Profanity May Be The Cause Of Crypto Trading Firm Wintermute’s $160 Million Hack

Wintermute, a London-based cryptocurrency firm that trades billions of dollars’ worth of digital assets daily, lost $160 million in a hack early on Tuesday. Founder and CEO Evgeny Gaevoy says he learned of the hack a few minutes after it took place, around 6:00 AM London time.

An hour later, he announced the theft on Twitter without saying how it happened. All told, the hacker stole about $120 million worth of Wintermute’s “stable coins” including USDC and USDT, $20 million worth of its bitcoin and ether and another $20 million worth of lesser-known cryptocurrencies.

Gaevoy explained to Forbes that, although the investigation is still ongoing, the hack likely originated with a service called Profanity, which generates “vanity addresses” for digital cryptocurrency accounts to make them easier to work with. Otherwise, crypto accounts are roughly 30-character strings of varied letters and numbers.

Last week, a blog post by another crypto firm revealed a security vulnerability with Profanity’s code. The gist of the problem: someone with enough computing power can generate all the possible keys or passwords created for a Profanity vanity address. Then they can scan the associated accounts to see how much money they hold and steal the funds.

Wintermute had been using Profanity not to create easy-to-remember names for digital accounts, but to lower its trading transaction costs, since that’s another feature of Profanity’s service, Gaevoy says. When Wintermute learned of the vulnerability last week, they took steps to technologically “blacklist” their Profanity accounts, shielding them from being liquidated.

However, due to their own “human error,” one of the 10 accounts didn’t get blacklisted, according to Gaevoy, which probably resulted in the $160 million heist. These trading accounts were part of Wintermute’s “decentralized finance” or DeFi business, where it makes rapid trades on decentralized exchanges like Uniswap and Sushi Swap that aren’t controlled by a single entity.

Since the DeFi ecosystem is young, highly experimental and designed to be more openly accessible than traditional finance, it doesn’t have the same safeguards that centralized exchanges like Coinbase has. “You don’t have any circuit breakers. You don’t have any two-factor authentication to help store your keys,” Gaevoy says.

In 2021, DeFi hacks totaled $1.3 billion, according to research by security firm Certik. Analytics firm Chainalysis estimates that North Korea-linked groups stole $1 billion from DeFi protocols in the first eight months of 2022. Some tried and true security practices in crypto, such as using external hardware wallets or “multi-sig” applications that need to be digitally signed by multiple parties before a transaction is approved, can’t be used for the type of automated trading Wintermute does.

“You need to sign transactions on the fly, within seconds,” says Gaevoy. So they had to invent their own tech tools and security protocols. “Ultimately, that’s the risk we took. It was calculated.” DeFi has been a flourishing part of Wintermute’s business in prior years. “It didn’t work out this year,” he admits.

The Wintermute CEO has some leads on who the hacker might be, and he’s investigating them “both internally and with the use of external partners.” He’s hoping that the hacker will become a “white hat” who returns most of the funds, and he’s now offering a 10% bounty, or $16 million, if the hacker gives back the remaining $144 million. He tweeted that Wintermute “would prefer to resolve this in a simple way, but the window of opportunity to do so is closing fast due to the high profile of this exploit.”

Despite the new $160 million hole in its balance sheet, Gaevoy says Wintermute is on sound financial footing, with more than $350 million in equity. “We are one of the very few crypto-native proprietary trading firms that can actually take this punch,” the CEO says. For a couple hours after the hack, the company paused its OTC trading desk, where it facilitates large trades between other parties. But that has resumed to its normal operation.

I lead our fintech coverage at Forbes and also cover crypto. I edit our annual Fintech 50 and 30 Under 30 for fintech, and I’ve written frequently about leadership and corporate

Source: Profanity May Be The Cause Of Crypto Trading Firm Wintermute’s $160 Million Hack

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Critics by  

As per 1inch’s findings, the private keys linked to vanity addresses could be calculated with brute force attacks. A hacker managed to steal $3.3 million worth of cryptocurrencies from several Ethereum addresses generated with the “Profanity” tool. The funds were drained even after the decentralized exchange aggregator 1inch warned users about discovering a severe vulnerability putting millions of dollars at risk.

It had previously advised users owning wallet addresses generated with the Profanity tool to transfer their assets to a different wallet.

1inch Security Report

In early 2022, 1inch contributors observed that Profanity used a random 32-bit vector to seed 256-bit private keys and suspected it could be unsafe. Upon further investigation, more suspicious activity was noted, signaling that Profanity wallets were compromised.

