Tag Archives: Bitcoin

What John Oliver gets wrong about Bitcoin

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2018/03/what-john-oliver-gets-wrong-about.html

John Oliver covered bitcoin/cryptocurrencies last night. I thought I’d describe a bunch of things he gets wrong.

How Bitcoin works

Nowhere in the show does it describe what Bitcoin is and how it works.
Discussions should always start with Satoshi Nakamoto’s original paper. The thing Satoshi points out is that there is an important cost to normal transactions, namely, the entire legal system designed to protect you against fraud, such as the way you can reverse the transactions on your credit card if it gets stolen. The point of Bitcoin is that there is no way to reverse a charge. A transaction is done via cryptography: to transfer money to me, you decrypt it with your secret key and encrypt it with mine, handing ownership over to me with no third party involved that can reverse the transaction, and essentially no overhead.
All the rest of the stuff, like the decentralized blockchain and mining, is all about making that work.
Bitcoin crazies forget about the original genesis of Bitcoin. For example, they talk about adding features to stop fraud, reversing transactions, and having a central authority that manages that. This misses the point, because the existing electronic banking system already does that, and does a better job at it than cryptocurrencies ever can. If you want to mock cryptocurrencies, talk about the “DAO”, which did exactly that — and collapsed in a big fraudulent scheme where insiders made money and outsiders didn’t.
Sticking to Satoshi’s original ideas are a lot better than trying to repeat how the crazy fringe activists define Bitcoin.

How does any money have value?

Oliver’s answer is currencies have value because people agree that they have value, like how they agree a Beanie Baby is worth $15,000.
This is wrong. A better way of asking the question why the value of money changes. The dollar has been losing roughly 2% of its value each year for decades. This is called “inflation”, as the dollar loses value, it takes more dollars to buy things, which means the price of things (in dollars) goes up, and employers have to pay us more dollars so that we can buy the same amount of things.
The reason the value of the dollar changes is largely because the Federal Reserve manages the supply of dollars, using the same law of Supply and Demand. As you know, if a supply decreases (like oil), then the price goes up, or if the supply of something increases, the price goes down. The Fed manages money the same way: when prices rise (the dollar is worth less), the Fed reduces the supply of dollars, causing it to be worth more. Conversely, if prices fall (or don’t rise fast enough), the Fed increases supply, so that the dollar is worth less.
The reason money follows the law of Supply and Demand is because people use money, they consume it like they do other goods and services, like gasoline, tax preparation, food, dance lessons, and so forth. It’s not like a fine art painting, a stamp collection or a Beanie Baby — money is a product. It’s just that people have a hard time thinking of it as a consumer product since, in their experience, money is what they use to buy consumer products. But it’s a symmetric operation: when you buy gasoline with dollars, you are actually selling dollars in exchange for gasoline. That you call one side in this transaction “money” and the other “goods” is purely arbitrary, you call gasoline money and dollars the good that is being bought and sold for gasoline.
The reason dollars is a product is because trying to use gasoline as money is a pain in the neck. Storing it and exchanging it is difficult. Goods like this do become money, such as famously how prisons often use cigarettes as a medium of exchange, even for non-smokers, but it has to be a good that is fungible, storable, and easily exchanged. Dollars are the most fungible, the most storable, and the easiest exchanged, so has the most value as “money”. Sure, the mechanic can fix the farmers car for three chickens instead, but most of the time, both parties in the transaction would rather exchange the same value using dollars than chickens.
So the value of dollars is not like the value of Beanie Babies, which people might buy for $15,000, which changes purely on the whims of investors. Instead, a dollar is like gasoline, which obey the law of Supply and Demand.
This brings us back to the question of where Bitcoin gets its value. While Bitcoin is indeed used like dollars to buy things, that’s only a tiny use of the currency, so therefore it’s value isn’t determined by Supply and Demand. Instead, the value of Bitcoin is a lot like Beanie Babies, obeying the laws of investments. So in this respect, Oliver is right about where the value of Bitcoin comes, but wrong about where the value of dollars comes from.

Why Bitcoin conference didn’t take Bitcoin

John Oliver points out the irony of a Bitcoin conference that stopped accepting payments in Bitcoin for tickets.
The biggest reason for this is because Bitcoin has become so popular that transaction fees have gone up. Instead of being proof of failure, it’s proof of popularity. What John Oliver is saying is the old joke that nobody goes to that popular restaurant anymore because it’s too crowded and you can’t get a reservation.
Moreover, the point of Bitcoin is not to replace everyday currencies for everyday transactions. If you read Satoshi Nakamoto’s whitepaper, it’s only goal is to replace certain types of transactions, like purely electronic transactions where electronic goods and services are being exchanged. Where real-life goods/services are being exchanged, existing currencies work just fine. It’s only the crazy activists who claim Bitcoin will eventually replace real world currencies — the saner people see it co-existing with real-world currencies, each with a different value to consumers.

Turning a McNugget back into a chicken

John Oliver uses the metaphor of turning a that while you can process a chicken into McNuggets, you can’t reverse the process. It’s a funny metaphor.
But it’s not clear what the heck this metaphor is trying explain. That’s not a metaphor for the blockchain, but a metaphor for a “cryptographic hash”, where each block is a chicken, and the McNugget is the signature for the block (well, the block plus the signature of the last block, forming a chain).
Even then that metaphor as problems. The McNugget produced from each chicken must be unique to that chicken, for the metaphor to accurately describe a cryptographic hash. You can therefore identify the original chicken simply by looking at the McNugget. A slight change in the original chicken, like losing a feather, results in a completely different McNugget. Thus, nuggets can be used to tell if the original chicken has changed.
This then leads to the key property of the blockchain, it is unalterable. You can’t go back and change any of the blocks of data, because the fingerprints, the nuggets, will also change, and break the nugget chain.
The point is that while John Oliver is laughing at a silly metaphor to explain the blockchain becuase he totally misses the point of the metaphor.
Oliver rightly says “don’t worry if you don’t understand it — most people don’t”, but that includes the big companies that John Oliver name. Some companies do get it, and are producing reasonable things (like JP Morgan, by all accounts), but some don’t. IBM and other big consultancies are charging companies millions of dollars to consult with them on block chain products where nobody involved, the customer or the consultancy, actually understand any of it. That doesn’t stop them from happily charging customers on one side and happily spending money on the other.
Thus, rather than Oliver explaining the problem, he’s just being part of the problem. His explanation of blockchain left you dumber than before.


John Oliver mocks the Brave ICO ($35 million in 30 seconds), claiming it’s all driven by YouTube personalities and people who aren’t looking at the fundamentals.
And while this is true, most ICOs are bunk, the  Brave ICO actually had a business model behind it. Brave is a Chrome-like web-browser whose distinguishing feature is that it protects your privacy from advertisers. If you don’t use Brave or a browser with an ad block extension, you have no idea how bad things are for you. However, this presents a problem for websites that fund themselves via advertisements, which is most of them, because visitors no longer see ads. Brave has a fix for this. Most people wouldn’t mind supporting the websites they visit often, like the New York Times. That’s where the Brave ICO “token” comes in: it’s not simply stock in Brave, but a token for micropayments to websites. Users buy tokens, then use them for micropayments to websites like New York Times. The New York Times then sells the tokens back to the market for dollars. The buying and selling of tokens happens without a centralized middleman.
This is still all speculative, of course, and it remains to be seen how successful Brave will be, but it’s a serious effort. It has well respected VC behind the company, a well-respected founder (despite the fact he invented JavaScript), and well-respected employees. It’s not a scam, it’s a legitimate venture.

How to you make money from Bitcoin?

The last part of the show is dedicated to describing all the scam out there, advising people to be careful, and to be “responsible”. This is garbage.
It’s like my simple two step process to making lots of money via Bitcoin: (1) buy when the price is low, and (2) sell when the price is high. My advice is correct, of course, but useless. Same as “be careful” and “invest responsibly”.
The truth about investing in cryptocurrencies is “don’t”. The only responsible way to invest is to buy low-overhead market index funds and hold for retirement. No, you won’t get super rich doing this, but anything other than this is irresponsible gambling.
It’s a hard lesson to learn, because everyone is telling you the opposite. The entire channel CNBC is devoted to day traders, who buy and sell stocks at a high rate based on the same principle as a ponzi scheme, basing their judgment not on the fundamentals (like long term dividends) but animal spirits of whatever stock is hot or cold at the moment. This is the same reason people buy or sell Bitcoin, not because they can describe the fundamental value, but because they believe in a bigger fool down the road who will buy it for even more.
For things like Bitcoin, the trick to making money is to have bought it over 7 years ago when it was essentially worthless, except to nerds who were into that sort of thing. It’s the same tick to making a lot of money in Magic: The Gathering trading cards, which nerds bought decades ago which are worth a ton of money now. Or, to have bought Apple stock back in 2009 when the iPhone was new, when nerds could understand the potential of real Internet access and apps that Wall Street could not.
That was my strategy: be a nerd, who gets into things. I’ve made a good amount of money on all these things because as a nerd, I was into Magic: The Gathering, Bitcoin, and the iPhone before anybody else was, and bought in at the point where these things were essentially valueless.
At this point with cryptocurrencies, with the non-nerds now flooding the market, there little chance of making it rich. The lottery is probably a better bet. Instead, if you want to make money, become a nerd, obsess about a thing, understand a thing when its new, and cash out once the rest of the market figures it out. That might be Brave, for example, but buy into it because you’ve spent the last year studying the browser advertisement ecosystem, the market’s willingness to pay for content, and how their Basic Attention Token delivers value to websites — not because you want in on the ICO craze.


John Oliver spends 25 minutes explaining Bitcoin, Cryptocurrencies, and the Blockchain to you. Sure, it’s funny, but it leaves you worse off than when it started. It admits they “simplify” the explanation, but they simplified it so much to the point where they removed all useful information.

Bitdefender Releases FREE GandCrab Ransomware Decryption Tool

Post Syndicated from Darknet original https://www.darknet.org.uk/2018/03/bitdefender-releases-free-gandcrab-ransomware-decryption-tool/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=darknetfeed

Bitdefender Releases FREE GandCrab Ransomware Decryption Tool

The latest ransomware kicking everyone’s ass is Gandcrab which has infected an estimated 50,000 computers, fortunately for the victims, Bitdefender has released a free Gandcrab ransomware decryption tool as a part of the No More Ransom Project.

There’s nothing particularly notable about the ransomware itself other than it combines two existing exploit kits to compromise people and it takes payment in Dash, which is a privacy coin, rather than Bitcoin (which is a first as far as I know).

Read the rest of Bitdefender Releases FREE GandCrab Ransomware Decryption Tool now! Only available at Darknet.

Steal This Show S03E13: The Tao of The DAO

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/steal-show-s03e13-tao-dao/

stslogo180If you enjoy this episode, consider becoming a patron and getting involved with the show. Check out Steal This Show’s Patreon campaign: support us and get all kinds of fantastic benefits!

In this episode, we meet Chris Beams, founder of the decentralized cryptocurrency exchange Bisq. We discuss the concept of DAOs (Decentralised Autonomous Organisations) and whether The Pirate Bay was an early example; how the start of Bitcoin parallels the start of the Internet itself; and why the meretricious Bitcoin Cash fork of Bitcoin is based on a misunderstanding of Open Source development.

Finally, we get into Bisq itself, discussing the potential political importance of decentralized crypto exchanges in the context of any future attempts by the financial establishment to control cryptocurrency.

Steal This Show aims to release bi-weekly episodes featuring insiders discussing copyright and file-sharing news. It complements our regular reporting by adding more room for opinion, commentary, and analysis.

The guests for our news discussions will vary, and we’ll aim to introduce voices from different backgrounds and persuasions. In addition to news, STS will also produce features interviewing some of the great innovators and minds.

Host: Jamie King

Guest: Chris Beams

Produced by Jamie King
Edited & Mixed by Riley Byrne
Original Music by David Triana
Web Production by Siraje Amarniss

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN discounts, offers and coupons

Tech wishes for 2018

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2018/02/18/tech-wishes-for-2018/

Anonymous asks, via money:

What would you like to see happen in tech in 2018?

(answer can be technical, social, political, combination, whatever)


Less of this

I’m not really qualified to speak in depth about either of these things, but let me put my foot in my mouth anyway:

The Blockchain™

Bitcoin was a neat idea. No, really! Decentralization is cool. Overhauling our terrible financial infrastructure is cool. Hash functions are cool.

Unfortunately, it seems to have devolved into mostly a get-rich-quick scheme for nerds, and by nearly any measure it’s turning into a spectacular catastrophe. Its “success” is measured in how much a bitcoin is worth in US dollars, which is pretty close to an admission from its own investors that its only value is in converting back to “real” money — all while that same “success” is making it less useful as a distinct currency.

Blah, blah, everyone already knows this.

What concerns me slightly more is the gold rush hype cycle, which is putting cryptocurrency and “blockchain” in the news and lending it all legitimacy. People have raked in millions of dollars on ICOs of novel coins I’ve never heard mentioned again. (Note: again, that value is measured in dollars.) Most likely, none of the investors will see any return whatsoever on that money. They can’t, really, unless a coin actually takes off as a currency, and that seems at odds with speculative investing since everyone either wants to hoard or ditch their coins. When the coins have no value themselves, the money can only come from other investors, and eventually the hype winds down and you run out of other investors.

I fear this will hurt a lot of people before it’s over, so I’d like for it to be over as soon as possible.

That said, the hype itself has gotten way out of hand too. First it was the obsession with “blockchain” like it’s a revolutionary technology, but hey, Git is a fucking blockchain. The novel part is the way it handles distributed consensus (which in Git is basically left for you to figure out), and that’s uniquely important to currency because you want to be pretty sure that money doesn’t get duplicated or lost when moved around.

But now we have startups trying to use blockchains for website backends and file storage and who knows what else? Why? What advantage does this have? When you say “blockchain”, I hear “single Git repository” — so when you say “email on the blockchain”, I have an aneurysm.

Bitcoin seems to have sparked imagination in large part because it’s decentralized, but I’d argue it’s actually a pretty bad example of a decentralized network, since people keep forking it. The ability to fork is a feature, sure, but the trouble here is that the Bitcoin family has no notion of federation — there is one canonical Bitcoin ledger and it has no notion of communication with any other. That’s what you want for currency, not necessarily other applications. (Bitcoin also incentivizes frivolous forking by giving the creator an initial pile of coins to keep and sell.)

And federation is much more interesting than decentralization! Federation gives us email and the web. Federation means I can set up my own instance with my own rules and still be able to meaningfully communicate with the rest of the network. Federation has some amount of tolerance for changes to the protocol, so such changes are more flexible and rely more heavily on consensus.

Federation is fantastic, and it feels like a massive tragedy that this rekindled interest in decentralization is mostly focused on peer-to-peer networks, which do little to address our current problems with centralized platforms.

And hey, you know what else is federated? Banks.


Again, the tech is cool and all, but the marketing hype is getting way out of hand.

Maybe what I really want from 2018 is less marketing?

For one, I’ve seen a huge uptick in uncritically referring to any software that creates or classifies creative work as “AI”. Can we… can we not. It’s not AI. Yes, yes, nerds, I don’t care about the hair-splitting about the nature of intelligence — you know that when we hear “AI” we think of a human-like self-aware intelligence. But we’re applying it to stuff like a weird dog generator. Or to whatever neural network a website threw into production this week.

And this is dangerously misleading — we already had massive tech companies scapegoating The Algorithm™ for the poor behavior of their software, and now we’re talking about those algorithms as though they were self-aware, untouchable, untameable, unknowable entities of pure chaos whose decisions we are arbitrarily bound to. Ancient, powerful gods who exist just outside human comprehension or law.

It’s weird to see this stuff appear in consumer products so quickly, too. It feels quick, anyway. The latest iPhone can unlock via facial recognition, right? I’m sure a lot of effort was put into ensuring that the same person’s face would always be recognized… but how confident are we that other faces won’t be recognized? I admit I don’t follow all this super closely, so I may be imagining a non-problem, but I do know that humans are remarkably bad at checking for negative cases.

Hell, take the recurring problem of major platforms like Twitter and YouTube classifying anything mentioning “bisexual” as pornographic — because the word is also used as a porn genre, and someone threw a list of porn terms into a filter without thinking too hard about it. That’s just a word list, a fairly simple thing that any human can review; but suddenly we’re confident in opaque networks of inferred details?

I don’t know. “Traditional” classification and generation are much more comforting, since they’re a set of fairly abstract rules that can be examined and followed. Machine learning, as I understand it, is less about rules and much more about pattern-matching; it’s built out of the fingerprints of the stuff it’s trained on. Surely that’s just begging for tons of edge cases. They’re practically made of edge cases.

I’m reminded of a point I saw made a few days ago on Twitter, something I’d never thought about but should have. TurnItIn is a service for universities that checks whether students’ papers match any others, in order to detect cheating. But this is a paid service, one that fundamentally hinges on its corpus: a large collection of existing student papers. So students pay money to attend school, where they’re required to let their work be given to a third-party company, which then profits off of it? What kind of a goofy business model is this?

And my thoughts turn to machine learning, which is fundamentally different from an algorithm you can simply copy from a paper, because it’s all about the training data. And to get good results, you need a lot of training data. Where is that all coming from? How many for-profit companies are setting a neural network loose on the web — on millions of people’s work — and then turning around and selling the result as a product?

This is really a question of how intellectual property works in the internet era, and it continues our proud decades-long tradition of just kinda doing whatever we want without thinking about it too much. Nothing if not consistent.

More of this

A bit tougher, since computers are pretty alright now and everything continues to chug along. Maybe we should just quit while we’re ahead. There’s some real pie-in-the-sky stuff that would be nice, but it certainly won’t happen within a year, and may never happen except in some horrific Algorithmic™ form designed by people that don’t know anything about the problem space and only works 60% of the time but is treated as though it were bulletproof.


The giants are getting more giant. Maybe too giant? Granted, it could be much worse than Google and Amazon — it could be Apple!

Amazon has its own delivery service and brick-and-mortar stores now, as well as providing the plumbing for vast amounts of the web. They’re not doing anything particularly outrageous, but they kind of loom.

Ad company Google just put ad blocking in its majority-share browser — albeit for the ambiguously-noble goal of only blocking obnoxious ads so that people will be less inclined to install a blanket ad blocker.

Twitter is kind of a nightmare but no one wants to leave. I keep trying to use Mastodon as well, but I always forget about it after a day, whoops.

Facebook sounds like a total nightmare but no one wants to leave that either, because normies don’t use anything else, which is itself direly concerning.

IRC is rapidly bleeding mindshare to Slack and Discord, both of which are far better at the things IRC sadly never tried to do and absolutely terrible at the exact things IRC excels at.

The problem is the same as ever: there’s no incentive to interoperate. There’s no fundamental technical reason why Twitter and Tumblr and MySpace and Facebook can’t intermingle their posts; they just don’t, because why would they bother? It’s extra work that makes it easier for people to not use your ecosystem.

I don’t know what can be done about that, except that hope for a really big player to decide to play nice out of the kindness of their heart. The really big federated success stories — say, the web — mostly won out because they came along first. At this point, how does a federated social network take over? I don’t know.

Social progress

I… don’t really have a solid grasp on what’s happening in tech socially at the moment. I’ve drifted a bit away from the industry part, which is where that all tends to come up. I have the vague sense that things are improving, but that might just be because the Rust community is the one I hear the most about, and it puts a lot of effort into being inclusive and welcoming.

So… more projects should be like Rust? Do whatever Rust is doing? And not so much what Linus is doing.

Open source funding

I haven’t heard this brought up much lately, but it would still be nice to see. The Bay Area runs on open source and is raking in zillions of dollars on its back; pump some of that cash back into the ecosystem, somehow.

I’ve seen a couple open source projects on Patreon, which is fantastic, but feels like a very small solution given how much money is flowing through the commercial tech industry.

Ad blocking

Nice. Fuck ads.

One might wonder where the money to host a website comes from, then? I don’t know. Maybe we should loop this in with the above thing and find a more informal way to pay people for the stuff they make when we find it useful, without the financial and cognitive overhead of A Transaction or Giving Someone My Damn Credit Card Number. You know, something like Bitco— ah, fuck.

Year of the Linux Desktop

I don’t know. What are we working on at the moment? Wayland? Do Wayland, I guess. Oh, and hi-DPI, which I hear sucks. And please fix my sound drivers so PulseAudio stops blaming them when it fucks up.

Researchers Use a Blockchain to Boost Anonymous Torrent Sharing

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/researchers-use-a-blockchain-to-boost-anonymous-torrent-sharing-180129/

The Tribler client has been around for over a decade. We first covered it in 2006 and since then it’s developed into a truly decentralized BitTorrent client.

Even if all torrent sites were shut down today, Tribler users would still be able to find and add new content.

The project is not run by regular software developers but by a team of quality researchers at Delft University of Technology. There are currently more than 45 masters students, various thesis students, five dedicated scientific developers, and several professors involved.

Simply put, Triber aims to make the torrent ecosystem truly decentralized and anonymous. A social network of peers that can survive even if all torrent sites ceased to exist.

“Search and download torrents with less worries or censorship,” Triber’s tagline reads.

Like many other BitTorrent clients, Tribler has a search box at the top of the application. However, the search results that appear when users type in a keyword don’t come from a central index. Instead, they come directly from other peers.

Thriber’s search results

With the latest release, Tribler 7.0, the project adds another element to the mix, it’s very own blockchain. This blockchain keeps track of how much people are sharing and rewards them accordingly.

“Tribler is a torrent client for social people, who help each other. You can now earn tokens by helping others. It is specifically designed to prevent freeriding and detect hit-and-run peers.” Tribler leader Dr. Johan Pouwelse tells TF.

“You help other Tribler users by seeding and by enhancing their privacy. In return, you get faster downloads, as your tokens show you contribute to the community.”

Pouwelse, who aims to transform BitTorrent into an ethical Darknet, just presented the latest release at Stanford University. In addition, the Internet Engineering Task Force is also considering the blockchain implementation as an official Internet standard.

This recognition from academics and technology experts is welcome, of course, but Triber’s true power comes from the users. The client has gathered a decent userbase of the years but there sure is plenty room for improvement on this front.

The anonymity aspect is perhaps one of the biggest selling points and Pouwelse believes that this will greatly benefit from the blockchain implementation.

Triber provides users with pseudo anonymity by routing the transfers through other users. However, this means that the amount of bandwith used by the application inceases as well. Thus far, this hasn’t worked very well, which resulted in slow anonymous downloads.

“With the integrated blockchain release today we think we can start fixing the problem of both underseeded swarms and fast proxies,” Dr. Pouwelse says.

“Our solution is basically very simple, only social people get decent performance on Tribler. This means in a few years we will end up with only users that act nice. Others leave.”

Tribler’s trust stats

Tribler provides users with quite a bit of flexibility on the anonymity site. The feature can be turned off completely, or people can choose a protection layer ranging from one to four hops.

What’s also important to note is that users don’t operate as exit nodes by default. The IP-addresses of the exit nodes are public ouitside the network and can be monitored, so that would only increase liability.

So who are the exit-nodes in this process then? According to Pouwelse’s rather colorful description, these appear to be volunteers that run their code through a VPN a or a VPS server.

“The past years we have created an army of bots we call ‘Self-replicating Autonomous Entities’. These are Terminator-style self-replicating pieces of code which have their own Bitcoin wallet to go out there and buy servers to run more copies of themselves,” he explains.

“They utilize very primitive genetic evolution to improve survival, buy a VPN for protection, earn credits using our experimental credit mining preview release, and sell our bandwidth tokens on our integrated decentral market for cold hard Bitcoin cash to renew the cycle of life for the next month billing cycle of their VPS provider.”

Some might question why there’s such a massive research project dedicated to building an anonymous BitTorrent network. What are the benefits to society?

The answer is clear, according to Pouwelse. The ethical darknet they envision will be a unique micro-economy where sharing is rewarded, without having to expose one’s identity.

“We are building the Internet of Trust. The Internet can do amazing things, it even created honesty among drugs dealers,” he says, referring to the infamous Silk Road.

“Reliability rating of drugs lords gets you life imprisonment. That’s not something we want. We are creating our own trustworthy micro-economy for bandwidth tokens and real Bitcoins,” he adds.

People who are interested in taking Tribler for a spin can download the latest version from the official website.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN discounts, offers and coupons

Torrent Pioneers: isoHunt’s Gary Fung, Ten Years Later

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/torrent-pioneers-isohunts-gary-fung-ten-years-later-180106/

Ten years ago, November 2007 to be precise, we published an article featuring the four leading torrent site admins at the time.

Niek van der Maas of Mininova, Justin Bunnell of TorrentSpy, Pirate Bay’s Peter Sunde and isoHunt’s Gary Fung were all kind enough to share their vision of BitTorrent’s future.

This future is the present today, and although the predictions were not all spot-on, there are a few interesting observations to make.

For one, these four men were all known by name, despite the uncertain legal situation they were in. How different is that today, when the operators of most of the world’s largest torrent sites are unknown to the broader public.

Another thing that stands out is that none of these pioneers are still active in the torrent space today. Niek and Justin have their own advertising businesses, Peter is a serial entrepreneur involved in various startups, while Gary works on his own projects.

While they have all moved on, they also remain a part of Internet history, which is why we decided to reach out to them ten years on.

Gary Fung was the first to reply. Those who’ve been following torrent news for a while know that isoHunt was shut down in 2013. The shutdown was the result of a lawsuit and came with a $110 million settlement with the MPAA, on paper.

Today the Canadian entrepreneur has other things on his hands, which includes “leveling up” his now one-year-old daughter. While that can be a day job by itself, he is also finalizing a mobile search app which will be released in the near future.

“The key is speed, and I can measure its speedup of the whole mobile search experience to be 10-100x that of conventional mobile web browsers,” Gary tells us, noting that after years of development, it’s almost ready.

The new search app is not one dedicated to torrents, as isoHunt once was. However, looking back, Gary is proud of what he accomplished with isoHunt, despite the bitter end.

“It was a humbling experience, in more ways than one. I’m proud that I participated and championed the rise of P2P content distribution through isoHunt as a search gateway,” Gary tells us.

“But I was also humbled by the responsibility and power at play, as seen in the lawsuits from the media industry giants, as well as the even larger picture of what P2P technologies were bringing, and still bring today.”

Decentralization has always been a key feature of BitTorrent and Gary sees this coming back in new trends. This includes the massive attention for blockchain related projects such as Bitcoin.

“2017 was the year Bitcoin became mainstream in a big way, and it’s feeling like the Internet before 2000. Decentralization is by nature disruptive, and I can’t wait to see what decentralizing money, governance, organizations and all kinds of applications will bring in the next few years.

“dApps [decentralized apps] made possible by platforms like Ethereum are like generalized BitTorrent for all kinds of applications, with ones we haven’t even thought of yet,” Gary adds.

Not everything is positive in hindsight, of course. Gary tells us that if he had to do it all over again he would take legal issues and lawyers more seriously. Not doing so led to more trouble than he imagined.

As a former torrent site admin, he has thought about the piracy issue quite a bit over the years. And unlike some sites today, he was happy to look for possible solutions to stop piracy.

One solution Gary suggested to Hollywood in the past was a hash recognition system for infringing torrents. A system to automatically filter known infringing files and remove these from cooperating torrent sites could still work today, he thinks.

“ContentID for all files shared on BitTorrent, similar to YouTube. I’ve proposed this to Hollywood studios before, as a better solution to suing their customers and potential P2P technology partners, but it obviously fell on deaf ears.”

In any case, torrent sites and similar services will continue to play an important role in how the media industry evolves. These platforms are showing Hollywood what the public wants, Gary believes.

“It has and will continue to play a role in showing the industry what consumers truly want: frictionless, convenient distribution, without borders of country or bundles. Bundles as in cable channels, but also in any way unwanted content is forced onto consumers without choice.”

While torrents were dominant in the past, the future will be streaming mostly, isoHunt’s founder says. He said this ten years ago, and he believes that in another decade it will have completely replaced cable TV.

Whether piracy will still be relevant then depends on how content is offered. More fragmentation will lead to more piracy, while easier access will make it less relevant.

“The question then will be, will streaming platforms be fragmented and exclusive content bundled into a hundred pieces besides Netflix, or will consumer choice and convenience win out in a cross-platform way?

“A piracy increase or reduction will depend on how that plays out because nobody wants to worry about ten monthly subscriptions to ten different streaming services, much less a hundred,” Gary concludes.

Perhaps we should revisit this again next decade…

The second post in this series, with Peter Sunde, will be published this weekend. The other two pioneers did not respond or declined to take part.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN discounts, offers and coupons

“LOL,” The Pirate Bay Adds Donation Options, Mocks Bitcoin Cash?

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/lol-the-pirate-bay-adds-donation-options-mocks-bitcoin-cash-171227/

The Pirate Bay has been both an early adopter and a pioneer when it comes to cryptocurrencies.

Earlier this year the site made headlines when it started to mine cryptocurrency through its visitors, which proved to be a controversial move. Still, many sites followed Pirate Bay’s example.

Pirate Bay’s interest in cryptocurrency wasn’t new though.

The torrent site first allowed people to donate Bitcoin five years ago, which paid off right away. In little more than a day, 73 transactions were sent to Pirate Bay’s address, adding up to a healthy 5.56 BTC, roughly $700 at the time.

Today, the site still accepts Bitcoin donations. While it doesn’t bring in enough to pay all the bills, it doesn’t hurt either.

Around Christmas, The Pirate Bay decided to expand its cryptocurrency donation options. In addition to the traditional Bitcoin address, the torrent site added a Bitcoin Segwit Bech32 option, plus Litecoin and Monero addresses.

While the new donation options show that The Pirate Bay has faith in multiple currencies, the site doesn’t appear to be a fan of them all. The Bitcoin fork “Bitcoin Cash” is also listed, for example, but in a rather unusual way.

“BCH: Bcash. LOL,” reads a mention posted on the site.

BCH: Bcash. LOL

Those who are following the cryptocurrency scene will know that there has been quite a bit of infighting between some supporters of the Bitcoin Cash project and those of the original Bitcoin in recent weeks.

Several high-profile individuals have criticized Bitcoin’s high transaction fees and limitations, while others have very little faith in the future of the Bitcoin Cash alternative.

Although there are not a lot of details available, the “LOL” mention suggests that the TPB team is in the latter camp.

In recent years The Pirate Bay has received a steady but very modest flow of Bitcoin donations. Lasy year we calculated that it ‘raked’ in roughly $9 per day.

However, with the exponential price increase recently, the modest donations now look pretty healthy. Since 2013 The Pirate Bay received well over 135 BTC in donations, which is good for $2 million today. LOL.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN discounts, offers and coupons

Bitcoin: In Crypto We Trust

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2017/12/bitcoin-in-crypto-we-trust.html

Tim Wu, who coined “net neutrality”, has written an op-ed on the New York Times called “The Bitcoin Boom: In Code We Trust“. He is wrong about “code”.

The wrong “trust”

Wu builds a big manifesto about how real-world institutions can’t be trusted. Certainly, this reflects the rhetoric from a vocal wing of Bitcoin fanatics, but it’s not the Bitcoin manifesto.

Instead, the word “trust” in the Bitcoin paper is much narrower, referring to how online merchants can’t trust credit-cards (for example). When I bought school supplies for my niece when she studied in Canada, the online site wouldn’t accept my U.S. credit card. They didn’t trust my credit card. However, they trusted my Bitcoin, so I used that payment method instead, and succeeded in the purchase.

Real-world currencies like dollars are tethered to the real-world, which means no single transaction can be trusted, because “they” (the credit-card company, the courts, etc.) may decide to reverse the transaction. The manifesto behind Bitcoin is that a transaction cannot be reversed — and thus, can always be trusted.

Deliberately confusing the micro-trust in a transaction and macro-trust in banks and governments is a sort of bait-and-switch.

The wrong inspiration

Wu claims:

“It was, after all, a carnival of human errors and misfeasance that inspired the invention of Bitcoin in 2009, namely, the financial crisis.”

Not true. Bitcoin did not appear fully formed out of the void, but was instead based upon a series of innovations that predate the financial crisis by a decade. Moreover, the financial crisis had little to do with “currency”. The value of the dollar and other major currencies were essentially unscathed by the crisis. Certainly, enthusiasts looking backward like to cherry pick the financial crisis as yet one more reason why the offline world sucks, but it had little to do with Bitcoin.

In crypto we trust

It’s not in code that Bitcoin trusts, but in crypto. Satoshi makes that clear in one of his posts on the subject:

A generation ago, multi-user time-sharing computer systems had a similar problem. Before strong encryption, users had to rely on password protection to secure their files, placing trust in the system administrator to keep their information private. Privacy could always be overridden by the admin based on his judgment call weighing the principle of privacy against other concerns, or at the behest of his superiors. Then strong encryption became available to the masses, and trust was no longer required. Data could be secured in a way that was physically impossible for others to access, no matter for what reason, no matter how good the excuse, no matter what.

You don’t possess Bitcoins. Instead, all the coins are on the public blockchain under your “address”. What you possess is the secret, private key that matches the address. Transferring Bitcoin means using your private key to unlock your coins and transfer them to another. If you print out your private key on paper, and delete it from the computer, it can never be hacked.

Trust is in this crypto operation. Trust is in your private crypto key.

We don’t trust the code

The manifesto “in code we trust” has been proven wrong again and again. We don’t trust computer code (software) in the cryptocurrency world.

The most profound example is something known as the “DAO” on top of Ethereum, Bitcoin’s major competitor. Ethereum allows “smart contracts” containing code. The quasi-religious manifesto of the DAO smart-contract is that the “code is the contract”, that all the terms and conditions are specified within the smart-contract code, completely untethered from real-world terms-and-conditions.

Then a hacker found a bug in the DAO smart-contract and stole most of the money.

In principle, this is perfectly legal, because “the code is the contract”, and the hacker just used the code. In practice, the system didn’t live up to this. The Ethereum core developers, acting as central bankers, rewrote the Ethereum code to fix this one contract, returning the money back to its original owners. They did this because those core developers were themselves heavily invested in the DAO and got their money back.

Similar things happen with the original Bitcoin code. A disagreement has arisen about how to expand Bitcoin to handle more transactions. One group wants smaller and “off-chain” transactions. Another group wants a “large blocksize”. This caused a “fork” in Bitcoin with two versions, “Bitcoin” and “Bitcoin Cash”. The fork championed by the core developers (central bankers) is worth around $20,000 right now, while the other fork is worth around $2,000.

So it’s still “in central bankers we trust”, it’s just that now these central bankers are mostly online instead of offline institutions. They have proven to be even more corrupt than real-world central bankers. It’s certainly not the code that is trusted.

The bubble

Wu repeats the well-known reference to Amazon during the dot-com bubble. If you bought Amazon’s stock for $107 right before the dot-com crash, it still would be one of wisest investments you could’ve made. Amazon shares are now worth around $1,200 each.

The implication is that Bitcoin, too, may have such long term value. Even if you buy it today and it crashes tomorrow, it may still be worth ten-times its current value in another decade or two.

This is a poor analogy, for three reasons.

The first reason is that we knew the Internet had fundamentally transformed commerce. We knew there were going to be winners in the long run, it was just a matter of picking who would win (Amazon) and who would lose (Pets.com). We have yet to prove Bitcoin will be similarly transformative.

The second reason is that businesses are real, they generate real income. While the stock price may include some irrational exuberance, it’s ultimately still based on the rational expectations of how much the business will earn. With Bitcoin, it’s almost entirely irrational exuberance — there are no long term returns.

The third flaw in the analogy is that there are an essentially infinite number of cryptocurrencies. We saw this today as Coinbase started trading Bitcoin Cash, a fork of Bitcoin. The two are nearly identical, so there’s little reason one should be so much valuable than another. It’s only a fickle fad that makes one more valuable than another, not business fundamentals. The successful future cryptocurrency is unlikely to exist today, but will be invented in the future.

The lessons of the dot-com bubble is not that Bitcoin will have long term value, but that cryptocurrency companies like Coinbase and BitPay will have long term value. Or, the lesson is that “old” companies like JPMorgan that are early adopters of the technology will grow faster than their competitors.


The point of Wu’s paper is to distinguish trust in traditional real-world institutions and trust in computer software code. This is an inaccurate reading of the situation.

Bitcoin is not about replacing real-world institutions but about untethering online transactions.

The trust in Bitcoin is in crypto — the power crypto gives individuals instead of third-parties.

The trust is not in the code. Bitcoin is a “cryptocurrency” not a “codecurrency”.

The deal with Bitcoin

Post Syndicated from Michal Zalewski original http://lcamtuf.blogspot.com/2017/12/the-deal-with-bitcoin.html

♪ Used to have a little now I have a lot
I’m still, I’m still Jenny from the block
          chain ♪

For all that has been written about Bitcoin and its ilk, it is curious that the focus is almost solely what the cryptocurrencies are supposed to be. Technologists wax lyrical about the potential for blockchains to change almost every aspect of our lives. Libertarians and paleoconservatives ache for the return to “sound money” that can’t be conjured up at the whim of a bureaucrat. Mainstream economists wag their fingers, proclaiming that a proper currency can’t be deflationary, that it must maintain a particular velocity, or that the government must be able to nip crises of confidence in the bud. And so on.

Much of this may be true, but the proponents of cryptocurrencies should recognize that an appeal to consequences is not a guarantee of good results. The critics, on the other hand, would be best served to remember that they are drawing far-reaching conclusions about the effects of modern monetary policies based on a very short and tumultuous period in history.

In this post, my goal is to ditch most of the dogma, talk a bit about the origins of money – and then see how “crypto” fits the bill.

1. The prehistory of currencies

The emergence of money is usually explained in a very straightforward way. You know the story: a farmer raised a pig, a cobbler made a shoe. The cobbler needed to feed his family while the farmer wanted to keep his feet warm – and so they met to exchange the goods on mutually beneficial terms. But as the tale goes, the barter system had a fatal flaw: sometimes, a farmer wanted a cooking pot, a potter wanted a knife, and a blacksmith wanted a pair of pants. To facilitate increasingly complex, multi-step exchanges without requiring dozens of people to meet face to face, we came up with an abstract way to represent value – a shiny coin guaranteed to be accepted by every tradesman.

It is a nice parable, but it probably isn’t very true. It seems far more plausible that early societies relied on the concept of debt long before the advent of currencies: an informal tally or a formal ledger would be used to keep track of who owes what to whom. The concept of debt, closely associated with one’s trustworthiness and standing in the community, would have enabled a wide range of economic activities: debts could be paid back over time, transferred, renegotiated, or forgotten – all without having to engage in spot barter or to mint a single coin. In fact, such non-monetary, trust-based, reciprocal economies are still common in closely-knit communities: among families, neighbors, coworkers, or friends.

In such a setting, primitive currencies probably emerged simply as a consequence of having a system of prices: a cow being worth a particular number of chickens, a chicken being worth a particular number of beaver pelts, and so forth. Formalizing such relationships by settling on a single, widely-known unit of account – say, one chicken – would make it more convenient to transfer, combine, or split debts; or to settle them in alternative goods.

Contrary to popular belief, for communal ledgers, the unit of account probably did not have to be particularly desirable, durable, or easy to carry; it was simply an accounting tool. And indeed, we sometimes run into fairly unusual units of account even in modern times: for example, cigarettes can be the basis of a bustling prison economy even when most inmates don’t smoke and there are not that many packs to go around.

2. The age of commodity money

In the end, the development of coinage might have had relatively little to do with communal trade – and far more with the desire to exchange goods with strangers. When dealing with a unfamiliar or hostile tribe, the concept of a chicken-denominated ledger does not hold up: the other side might be disinclined to honor its obligations – and get away with it, too. To settle such problematic trades, we needed a “spot” medium of exchange that would be easy to carry and authenticate, had a well-defined value, and a near-universal appeal. Throughout much of the recorded history, precious metals – predominantly gold and silver – proved to fit the bill.

In the most basic sense, such commodities could be seen as a tool to reconcile debts across societal boundaries, without necessarily replacing any local units of account. An obligation, denominated in some local currency, would be created on buyer’s side in order to procure the metal for the trade. The proceeds of the completed transaction would in turn allow the seller to settle their own local obligations that arose from having to source the traded goods. In other words, our wondrous chicken-denominated ledgers could coexist peacefully with gold – and when commodity coinage finally took hold, it’s likely that in everyday trade, precious metals served more as a useful abstraction than a precise store of value. A “silver chicken” of sorts.

Still, the emergence of commodity money had one interesting side effect: it decoupled the unit of debt – a “claim on the society”, in a sense – from any moral judgment about its origin. A piece of silver would buy the same amount of food, whether earned through hard labor or won in a drunken bet. This disconnect remains a central theme in many of the debates about social justice and unfairly earned wealth.

3. The State enters the game

If there is one advantage of chicken ledgers over precious metals, it’s that all chickens look and cluck roughly the same – something that can’t be said of every nugget of silver or gold. To cope with this problem, we needed to shape raw commodities into pieces of a more predictable shape and weight; a trusted party could then stamp them with a mark to indicate the value and the quality of the coin.

At first, the task of standardizing coinage rested with private parties – but the responsibility was soon assumed by the State. The advantages of this transition seemed clear: a single, widely-accepted and easily-recognizable currency could be now used to settle virtually all private and official debts.

