Researchers from cloud security-as-a-service provider Armor’s Threat Resistance Unit (TRU) have been taking a deep dive into a dozen dark markets and forums. Analysis of the data compiled from trawling these English and Russian-speaking criminal marketplaces has been published in the annual Armor Black Market Report. As well as the usual tracking of the prices for stolen credit cards, bank account credentials and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) for-hire operators, there was one surprising new trend: a Bitcoin to cash conversion scheme that offers criminal buyers the opportunity to buy cash for pennies on the dollar. Paying $800 (£647) in Bitcoin gets you $10,000 (£8,095) in cash.
The Black Market Report
The Armor Black Market Report is the result of researchers from the Armor TRU trawling through underground internet markets and criminal forums. These “dark markets” are notorious for selling just about anything that can be stolen online, from personal and financial data to illicit services such as articles of incorporation for creating shell companies, the distribution malicious spam and even hackers for hire who will scrub your credit history.
The TRU research team analyzed and compiled data from twelve dark markets and criminal forums visited between February and June 2019. It came as no surprise to me that they found cybercriminal after cybercriminal selling credentials for as yet “unhacked” Windows remote desktop (RDP) servers. These are often used by ransomware actors looking for an entry point into corporate networks. That these credentials were being sold for as little as $20 (£16) was unexpected though. The cost of entry, quite literally, to the ransomware threat sector has never been cheaper.
Neither, for that matter, has the cost of cold, hard cash. The TRU researchers found that, partly to get noticed in a crowded market and partly to offset the risk of monetizing stolen banking and credit card accounts, entrepreneurial threat actors are selling cash for between 10 and 12 cents on the dollar. This isn’t, as you might have guessed, a case of criminal philanthropy.
Instead, it’s a method for criminals to offload the risk of monetizing stolen account credentials by transferring the funds available rather than taking possession of them. It’s still money laundering, and it’s illegal, but it puts the most significant weight of risk onto the buyer.
Here’s how the buy cash for Bitcoin scheme works
The seller offers bundles of cash in various amounts, from $2,500 (£2,020) to $10,000 (£8,095) in exchange for a pre-paid fee in Bitcoin. That fee varies between 10% and 12%. Which means that $10,000 of cold cash can be bought for $800 in Bitcoin.
The buyer makes the payment and then chooses how they would like to collect the cash. This can be a straightforward transfer of funds to a bank or PayPal account or wired via Western Union. As well as getting a significant return on their illicit investment, the purchaser no longer has to worry about monetizing online bank account or credit card credentials. It’s a turn-key service; there’s no risky logging into compromised accounts, no money mules to worry about, just the (totally illegal) collection of cash.
“For those scammers who don’t possess the technical skills and a robust money mule network to monetize online bank account or credit card credentials, this is an offer that can be very attractive,” Chris Hinkley, head of Armor’s TRU team said, “the threat actors are still selling financial account and credit card credentials outright, but this clever service gives them an additional channel for monetizing the large amounts of financial data available on the underground.”
Money mules served well by dark market documentation
One of the other interesting things to come out of this analysis was the fact that cybercriminals are selling articles of incorporation and sole proprietorship papers on the dark market. Not shocking, but interesting. While the cash for Bitcoin transactions gets rid of the money mule requirement, there are still plenty of people who adopt that role, and these papers are aimed at them. A money mule is someone who transfers stolen money between accounts in exchange for a fee of between 10% and 20% of the value. For a money mule to be successful, they need to open business bank accounts that don’t trigger fraud alerts on larger transfer volumes. To open these accounts, they need an Employer Identification Number (EIN) assigned by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, and that’s where the documentation to create shell companies enters the equation. The documentation does not come cheap, however. Sole proprietorship papers complete with EIN were found on sale for $1,611 (£1,298), and Articles of Incorporation with EIN were $811 (£653).
I’m a three-decade veteran technology journalist and have been a contributing editor at PC Pro magazine since the first issue in 1994. A three-time winner of the BT Security Journalist of the Year award (2006, 2008, 2010) I was also fortunate enough to be named BT Technology Journalist of the Year in 1996 for a forward-looking feature in PC Pro called ‘Threats to the Internet.’ In 2011 I was honored with the Enigma Award for a lifetime contribution to IT security journalism. Contact me in confidence at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a story to reveal or research to share
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The bitcoin price, which is now hovering just under $10,000 per bitcoin, has climbed so far this year mostly due to expectations the world’s biggest technology companies, led by social media giant Facebook, could be about to dive headfirst into bitcoin and cryptocurrencies.
Now, it seems bitcoin could be headed for a sudden fall, with technical data suggesting the bitcoin price could be about to move sharply lower.
Bitcoin earlier this week broke below its 50-day moving average, which it’s thought could mean the bull run that saw the bitcoin price rise from under $4,000 per bitcoin at the beginning of the year to almost $14,000 could be over.
Bitcoin price data also shows it’s trading under the lower limit of the closely watched GTI Vera Band indicator, it was first reported by Bloomberg, a financial newswire.
It’s now thought that regulatory issues could completely derail Facebook’s libra project, though it says it’s committed to working with lawmakers around the world to make libra a reality.
“There can be no assurance that libra or our associated products and services will be made available in a timely manner, or at all,” Facebook said.
“[Bitcoin] stands at a key technical juncture,” Miller Tabak + Co.’s equity strategist Matt Maley was quoted by Bloomberg. “[Greater regulatory scrutiny] will become an even more prominent issue (much more prominent) once we move past the summer recess for Congress and into the meat of the 2020 election cycle.”
Earlier today, U.S. lawmakers grilled bitcoin, cryptocurrency, and blockchain experts on how Facebook’s libra could upset the U.S. economy.
“It’s clear that digital assets don’t really fit in our current financial system, as the current regulatory framework is awkwardly divided between banking regulators and market regulators,” said Christine Trent Parker, partner at law firm Reed Smith, following the hearing.
“It is unfortunate that today’s hearing made clear that Congress is not going to move forward any time soon in rectifying this issue and that in fact, the lack of clarity and uniformity may be intentional to hamper the ability of U.S. consumers to access (and benefit from) these technologies.”
Some bitcoin and cryptocurrency analysts remain upbeat, however, despite regulatory fears.
“Volumes continue to decline in the crypto market as the cool-down seems to be coming to completion,” Mati Greenspan, senior market analyst at brokerage eToro, wrote in a note to clients.
Bitcoin, ETH, XRP, and LTC prices, will be on a roller coaster for a long time. Traders and investors will make and lose fortunes in record time, betting on them. In the end, say some analysts, these cryptocurrencies will either die on their own, or be killed by the ‘establishment’ — big governments and big banks around the world that defend sovereign currencies.
Take the case for Bitcoin.
The “people’s currency” holds a great promise: to become the first true global currency, free of the control of central banks that print money and big banks that generate credit. But to do that, Bitcoin must gain the trust of the “general public.“ This means it must be adopted as a medium of exchange, standard of value, and store of value, replacing national currencies.That isn’t easy, given the many obstacles Bitcoin has to overcome. Like lack of awareness, familiarity, and stability, etc. And that makes some experts bearish about the future of Bitcoin.
Bitcoin Price YTD
Lars Seier Christensen, Chairman of Concordium, the next-generation decentralized world computer, is one of them. “In the longer term, I am bearish on bitcoin as I believe it does not have the necessary characteristics of a longer-term valuable asset and, eventually, that reality will catch up” says Christensen.“But in the short term, price movements will likely be random as Bitcoin is affected by low liquidity and unpredictable bigger trades.”
Unpredictability will make it hard for Bitcoin to gain broad adoption as a medium of exchange. And without broad adoption, Bitcoin will remain a play for speculators and true believers, and eventually die on its own.
But even if Bitcoin overcomes all these obstacles and gains broad adoption by the general public, and was in a position to replace national currencies — ie, become the new currency — what would happen then?
