockFi’s previous promotion was, indeed, a friend referral promotion which offered (albeit small) BTC rewards.

I am the Director of Research and Development at Inca Digital, a data and intelligence provider in the digital asset space. I use Inca’s proprietary data system, NTerminal, to aggregate and analyze structured and unstructured data.

Before Inca, I helped start up a pharmacogenetics laboratory and worked in neurodegenerative research. My scientific background influences the way that I think about complex systems such as blockchain networks, and the models used to understand them.

Source: BlockFi Mistakenly Deposits Outsized Bitcoin Payments

.

Reversing the excess bitcoin rewards

One user who reached out to CoinDesk said they received a large sum of BTC in their account which they thought was a reward for referring their friends – so they sent it to their cold storage wallet. BlockFi’s previous promotion was, indeed, a friend referral promotion which offered (albeit small) BTC rewards.

The user said after looking at the transaction in more detail, they realized it was an error, so they requested a cancellation of the withdrawal. The cancelation request was confirmed via email and their account shows the BTC transaction was reversed, with a note specifying they had reversed the bonus transaction. Nevertheless, the user said the bitcoin reward ended up in their cold storage wallet. They shared these documents with CoinDesk, and the blockchain shows that the funds were indeed transferred to their wallet address.

The next day, they received a phone call and an email (which CoinDesk has reviewed) from BlockFi threatening legal action if they didn’t return the funds, but also offering $1,000 worth of the stablecoin GUSD for any trouble this may have caused.

Other users on Reddit posted images of BlockFi’s “generous” giveaway, with one deposit amounting to over 700 BTC. That transaction, according to the user, was reversed. Another said their friend received 5 BTC and was, in fact, able to move it off the platform.

Yet another user said they received both BTC and GUSD, only to have the BTC reversed. The GUSD remained, but a couple of days later when they tried to withdraw some USDC (+0.09%), a different stablecoin they had deposited a month earlier, BlockFi sent an email accusing them of withdrawing funds that weren’t theirs.

Turkey Crypto Exchange CEO Flees Country As Probe Is Launched

Turkish Crypto Exchange Exit Scam: CEO Flees Country, 62 People Detained, Users Cannot Access $2 Billion of Funds

One of Turkey’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges said it lacked the financial strength to continue operations, leaving hundreds of thousands of investors fearing their savings have evaporated as authorities sought to locate the company’s 27-year-old founder, who fled the country.

Confusion reigned about how many users of the Thodex exchange were affected and how much money was at stake. In a statement from an unknown location, Thodex Chief Executive Officer Faruk Fatih Ozer promised to repay investors and to return to Turkey to face justice after he did. The government moved to block the company’s accounts and police raided its head office in Istanbul.

Losses could be as high as $2 billion, according to Haberturk newspaper, and a lawyer for the victims said the money invested by about 390,000 active users had become “irretrievable.” Both figures have been disputed by Ozer. About 30,000 users have been impacted, he said in a statement on the company’s website on Thursday.

While authorities and customers tried to work out the details of what happened, a senior official in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office called for rapid regulation of the crypto market. Globally, the surge in the prices of digital tokens has been accompanied by convictions and regulatory measures after various scams tied to trading platforms.

The Turkish government should take action “as soon as possible,” Cemil Ertem, a senior economic adviser to Erdogan, told Bloomberg. “Pyramid schemes are being established. Turkey will undoubtedly carry out a regulation that’s in line with its economy but also by following global developments.”

Police searched the company’s Istanbul offices and seized materials on Thursday. Arrest warrants have been issued for 78 suspects and police have so far detained 62 people in eight cities, including Istanbul, in connection to the case.

Cryptocurrencies have recently gained popularity among some Turkish citizens looking to protect their savings from soaring inflation and sinking lira. Turkey’s central bank recently banned the use of cryptocurrencies as a means of payment. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for swift regulation of cryptocurrencies, warning of the rising number of pyramid schemes in the crypto markets.

Alternative Investments

Thodex was part of the cryptocurrency boom that has drawn in legions of Turks seeking to protect their savings from rampant inflation and an unstable currency. Inflation hit 16.2% in March, more than three times the central bank’s target of 5%. The Turkish lira has weakened 10% against the dollar this year, its ninth consecutive year of losses.

Source: Turkey: Crypto exchange CEO flees country as probe is launched | Business and Economy News | Al Jazeera

.

%d bloggers like this: