All posts in “Cryptocurrencies”

Blockchain media startup Civil is issuing full refunds to all buyers of its cryptocurrency

Many doubted The Civil Media Company‘s ambitious plan to sell $8 million worth of its cryptocurrency, called CVL. 

The skeptics, as it turns out, were right. Civil’s initial coin offering, meant to fund the company’s effort to create a new economy for journalism using the blockchain, failed to attract sufficient interest. The company announced today that it would provide refunds to all CVL token buyers by October 29.

Civil’s goal was to sell 34 million CVL tokens for between $8 million and $24 million. The sale began on September 18 and concluded yesterday. Ultimately, 1,012 buyers purchased $1,435,491 worth of CVL tokens. A spokesperson for Civil told TechCrunch an additional 1,738 buyers successfully registered for the sale, but never completed their transaction.

Civil isn’t giving up. The company says “a new, much simpler token sale is in the works,” details of which will be shared soon. Once those new tokens are distributed, Civil will launch three new features: a blockchain-publishing plugin for WordPress, a community governance application called The Civil Registry and a developer tool for non-blockchain developers to build apps on Civil.

ConsenSys, a blockchain venture studio that invested $5 million in Civil last fall, has agreed to purchase $3.5 million worth of those new tokens. The purchase is not an equity; all capital from the token sale is committed to the Civil Foundation, an independent nonprofit initially funded by Civil that funds grants to the newsrooms in Civil’s network.

In a blog post today, Civil chief executive officer Matthew Iles wrote that the token sale failure was a disappointment but not a shock. Days prior, he’d authored a separate post where he admitted things weren’t looking good.

“This isn’t how we saw this going,” Iles wrote. “The numbers will show clearly enough that we are not where we wanted to be at this point in the sale when we started out. But one thing we want to say at the top is that until the clock strikes midnight on Monday, we are still working nonstop on the goal of making our soft cap of $8 million.”

A recent Wall Street Journal report claimed Civil had reached out to The New York Times, The Washington Post, Dow Jones and Axios, among others, but failed to incite interest in its token.

Separate from its token sale, Civil has inked strategic partnerships with media companies like the Associated Press and Forbes, both of which confirmed to TechCrunch today that the failed token sale doesn’t impact their partnerships with Civil. 

Forbes became the first major media brand to test Civil’s technology when it announced earlier this month that it would experiment with publishing content to the Civil platform. As for the AP, it granted the newsrooms in Civil’s network licenses to its content. 

Civil, of course, isn’t the only blockchain startup targeting journalism. Nwzer, Userfeeds, Factmata and Po.et, which was founded by Jarrod Dicker, a former vice president at The Washington Post, are all trying their hand at bringing the new technology to the content industry.

Which, if any, will actually find success in the complicated space, is the question.

SpankChain spanked

SpankChain, a cryptocurrency aimed at decentralized sex cams, has announced that a hacker stole about $38,000 from their payment channel thanks to a broken smart contract. They wrote:

At 6pm PST Saturday, an unknown attacker drained 165.38 ETH (~$38,000) from our payment channel smart contract which also resulted in $4,000 worth of BOOTY on the contract becoming immobilized. Of the stolen/immobilized ETH/BOOTY, 34.99 ETH (~$8,000) and 1271.88 BOOTY belongs to users (~$9,300 total), and the rest belonged to SpankChain.

Our immediate priority has been to provide complete reimbursements to all users who lost funds. We are preparing an ETH airdrop to cover all $9,300 worth of ETH and BOOTY that belonged to users. Funds will be sent directly to users’ SpankPay accounts, and will be available as soon as we reboot Spank.Live.

The hacker used a ‘reentrancy’ bug in which the user calls the same transfer multiple times, draining a little Ethereum each time. The bug is the same one that previously affected the DAO.

The company pointed out that a security audit on their smart contract would have cost $50,000, a bit more than the amount lost. “As we move forward and grow, we will be stepping up our security practices, and making sure to get multiple internal audits for any smart contract code we publish, as well as at least one professional external audit,” they wrote.

I’ve reached out to the company for clarification but in short it seems the spanker has become the spankee.

The Hack Fund will use crypto to give startups early liquidity

Now that “utility” tokens have become a popular and international way to fund major blockchain projects, a pair of investors are creating a new way to turn tokens into true equities. The investors, Jonathan Nelson and Laura Nelson, have created Hack Fund, an early stage investment vehicle that allows startups to launch what amounts to “blockchain stock certificates,” according to Jonathan.

“Our previous business model exchanged equity from startup companies for services, and wrapped that equity into funds that we then sold to investors. These fund investors have included family offices, institutions, and high net worth individuals,” said Jonathan. “However, Hack Fund represents a new business model. Because Hack Fund leverages the blockchain, investors all over the world at all levels can participate in startup investing by trading blockchain stock certificates. Also, its SEC compliant structure means that it is also available to a limited number of accredited investors in the US.”

The team originally created Hackers/Founders, a tech entrepreneur group in Silicon Valley, and they now support 300,000 members in 133 cities and 49 countries. Hack Fund is a vehicle to support some of the startups in the Hackers/Founders network.

“HACK Fund, through its Hackers/Founders heritage, has a large, unique global network,” said Jonathan. “This provides Hack Fund with unparalleled reach and deal flow across the global technology market. There are a few blockchain-based funds, but they are limited themselves to blockchain-only investments. Unlike typical venture funds, HACK Fund will provide quick liquidity for investors, leveraging blockchain technology to make typically illiquid private stocks tradeable.”

The idea behind Hack Fund is quite interesting. In most cases investing in a company leads to up to ten years of waiting for a liquidity event. However, with blockchain-based stock certificates investors can buy shares that can be bought and sold instantly while company performance drives the value up or down. In short, startups become liquid in an instant, which can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the founding team.

“HACK Fund is a publicly traded closed-end fund. The fund’s venture investments are valued on a quarterly basis by an independent third party, audited and posted to the blockchain for all token holders to review. There are no K-1 statements issued, there is no partnership/LLC, rather HACK Fund is an investment company akin to Berkshire Hathaway which invests in the same manner as early-stage venture capital,” said Jonathan.

The team is raising a little over $2 million in an ICO to build out the fund. They’ve already raised most of their $100 million total goal from individual investors but the ICO will let retail investors buy some of the tokens as they are made available on the BRD wallet.

China is capable of destabilizing or destroying Bitcoin, new research suggests

In 2008, Bitcoin was envisioned by its pseudonymous founder Satoshi Nakamoto as a trustless, decentralized peer-to-peer electronic cash system. 

Ten years and numerous crazy price jumps later, Bitcoin appears to have withstood the test of time. But is it really decentralized and thus resilient to attacks?

A new paper, signed by researchers from from Princeton University and Florida International University, suggests that Bitcoin is largely at the whim of one powerful entity: China. 

The paper (found via The Next Web), which hasn’t been peer reviewed yet, outlines numerous potential attacks and disruptions China could launch against Bitcoin. It also argues that China has both the means and motivation to potentially launch such attacks, and that it is already influencing the network in some ways. 

Bitcoin’s network is powered by miners, who employ a vast amount of computing power to process transactions and create new bitcoins in the process. The total amount of that power is represented as total hash rate, and according to the paper, 74% of it resides in China. 

This has been a well-known and worrying fact for quite some time, as it theoretically enables the Chinese miners (collected into large entities called mining pools) to band up and launch a so-called 51% attack on Bitcoin, essentially taking over the entire network (though the viability and practicality of such an attack in this scenario is up for debate). 

But the paper also points out that China’s Great Firewall and Great Cannon, tools used to filter, monitor and modify internet traffic in the country, could be used to affect Bitcoin’s network in certain ways. In fact, the paper argues that some properties of the Great Firewall had, for a certain period of time, incentivized Chinese miners to mine so-called “empty blocks,” which slowed down the entire network. This particular issue has been fixed with an upgrade to Bitcoin’s software called BIP152. The paper, however, argues that this issue demonstrated “the power of China’s technical capabilities for domestic control to weaken Bitcoin, even unintentionally, on a global scale.”

The paper outlines numerous other ways in which China, armed with a number of regulatory and technical “weapons,” can affect Bitcoin. These include censorship attacks, which would prevent a certain user to commit transactions to Bitcoin’s blockchain. There are also deanonymization attacks, which could tie Bitcoin transactions — which are theoretically anonymous — to real world entities. With its vast, concentrated mining power, China could disrupt competing mining operations. And finally, a number of attacks could be launched to completely destabilize, disrupt or destroy the network. 

Things aren’t that simple, though. The researchers note that China does not directly control the miners operating in its territory, though it certainly can influence or strong-arm them in certain ways. There’s also the question of motivation — why would China be interested in disrupting or destroying Bitcoin? The paper argues that “Bitcoin stands in ideological opposition to China’s centralized governing philosophy.” China also may want to attack Bitcoin for the purpose of law enforcement, and it could simply want to increase control over it. 

“Finally, as Bitcoin becomes more widely used and more tightly integrated into global financial systems, it becomes a possible vector for attacking foreign economies,” the paper states. 

The research paints a dire picture for Bitcoin, whose biggest advantage over traditional payment networks is the fact that it doesn’t have to rely on any one central entity to operate. This property is far less useful if a single entity is able to disrupt, censor or destroy Bitcoin’s network. 

“We singled out China for analysis because they are the most powerful potential adversary to Bitcoin, and we found that they have a variety of salient motives for attacking the system and a number of mature capabilities, both regulatory and technical, to carry out those attacks,” the paper concludes. “As future work, we suggest an analysis of existing solutions to the specific threats China poses to Bitcoin and the identification and mitigation of gaps in those protections.”

Disclosure: The author of this text owns, or has recently owned, a number of cryptocurrencies, including BTC and ETH.

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KZen raises $4 million to bring sanity to crypto wallets

KZen, a company run by former TC editor Ouriel Ohayon, has raised $4 million in seed to build a “better wallet,” obviously the elusive Holy Grail in the crypto world.

Benson Oak Ventures, Samsung Next, Elron Ventures invested.

Ohayon, who has worked at Internet Lab and founded TechCrunch France and Appsfire, wanted to create an easy-to-use crypto wallet that wouldn’t confound users. The company name is a play on the Japanese word kaizen or improvement and it also points to the idea of the zero-knowledge proof.

Omer Shlomovits, Tal Be’ery, and Gary Benattar are deep crypto researchers and developers and helped build the wallet of Ohayon’s dreams.

“We wanted something that did not feel like a pre-AOL experience, that was incredibly superior in terms of security, and simple to use,” he said. “We wanted a solution that brings peace of mind and that did not force the user into compromising between convenience and security which is, unfortunately, the current state of affairs. We quickly realized that this mission would not be possible to achieve with the same tools and ideas other companies tried to use so far.”

The app is launching this month and is being kept under wraps until then. Ohayon is well aware that the world doesn’t need another crypto wallet but he’s convinced his solution is the best one.

“The market does not lack solutions,” he said. “On the contrary, there are software wallets, hardware wallets, paper wallets, vaults, hosted custody. But there is no great solution. To be able to use a crypto wallet you either need a good dose of Xanax or a master’s degree in computer science or both, unless you want to depend on a central entity, which is even worse as the news are reminding us weekly.”

We’ll see as they use the cash to launch a crypto wallet that anyone – not just Xanax-eaters – can use.