Bears argue that the “establishment” cannot afford to let that happen.
For a couple of reasons, including the loss of Seigniorage” — simply put, the profit made by the national governments by printing currency. Then there’s the profit made by banks helping circulate that money and create credit.
The establishment will do whatever it takes to defend these profits from Bitcoin and any other cryptocurrency that seeks to replace it.
Recent Congressional hearings on Libra attests to the determination of the establishment to protect the dollar from competing cryptocurrencies. In a rare display of unity, Democrats and Republicans opposed Libra, and had many unkind words for Bitcoin.
“Cryptocurrencies that are ONLY there as a currency substitute, however, have no real long-term future,” says Christensen.“They will be outlawed by governments wanting to control the money supply and taxation, and in any case, cryptocurrencies have no intrinsic long-term value of significance. Hence, Bitcoin will only survive as a fringe activity.”
Not everyone agrees with this gloomy assessment, however. Dave Hodgson, Director and Co-Founder of NEM Ventures, is one of them.
“In my opinion, Bitcoin will never die nor be killed by the establishment, despite some people’s efforts to the contrary,” says Hodgson. “The recent drop we have seen in Bitcoin is within the boundaries of what our analysts were expecting from technical analysis. However, the timescale has been slightly skewed in light of recent announcements, primarily from US government representatives.”
Corentin Denoeud, CEO and Co-founder of Blockchain Studio, is another .
“The fact that governments around the world are even talking about crypto is a sign of progress for the blockchain industry in general,” says Denoeud. “While countries such as India have called for the outlawing of cryptocurrencies, representatives from Germany’s Central Bank have responded favourably and advanced the view that cryptocurrencies are not a threat to global monetary stability. Even China, who has previously banned ICOs and cryptocurrency trading, has called bitcoin a ‘safe-haven asset’ (via its state-run media agency) and is now reportedly stepping up its own efforts to create its own cryptocurrency, following Facebook’s unveiling of Libra.”
While it’s still unclear which side is right, one thing is clear: Bitcoin (and ETH, XRP, LTC, etc) true believers who think that cryptocurrency will eventually replace national currencies, need a 101 lesson in Money and Banking.
I’m Professor and Chair of the Department of Economics at LIU Post in New York. I also teach at Columbia University. I’ve published several articles in professional journals and magazines, including Barron’s, The New York Times, Japan Times, Newsday, Plain Dealer, Edge Singapore, European Management Review, Management International Review, and Journal of Risk and Insurance. I’ve have also published several books, including Collective Entrepreneurship, The Ten Golden Rules, WOM and Buzz Marketing, Business Strategy in a Semiglobal Economy, China’s Challenge: Imitation or Innovation in International Business, and New Emerging Japanese Economy: Opportunity and Strategy for World Business. I’ve traveled extensively throughout the world giving lectures and seminars for private and government organizations, including Beijing Academy of Social Science, Nagoya University, Tokyo Science University, Keimung University, University of Adelaide, Saint Gallen University, Duisburg University, University of Edinburgh, and Athens University of Economics and Business. Interests: Global markets, business, investment strategy, personal success.
The infographic illustrates the story of Bitcoin, starting with the publication of its whitepaper in 2008, the mining of the first 50 BTC in 2009, 10,000 BTC having been spent for pizza in 2010, and other major milestones for the system, ending with the announcement of Facebook’s Libra.
“Yesterday the Bank of China posted up an article about Bitcoin,” commented Blockstream CSO, Samson Mow. “They explained how BTC works, why the price is going up, and why it’s valuable. Never thought I’d see that happen. #Bullish”
The factors behind Bitcoin’s rise
Another part of the infographic is dedicated to explaining why Bitcoin’s value is increasing, and it cites limited supply, increased mining difficulty, that it is used as a medium of exchange and anti-inflation safe haven.
This is in line with the remarks recently made by Morgan Creek Digital Assets co-founder Anthony Pompliano, who said that the European Central Bank’s expected dovish turn will provide “rocket fuel” for Bitcoin.