“The 1inch contributors checked the richest vanity addresses on popular networks and came to the conclusion that most of them were not created by the Profanity tool. But Profanity is one of the most popular tools due to its high efficiency. Sadly, that could only mean that most of the Profanity wallets were secretly hacked.”

According to 1inch, Profanity happens to be a popular and “highly efficient” tool with which users are able to create millions of addresses per second. However, the procedure used by Profanity to generate the addresses was not flawless either and was susceptible to attacks.

The security disclosure report published by 1inch last week also noted that the vulnerability may have enabled hackers to “secretly” steal millions of dollars from Profanity users’ wallets for years. The contributors are currently trying to determine all the compromised vanity addresses.

Soon after the warning, blockchain investigator ZachXBT notified the attack draining over $3 million in funds. Fortunately, his tweet helped a user save $1.2 million in crypto and NFTs from the hacker who had access to their wallet.

Profanity Devs Abandon Project

According to Tal Be’ery, ZenGo’s security lead and chief technology officer, the malicious entities could have been “sitting” on the vulnerability in an attempt to get their hands on as many private keys as possible of bug-ridden Profanity-generated vanity addresses before the vulnerability was detected. However, they cashed out after it was publicly exposed by 1inch.

Meanwhile, one of the Profanity developers, who goes by the pseudonym ‘johguse’ on Github, said that they have already “abandoned” the project a few years ago. The comment regarding the same read

“This project was abandoned by me a couple of years ago. Fundamental security issues in the generation of private keys have been brought to my attention. I strongly advise against using this tool in its current state. This repository will soon be further updated with additional information regarding this critical issue.”

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What Is Digital Real Estate? Five Things You Need To Know

When you search in “What is digital real estate” into google, you’re likely going to find guides to obtaining older versions of digital real estate such as domain names, websites, and URLs’.

And this wouldn’t be wrong, as these are still types of digital property that can be bought and sold for a profit. But, in this article, we’re going to chat more about Web3 digital real estate like the Metaverse and protocols like Parcl.

‍This article is mainly for beginners in this space, but feel free to check out our “What is Parcl” article if you want to learn more about our protocol. So, let’s dive into five things you need to know about digital real estate.

‍What is Digital Real Estate?

‍Let’s start with the basics; what actually is digital real estate? Digital real estate can include the ownership of a URL, website, domain name, social media account, and now virtual property in the Metaverse. ‍‍

The buying and selling of which can be highly profitable if you know what you’re doing. Since we’re a Web3 protocol, we’ll focus mainly on the Metaverse and how you can gain exposure to real-world real estate through the use of digital real estate investing.‍

So, what can you actually do with the land in the Metaverse? The main thing you can currently do is buy and sell the virtual property, but on some larger metaverse projects like Decentraland and Sandbox, you can design your own events and play with other users.‍

By designing your own events and games, you can easily monetize this too. You’ll also have the ability to rent out your land to other people if buying outright is too expensive. Currently, the Metaverse is becoming more popular, with large organizations and businesses buying land to advertise their products in both the physical and digital worlds.‍

But, Web3 digital real estate isn’t just the Metaverse.

Is The Metaverse Digital Real Estate?‍

Yes. The Metaverse is digital real estate, but it’s not the only way to invest in this space. You can also invest in digital real estate via Parcl. Our protocol built on Solana allows the average person the ability to invest in the real estate market using synthetic assets.‍

So, we’ve created something called the Parcl price index, which values real estate across the US under certain parameters, which are then tied with a synthetic asset that follows this price movement. Like a derivative in traditional finance, a synthetic asset follows the underlying asset’s price, allowing you to actively trade the asset without ever owning it. Meaning that if you wanted to hedge against the effects that Covid-19 had on the Manhattan property market, you could go short on that area and profit.‍

Parcl allows you to trade your favorite neighborhoods on a detailed or broad level; it’s totally up to you; the same goes for the investment amount. Many people are priced out of investing in physical real estate, but thanks to Web3 technology, Parcl can offer the average person a way to invest in digital real estate to gain exposure to the physical real estate market.

‍If you want to learn more about how Parcl works and why we’re so passionate about leveling the real estate investing playing field, check out our Intro to Parcl article.

‍Digital Real Estate Investing: Is It Profitable?

‍Of course, digital assets are a growing asset class, and that goes for NFTs and not just virtual real estate. We go into detail about the impact NFTs can have on the real estate industry here. But, in summary, the digital asset class is booming and has made plenty of people multi-millionaires over the past few years.‍

The NFT “Everyday’s – The First 5000 Days” sold at a Christie’s auction for $69 million. Not only that but a 500 square metered plot of Decentraland land sold for $2.43 million, making it one of the largest sales on record. So, it’s safe to say that yes, you can make a huge profit from digital asset trading. ‍Where Can You Buy Digital Real Estate?

‍We’ve just determined that investing in digital assets like real estate is profitable, but where do you buy it from? Firstly, you’ve got to have your own wallet to store your land NFT and buy the assets. Check out our phantom wallet setup guide to see how it’s done.‍

When you’ve got your crypto wallet set up, you now need to just put in a bid for the land, this can be done straight from the metaverse project itself, such as Sandbox or Decentraland, or you could use a third-party platform such as OpenSea or MagicEden.

‍If you’re looking to gain exposure to physical real estate through investing in digital real estate, join our Discord or sign up to our newsletter for any updates on when our testnet launches.‍

Is Digital Land Going To Continue To Grow In Popularity?

‍Yes, and we don’t see this slowing any time soon. With people becoming more interested in gaming and the gamers of the early 2000s growing up and obtaining higher paid jobs, this disposable cash is being spent on digital assets like real estate in the Metaverse, gaming items, and avatars for their digital identities.

But, another thing to remember is that it’s not just for people who game; it’s for those that want to profit from this digital gold rush. As the world moves further into the digital era, we’ll see more people buying digital land, creating digital identities to escape the real world, and spending more on in-world items.‍

Not only will it be filled with gamers, but tech giants and other organizations will also begin buying up more land to advertise to millions of users. The virtual floodgates have opened, and there’s no way to close them.

Source: What Is Digital Real Estate? Five Things You Need To Know

Critics by: Sean Peek

How to profit from digital real estate: After buying or making your website, you need to create content on a consistent schedule to attract visitors to your website and generate traffic. Use Google’s Keyword Planner to brainstorm ideas for your blog using words that people are already searching for.

If you’re too busy to write blog posts and promote your website, hire freelancers to write content on your behalf. You can find freelancers from sites like Upwork at affordable prices. Once you’re generating enough traffic to your website, monetize that traffic to generate revenue from your website. Here are a few ways to make money from your web traffic.

  • Advertising: Sell ad space on your website or use an ad network like AdSense to monetize website traffic. When people click on an ad, you earn money.
  • Affiliate marketing: This involves promoting and selling products created by other businesses. Whenever someone buys a product through your affiliate link, you earn a commission off the sale.
  • Selling products: You can also create and sell your own products, like e-books, online courses and software on your website.
  • Sponsored content: Advertisers will often reach out to you to sponsor blog posts that promote their own brands and products. They will pay you to write about their products on your blog.

Eventually, you may start making a profitable income from your website. Then you can decide whether to sell it for a profit or to continue developing the site to use as an income stream. The choice is yours.

The good news is that you don’t have to open your checkbook or empty your bank account to invest in a website or a blog. The bad news is, unlike when you invest in stock or real estate, you can’t expect the value of your digital real estate to go up over time if you don’t do anything. You have to put in the work to make your website more successful and increase its value. Make sure you’re willing to put in the work before you invest if you want to see a financial return.

 

Top Marketplaces to Buy Digital Real Estate

Decentraland: This is one of the largest place marketplaces for digital real estate. It allows you to buy and sell land, estates, avatar wearables and other digital goods. The Ethereum network is the foundation for this digital world.

SuperWorld: This company has created a virtual map of Earth. It allows you to buy real-life plots of land, that now exist in the metaverse. For example, you could buy the Taj Mahal, NYC’s 5th avenue or your own home. Someone already purchased The White House for about $354 USD. In total, it has 64.8 billion plots of land for sale.

Somnium Space: Somnium Space describes itself as “a new virtual reality world.” This includes allowing users to buy and sell virtual land.

The Sandbox: A virtual metaverse where players can play, build, own, and monetize their virtual experiences. It boasts NFT collections by Snoop Dogg, Care Bears and Atari.

Upland.me: This platform is still in beta. However, it will be a digital metaverse where users can buy, sell and trade digital real estate.

OpenSea: Currently the largest NFT marketplace. It has a section for virtual land. Here you can buy and sell land parcels, wearables and names from projects like Decentraland, Cryptovoxels, Somnium Space and The Sandbox.

Keep in mind that things happen quickly in the metaverse. New companies are popping up every day with lofty ambitions of creating a new metaverse. As we saw with Meta Platforms, larger corporations are also willing to pivot. If you want to invest in digital real estate, be sure to do a deep dive into all existing marketplaces.

Related contents:

Engel & Völkers Digital Invest launches strategic cooperation with DFI Real Estate and raises… DGAP

Real estate‘s top digital signature solution, Authentisign, coming to Lone Wolf Transactions… PR Newswire (Press Release)

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A Potential Future For E-Commerce

The business world is driven by buying and selling transactions—also known as commerce. Today, the business world sees technological advances and societal changes driving an e-commerce boom. Amazon is one of the leaders in e-commerce today, shaping consumer expectations of fast deliveries, instant order acknowledgments, and increased communication from ordering to delivery.

Amazon isn’t the only one to watch as the global e-commerce market as a whole is expected to grow “from 3.3 trillion today to 5.4 trillion by 2026.” In my experience as a former CFO and now chief solutions architect, there are several possibilities for the future of e-commerce. I touch on a few of them in this piece, but the possibilities extend even further.

The future of e-commerce could see the blend of building communities of buyers and sellers rallied around specific interests or specialized business segments. This could lead to more options for consumers to interact with sellers and other consumers. You may see a shift from a centralized, dominant company platform to an e-commerce platform that hosts various sellers using decentralized technology, including blockchain, where everyone can access the transactions in real time on a distributed ledger.

Social media companies can enable buying and selling in these communities of buyers by connecting sellers to potential buyers to drive sales through e-commerce platforms. Influencers on social media can raise awareness of products and services to influence the purchases made by their followers. Instead of buyers browsing an online catalog, they may be posting stories about the product or service; they could be reading product reviews or interacting with those who already own the product; the buying and selling could take on these elements of social media where people might comment about products and services.

E-commerce companies could use the power of word-of-mouth advertising and apply it by leveraging social media. Some influencers could create a network of multiple influences on sales, creating more employment and offering new sales channels to companies selling products and services.

New investor-funded e-commerce companies will also help meet the anticipated demands. And according to Morgan Stanley, “For investors, the e-commerce boom will likely continue, offering opportunities for gains across multiple businesses, regions, and verticals—and at a time when recent stock valuations don’t necessarily reflect that growth.”

I hear arguments about “why use blockchain technology when you can easily use a traditional database?” We live in a time where we do not trust easily. One way to potentially improve trust in transaction data is to make sharing those records publicly on a blockchain available to all stakeholders. Transparency is created by linking blocks of data to allow people to confirm transactions. Those secured transactions tell the story of the data by putting the data in multiple hands at once.

For example, a transaction is written to a blockchain if the buyer places an order for a bottle of wine. A winery accepts that order, and that transaction is written to the blockchain so the buyer and winery can see what is going on as the transactions are connected. When the winery ships the wine, that shipment record is written to the blockchain. When the buyer receives the wine from the seller, that transaction is written to the blockchain.

These digital supply chain transactions are recorded in a time series to document the process and provide vital information to each person in the transaction. Blockchain can also link payments through smart contracts and digital wallets based on these supply chain transactions.

Blockchain could help bring about the democratization of the internet through decentralization and more commerce opportunities for the average person, whether found in community buyer circles led by influencers or elsewhere.

CFO for AIOne, Inc. to create new companies to form an ecosystem of networks and to reward influencer efforts. Read Dave Sackett’s full executive profile here.

Source: A Potential Future For E-Commerce

Critics by

To talk about the future of e-commerce, nothing better than starting with data and statistics, so let’s go to them. According to the Italian consultancy finaria and dissemination of Forbes, global e-commerce retail sales will reach more than 2,7 trillion dollars in 2021, and should reach 3,4 trillion dollars in 2025. These figures express once again that the future of e-commerce is stable, with no signs of falling.

With this growth, e-commerce sales are gaining more and more space in the retail market. If before the pandemic online sales represented only 10% of global retail, it is estimated that in 2021 they will compose 17,5% of all global sales. And the chances of growth are even greater if we think about the quantity and speed of technological advancements and digital transformation of society. 

Physical establishments must take this into account and put together a structure to bring their businesses offline to an online platform. If they do not have an online presence, they will lose many customers, who are looking for an easy, fast and convenient purchase, from the comfort of home.  Offer a omnichannel experience, or multichannel, for the customer is increasingly necessary and this will certainly be a common practice in the future of e-commerce. 

People are consuming more and more online, as the statistics show, but this will not end physical retail, as it is not just preference, but convenience. The consumer does the action that seems easiest and most practical at that moment. 

If he is walking down the street, passes a store, sees a jacket and is interested, he may want to go in and buy it. But if he has an appointment then, he may not want to take the jacket at that time and choose to have another day at his house. 

Or, the opposite: you may prefer to search for jackets on the internet, buy online and then pick up directly at the physical store, reducing waiting time and saving on shipping. Hence, physical and digital retail must be connected, ensuring an excellent consumer experience, regardless of the choice you make. 

Another strong trend in e-commerce is to give several payment options for the consumer, mainly quick payments, making the checkout process easier and more agile.  A virtual store that does not offer this diversity on its website can reduce sales and even lose customers. Because people who use Paypal can give priority to stores that use it, while there are those more inclined to use Google Pay or Samsung Pay, who would definitely like to see such options available in their store. 

In addition, with the launch of the PIX and the advances in cryptocurrencies, payment methods are broadening. If today it is essential to provide several payment options, in the future this will be almost an order to remain competitive.

O m-commerce, or mobile commerce, already represents more than 70% of the online retail and, for sure, it will continue to grow in the coming years. According to a survey conducted in August 2020 by Panorama Mobile Time and Opinion Box, 91% of Brazilians who own a smartphone have already purchased online through the device. That number before was 85%. The growth took place in just six months, during the social isolation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

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What Are The Benefits of Working For a Private Blockchain Development Company

Blockchain technology is a relatively new development that has the potential to be a game-changer. Some even promote blockchain technology as being the next technological revolution. A lot of businesses are excited about the possibilities that exist with blockchain and are trying to get in on the game early.

Over the last few years, blockchain technology has made a lot of progress. This is one of the most talked-about trends in the technology sector. With the potential to change everything from institutions to platforms, there is no doubt blockchain technology is here to stay. While it is still in the early days, we have a long way to go before we see it being used by most people and businesses.

This blog looks at some of the biggest benefits of working for a private blockchain development company.

 What is a private blockchain?

A private blockchain is a blockchain that is not open to the public and can only be joined by invitation. These blockchains are usually controlled by a single entity, organization, or group of people. There are also consortium blockchains that are controlled by a pre-selected set of nodes or miners. In the case of a public blockchain, the transactions are openly validated by a network of miners. On the other hand, in a private blockchain, transactions are validated by either a single entity or a group of people.

There are several benefits of working for a private blockchain development company, depending on the business you’re in. Private blockchains are a good option if you want to keep your transaction data private. It is also great if you want to carry out multiple transactions per second. However, a private blockchain is not a decentralized system and is usually used by a single entity.

 How is private blockchain development better than public blockchain?

You might have heard about public blockchain and private blockchain, but what is the difference between them? Let’s see what the difference between private and public blockchains is.

A public blockchain is a decentralized ledger that is open to everyone on the network. Anyone can download the software and join the network. All transactions are transparent and the miners’ identities are public. Anyone on the network can participate in the consensus mechanism.

A private blockchain is a private version of the public blockchain. It is behind a firewall, so only those who are granted access can join the network. So, it is permissioned. A private blockchain can be permissioned by a single entity or by a consortium of companies. A private blockchain is used for enterprise solutions. It is centralized, but it is not controlled by a single entity. It is controlled by a group of companies.

 Benefits of hiring a  private blockchain development company

Today, Blockchain technology is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world, and there are a lot of Private Blockchain development companies that you can hire to help you with your project. But you must know them. Blockchain has been in the news a lot lately, with many companies making headlines by using the technology.

Bitcoin, which is a digital currency, was the first application of Blockchain technology. Bitcoin was developed in 2009, and in that same year, Blockchain technology started to gain popularity. Today, Blockchain technology is used in a variety of different industries and has a large number of applications.

When you work for a private blockchain development company, you get to work on some really interesting projects. You also get to learn new information and technologies. These are just a couple of the benefits of working for a private blockchain development company, but they are also some of the most important. You will also be able to apply your knowledge to a wide variety of different projects.

Conclusion

The benefits of working for a private blockchain development company are about the same as for any other IT job. You get access to new technologies, you get to learn new skills and you get to work with other talented people. The main difference is that you are working for a company that is using blockchain technology, so you are sure to be working on something new and exciting.

By: John.V

Source: What are the benefits of working for a private blockchain development company?

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How Digital Currencies Went From Boom To Collapse

Yuri Popovich had watched his neighbours’ houses burn down to the ground in Kyiv and he needed a safe place to put his money. So he did what millions of amateur investors have done in recent years: he turned to cryptocurrency. “It was impossible and unsafe to store funds in the form of banknotes. There was a big risk of theft, we also had cases of looting. Therefore, I trusted a ‘stable and reliable’ cryptocurrency. Not for the purpose of speculating, but simply to save,” he says.

The digital asset that Popovich chose in April was terra, a “stablecoin” whose value was supposed to be pegged to the dollar. It collapsed in May, sparking a rout in the cryptocurrency market whose victims include Popovich. He lost $10,000 (£8,200). Popovich says his losses were “devastating”, although donations from sympathetic onlookers on social media have helped make up some of the shortfall. He says: “I stopped sleeping normally, lost 4kg, I often have headaches and anxiety.”

Popovich is one of many experiencing the deep chill of the current crypto winter, more than four years after the market’s cornerstone, bitcoin, marked the first digital freeze by tumbling from its then peak. It went on a long tear after that but it has come to a juddering halt, with bitcoin falling below the $20,000 mark at one point this month – far below its peak of nearly $69,000, which it hit last November.

The fall has been sharp and spectacular: an overall market that was estimated to be worth more than $3tn barely six months ago is now worth less than $1tn.

Crypto boom: a new digital economy

The beginnings of the latest crypto boom held all the hallmarks of being another instance of the “Robinhood economy”, named after the popular American stock trading app. Bored white collar workers, stuck at home because of pandemic lockdowns but awash with disposable income, turned to day trading as a way to pass the time. Subscribers to the r/WallStreetBets forum on the popular online discussion site Reddit doubled over the course of 2020 and then quadrupled in the first month of 2021, as a small army of retail investors flooded into assets as varied as the then bankrupt car rental company Hertz, the troubled video game retailer GameStop and the electric car manufacturer Tesla, pushing the latter from $85 at the beginning of the pandemic to a high of $1,243 towards the end of 2021.

Cryptocurrencies also benefited from the surge in day trading. Bitcoin soared from a low of $5,000 in March 2020 to more than $60,000 a year later. The currency has had that sort of precipitous increase before: in 2017, it had risen 20-fold, to its then peak of $19,000. But in the latest boom, ethereum, the number two cryptocurrency, had an even more impressive climb, from just $120 to a high of almost $5,000 in 2021.

Cryptocurrency is the name for any digital asset that works like bitcoin, the original cryptocurrency, which was invented in 2009. There is a “decentralised ledger”, which records who owns what, built into a “blockchain”, which secures the whole network by ensuring transactions are irreversible once made. In the years since then, a dizzying amount of variations have arisen, but the core – the blockchain concept – is remarkably stable, in part because of the social implications of truly decentralised networks being immune to government oversight or regulation.

Where, 10 years ago, people simply spoke of trading in bitcoin, the space has ballooned. As well as cryptocurrencies themselves, , the sector has developed in a complex ecosystem. It encompasses Web3, a broader selection of apps and services built on top of cryptocurrencies, DeFi, an attempt to bootstrap an entire financial sector out of code rather than contracts, and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which use the same technology as cryptocurrencies to trade in objects rather than money.

The flood of money washing into the world of crypto did more than simply inflate the paper wealth of pre-existing shareholders. Instead, it led to a surge of interest in, and funding for, the vast array of projects that aimed to capitalise on the underlying technology of cryptocurrencies. For a generation of new investors, the “decentralised finance” opportunities of the sector were appealing. Built on top of the “programmable money” of the ethereum cryptocurrency, the “DeFi” [decentralised finance] sector is an attempt to expand bitcoin’s anti-establishment ethos to cover the entire economy.

Take the comparatively small sector of the crypto market known as NFTs. A product dating back to 2014, NFTs take the tech used to create cryptocurrencies, but let creators link unique assets to the blockchain, instead of money-like currencies. That means NFTs can be traded that represent works of art, virtual collectibles, or even function as tickets to events or membership of clubs. And like cryptocurrencies, they can be bought or sold in open exchanges, held pseudonymously, and packaged up or securitised in complex financial instruments.

One token, representing years of work by the digital artist Beeple, sold for $69m; another, linked to the first tweet sent by the Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, was bought for $2.9m. Individual NFTs in the Bored Ape Yacht Club collection – the most consistently desired examples of “profile pic” NFTs, designed to be used as pre-packaged online identity – regularly sold for $1m-$3m apiece. But by the beginning of 2022, the NFT bubble appeared to have already popped. “Floor” prices for large NFT collections had plummeted, and, while many large NFT acquisitions have stayed in private collection, those that have been put back on the market have fared poorly: the Dorsey tweet was withdrawn from sale after achieving a top bid of just $14,000.

And then: the crash

The crypto crisis has played out against the backdrop of wider market problems, as fears over the Ukraine conflict, rising inflation and higher borrowing costs stalk investors. Some market watchers play down the prospect of a crypto crash triggering serious problems elsewhere in the financial markets or the global economy. The total value of all cryptocurrencies is about $1tn currently (with bitcoin accounting for about 40% of the total), which compares with approximately $100tn for the world’s stock markets.

Since November the value of all cryptocurrencies has fallen from $3tn, meaning that $2tn worth of wealth has been wiped out, with no serious knock-on effects to the broader stock market – so far. Teunis Brosens, the head economist for digital finance at the Dutch bank ING, says the traditional financial system is relatively well shielded because established banks – the cornerstones of the financial world that buckled in 2008 – are not exposed to cryptocurrencies because they do not hold digital assets on their balance sheets, unlike during the financial crisis when they held toxic debt products related to the housing market.

“What has happened in the crypto market has caused great losses for some investors and it’s all very painful and not something I want to downplay,” he says. “But it would be overplaying the role that crypto currently has in the economic and financial system if you were to think there could be systemic consequences for the wider financial system or even a global recession directly caused by crypto assets.” To date, the turmoil has been limited to the crypto sector. Digital assets have been hit by some of the same economic issues that have affected the wider global economy and stock markets. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have been affected by concerns over rising inflation and the ensuing increases in interest rates by central banks, which has made risky assets less attractive to investors. This meant that as stock markets declined, so too did crypto assets.

But the collapse last month of terra also hit confidence in cryptocurrencies. In June, a cryptocurrency lender, Celsius, was forced to stop customer withdrawals. And a hedge fund that made big bets on the crypto markets slid towards liquidation. Crypto investors and firms that had made bets on the crypto market using digital assets as collateral were forced into a selling spree. Kim Grauer, the head of research at the cryptocurrency data firm Chainalysis, says: “It was a combination of the stock market plus the kind of excessive reaction that is typical of crypto markets because of these cascading liquidations. In this case the key event was terra.”

She added: “Crypto is not going away. And it has experienced crashes more severe than this crash.” Regulators and various government agencies are looking closely. Harry Eddis, the global co-head of fintech at Linklaters, a London-based law firm, says recent events in the crypto asset market will strengthen regulators’ determination to rein in the industry.“nI think it will certainly stiffen the sinews of the regulators in saying that they’re more than justified in regulating the industry, because of the obvious risks with a lot of the crypto assets out there,” he says.

In the UK, the financial watchdog continues to expand safeguards on crypto products. Its latest proposals on marketing crypto products to consumers could lead to significant restrictions on crypto exchanges operating in the UK. Consumers reported 4,300 potential crypto scams to the Financial Conduct Authority’s website over a six-month period last year, far ahead of the second place category, pension transfers, which had 1,600 reports. The FCA has 50 live investigations, including criminal inquiries, into companies in the sector.

The terra collapse has also heightened regulatory concerns about stablecoins, because they are backed by traditional assets and therefore could pose a risk to the wider financial system. In the UK, the Treasury wants a regime in place for dealing with a stablecoin collapse, saying in May that a terra-like failure could endanger the “continuity of services critical to the operation of the economy and access of individuals to their funds or assets”.

“Even just the top three stablecoins hold reserves totalling $140bn in traditional assets, much of this being in commercial paper and US treasuries. A run on redemptions of the largest coin (tether) could destabilise the entire crypto asset system and spill over into other markets,” says Carol Alexander, the professor of finance at University of Sussex Business School.

Elsewhere, the EU is drawing up a regulatory framework for crypto assets with the aim of introducing it by 2024, while in the US Joe Biden has signed an executive order directing the federal government to coordinate a regulatory plan for cryptocurrencies including ensuring “sufficient oversight and safeguard against any systemic financial risks posed by digital assets”. The Federal Trade Commission, the US consumer watchdog, says 46,000 people have lost more than $1bn to crypto scams since the start of 2021.

In general, regulators have been talking tough about cryptocurrencies. The chair of the FCA has called for “strong safeguards” to be put in place for the crypto market, while the head of the US financial regulator has warned consumers about crypto products promising returns that are “too good to be true”, while Singapore has said it will be “brutal and unrelentingly hard” on misbehaviour in the crypto market.