Furthermore, the infographic does also mention the infamous Mt. Gox hack, the risk of speculation, and stories of lost funds. According to the image, Bitcoin’s main use case is international settlements since its fees are low compared to legacy system while transactions are faster.
As Cointelegraph reported yesterday, the CEO of Chinese tech giant Huawei thinks that China can compete with Facebook for market share by issuing its own digital currency.
Earlier this month, Chinese media reported that China’s central bank is developing its own digital currency in response to Facebook’s Libra as the latter could purportedly pose a risk to the country’s financial system.
Bakkt – the cryptocurrency startup launched by New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) owner Intercontinental Exchange – just yanked the lid off the full range of its blockchain ambitions.
The firm announced today that it has acquired Digital Asset Custody Company (DACC) as part of its efforts to gain regulatory approval for its crypto products.
Reportedly, Bakkt is less concerned with merely building a Bitcoin exchange than they are with offering institutional custody and payment platform services, all of which still requires regulatory approval.
Bakkt Acquires Crypto Custodian DACC
Bitcoin startup Bakkt acquired a crypto custodian to help bring its regulated platform to market. | Source: Shutterstock
The company recently announced its application for a BitLicense, and it is also pushing to become a trust company in New York. The company’s efforts have been repeatedly stalled by regulatory delays, despite positive news around its partnerships with Starbucks, Microsoft, and others.
Coinbase previously acquired a trust charter with the New York Department of Financial Services. Becoming a trust can be a faster process than becoming a BitLicense recipient, which can take several years. Bakkt says in a new blog post that it’s applied for a charter, and recently we reported that they’re also seeking a BitLicense.
Bakkt wants to offer Bitcoin futures contracts that pay out in cryptocurrency, which would set them apart from other Bitcoin futures offerings. Bakkt has several other ambitious projects in mind, but it must get through several layers of red tape before it finally launches.
“To provide regulated custody, we have filed with the New York Department of Financial Services for approval to become a trust company and in this capacity serve as a Qualified Custodian for digital assets. […] It is with that same commitment to setting a new standard for securely storing digital assets that we’re excited to announce that we have acquired Digital Asset Custody Company (DACC). DACC shares our security-first mindset and brings extensive experience offering secure, scalable custody solutions to institutional clients. The team’s experience integrating multiple blockchains and operating cutting-edge consensus mechanisms is a valuable addition to our team and future product line.”
“From the ground up what ICE has been building for two years is the safest version of a custody solution for digital assets.”
Custody: The Key to Mass Bitcoin Adoption?
A lack of regulated custodians has kept many crypto-curious institutions out of the burgeoning asset class. | Source: Shutterstock
Bakkt and Coinbase have both claimed that offering secure, modern custodial solutions for cryptocurrency will encourage institutional investors to expand their portfolios to include the speculative asset class. Thus far, Coinbase and Circle’s offerings have yet to make a significant dent in the overall market.
Fidelity, a traditional assets management company, also nears completion of its custodial solution. A range of options doesn’t necessarily equate to investor interest, but their availability may play a vital role during any future bull run. Institutional investors will, at a minimum, have several popular options to choose from if they consider getting into the market, opportunities that didn’t exist in previous times.
Bakkt’s current push is three-pronged:
They’ve acquired a company already engaged in playing custodian to digital assets.
They’ve applied for a BitLicense.
They’re working to become a registered trust.
There are other avenues they might still pursue, such as operating without New York as an available market at first. What is clear is that the company is anxious to get into the game, and the recent bull market activity is probably not far from their mind.
The bitcoin price rise comes as bitcoin daily trading volume tops $11 billion, the most seen in a 24-hour period since last April, when the bitcoin price was trading at over $8,000.Meanwhile, the price of ethereum, Ripple’s XRP, litecoin, and bitcoin.. https://www.pivot.one/share/post/5c8cc1b51d57e701c784a3e5?uid=5bd49f297d5fe7538e6111b6&invite_code=JTOJYV