‘I’m sure crypto will bubble again

Where crypto goes from here is an unanswerable question. For proponents, such as Changpeng Zhao, the multibillionaire owner of the Binance cryptocurrency exchange, the sector is sure to recover – though it might take some time. “I think given this price drop … it will probably take a while to get back,” he told the Guardian last week. “It probably will take a few months or a couple of years.”

For sceptics, however, the plummet could be a lasting wound. “Bitcoin will be around for decades,” says David Gerard, author of Attack of the 50-Foot Blockchain. “All you need is the software, the blockchain and two or more enthusiasts. Unless there’s new stringent regulation, I’m sure crypto will bubble again. But if there’s a genuine consumer bubble, it may not reach the heights of this one. The 2021-22 bubble made it to the Super Bowl. As many a dotcom found out 20 years ago, there’s nowhere to go from there – you’ve reached every consumer in America.”

But one thing both sides agree on is that the dividing line between “survivable downturn” and “cryptoapocalypse” is likely to involve neither bitcoin nor ethereum, but the third biggest cryptocurrency: a stablecoin called tether. Stablecoins are a foundational part of the crypto ecosystem. Their value is fixed to that of a conventional currency, allowing users to cash out of risky positions without going through the rigamarole of a bank transfer, and enabling crypto-native banks and DeFi establishments to work without taking on a currency risk.

In essence, stablecoins function like the banks of the crypto economy, allowing people to park their money safely in the knowledge that it is not exposed to wider risk. Which means that when a stablecoin collapses, it has a very similar effect to a bank failure: money disappears across the ecosystem, liquidity dries up, and other institutions begin to fail in a domino effect. The beginning of the latest crisis in crypto was sparked by exactly that: the failure of the terra/luna stablecoin. The algorithmic checks and balances put in place to keep it stable broke – triggering a death spiral.

And so on 9 May, a stablecoin called UST “depegged”, dropping from $1 to $0.75 in a day, and then falling further, and further and further. Within four days, the luna blockchain was turned off entirely, the project declared dead. A domino effect took out other crypto establishments. Some of the “contagion” has been prevented, in part through huge loans made by Alameda Ventures, the investment arm of 30-year-old crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried’s empire. Drawing comparisons to JP Morgan in the panic of 1907, “SBF” has stepped in to support the crypto bank Voyager and the embattled exchange BlockFi, and been loudly calling for support from others.

Unlike terra, tether is a “centralised” stablecoin, maintaining its value through reserves which, the company says, are always redeemable one-to-one for a tether token. The model means it cannot enter a “death spiral” like terra, but also means the stability of the token is entirely a function of how much one trusts tether to actually maintain its reserves. That trust is not a sure thing. Tether once claimed to hold all its reserves in “US dollars”, a claim that the New York attorney general’s office concluded in 2021 was “a lie”.

Tether, and Bitfinex – a bitcoin exchange that shares an executive team with, but is legally distinct from, Tether – “recklessly and unlawfully covered-up massive financial losses to keep their scheme going and protect their bottom lines”, Letitia James, the New York attorney general, said at the time. The two companies had transferred money back and forth to cover up insolvency, she said, and had failed to ensure tether was “fully backed at all times”, the investigation concluded.“Te ther has been the timebomb under the market since 2017,” says Gerard.

“It has reduced its market cap by 15bn USDT in the last month, and has claimed that these are redemptions, or a reduction in their holdings of ‘commercial paper’,” she says, referring to one of the key assets that Tether uses on its balance sheet: commercial paper, short-term debt issued by banks and corporations to cover immediate funding needs. Tether, for its part, remains extremely bullish – and has even suggested it may publish a formal audit of its reserves, something it said was “months away” in August 2021.

In late June, Tether announced another expansion: the introduction of the first GBP stablecoin. “We believe that the UK is the next frontier for blockchain innovation and the wider implementation of cryptocurrency for financial markets,” says Paolo Ardoino, the chief technology officer of Tether and Bitfinex. “Tether is ready and willing to work with UK regulators to make this goal a reality.” More regulation, and further market volatility, are a given. Popovich says he is still receiving donations. “I’m extremely embarrassed. Yesterday an anonymous person sent me $50 in the form of cryptocurrency. And I’ve never borrowed anything from anyone in my life. I’m scared and restless.”

Source: Crypto crisis: how digital currencies went from boom to collapse | Cryptocurrencies | The Guardian

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