Alas, in what deserves the dubious distinction of being one of the earliest examples of monetary tomfoolery, some States succumbed to the temptation of fiddling with the coinage to accomplish anything from feeding the poor to waging wars. In particular, it would be common to stamp coins with the same face value but a progressively lower content of silver and gold. Perhaps surprisingly, the strategy worked remarkably well; at least in the times of peace, most people cared about the value stamped on the coin, not its precise composition or weight.

And so, over time, representative money was born: sooner or later, most States opted to mint coins from nearly-worthless metals, or print banknotes on paper and cloth. This radically new currency was accompanied with a simple pledge: the State offered to redeem it at any time for its nominal value in gold.

Of course, the promise was largely illusory: the State did not have enough gold to honor all the promises it had made. Still, as long as people had faith in their rulers and the redemption requests stayed low, the fundamental mechanics of this new representative currency remained roughly the same as before – and in some ways, were an improvement in that they lessened the insatiable demand for a rare commodity. Just as importantly, the new money still enabled international trade – using the underlying gold exchange rate as a reference point.

4. Fractional reserve banking and fiat money

For much of the recorded history, banking was an exceptionally dull affair, not much different from running a communal chicken
ledger of the old. But then, something truly marvelous happened in the 17th century: around that time, many European countries have witnessed
the emergence of fractional-reserve banks.

These private ventures operated according to a simple scheme: they accepted people’s coin
for safekeeping, promising to pay a premium on every deposit made. To meet these obligations and to make a profit, the banks then
used the pooled deposits to make high-interest loans to other folks. The financiers figured out that under normal circumstances
and when operating at a sufficient scale, they needed only a very modest reserve – well under 10% of all deposited money – to be
able to service the usual volume and size of withdrawals requested by their customers. The rest could be loaned out.

The very curious consequence of fractional-reserve banking was that it pulled new money out of thin air.
The funds were simultaneously accounted for in the statements shown to the depositor, evidently available for withdrawal or
transfer at any time; and given to third-party borrowers, who could spend them on just about anything. Heck, the borrowers could
deposit the proceeds in another bank, creating even more money along the way! Whatever they did, the sum of all funds in the monetary
system now appeared much higher than the value of all coins and banknotes issued by the government – let alone the amount of gold
sitting in any vault.

Of course, no new money was being created in any physical sense: all that banks were doing was engaging in a bit of creative accounting – the sort of which would probably land you in jail if you attempted it today in any other comparably vital field of enterprise. If too many depositors were to ask for their money back, or if too many loans were to go bad, the banking system would fold. Fortunes would evaporate in a puff of accounting smoke, and with the disappearance of vast quantities of quasi-fictitious (“broad”) money, the wealth of the entire nation would shrink.

In the early 20th century, the world kept witnessing just that; a series of bank runs and economic contractions forced the governments around the globe to act. At that stage, outlawing fractional-reserve banking was no longer politically or economically tenable; a simpler alternative was to let go of gold and move to fiat money – a currency implemented as an abstract social construct, with no predefined connection to the physical realm. A new breed of economists saw the role of the government not in trying to peg the value of money to an inflexible commodity, but in manipulating its supply to smooth out economic hiccups or to stimulate growth.

(Contrary to popular beliefs, such manipulation is usually not done by printing new banknotes; more sophisticated methods, such as lowering reserve requirements for bank deposits or enticing banks to invest its deposits into government-issued securities, are the preferred route.)

The obvious peril of fiat money is that in the long haul, its value is determined strictly by people’s willingness to accept a piece of paper in exchange for their trouble; that willingness, in turn, is conditioned solely on their belief that the same piece of paper would buy them something nice a week, a month, or a year from now. It follows that a simple crisis of confidence could make a currency nearly worthless overnight. A prolonged period of hyperinflation and subsequent austerity in Germany and Austria was one of the precipitating factors that led to World War II. In more recent times, dramatic episodes of hyperinflation plagued the fiat currencies of Israel (1984), Mexico (1988), Poland (1990), Yugoslavia (1994), Bulgaria (1996), Turkey (2002), Zimbabwe (2009), Venezuela (2016), and several other nations around the globe.

For the United States, the switch to fiat money came relatively late, in 1971. To stop the dollar from plunging like a rock, the Nixon administration employed a clever trick: they ordered the freeze of wages and prices for the 90 days that immediately followed the move. People went on about their lives and paid the usual for eggs or milk – and by the time the freeze ended, they were accustomed to the idea that the “new”, free-floating dollar is worth about the same as the old, gold-backed one. A robust economy and favorable geopolitics did the rest, and so far, the American adventure with fiat currency has been rather uneventful – perhaps except for the fact that the price of gold itself skyrocketed from $35 per troy ounce in 1971 to $850 in 1980 (or, from $210 to $2,500 in today’s dollars).

Well, one thing did change: now better positioned to freely tamper with the supply of money, the regulators in accord with the bankers adopted a policy of creating it at a rate that slightly outstripped the organic growth in economic activity. They did this to induce a small, steady degree of inflation, believing that doing so would discourage people from hoarding cash and force them to reinvest it for the betterment of the society. Some critics like to point out that such a policy functions as a “backdoor” tax on savings that happens to align with the regulators’ less noble interests; still, either way: in the US and most other developed nations, the purchasing power of any money kept under a mattress will drop at a rate of somewhere between 2 to 10% a year.

5. So what’s up with Bitcoin?

Well… countless tomes have been written about the nature and the optimal characteristics of government-issued fiat currencies. Some heterodox economists, notably including Murray Rothbard, have also explored the topic of privately-issued, decentralized, commodity-backed currencies. But Bitcoin is a wholly different animal.

In essence, BTC is a global, decentralized fiat currency: it has no (recoverable) intrinsic value, no central authority to issue it or define its exchange rate, and it has no anchoring to any historical reference point – a combination that until recently seemed nonsensical and escaped any serious scrutiny. It does the unthinkable by employing three clever tricks:

  1. It allows anyone to create new coins, but only by solving brute-force computational challenges that get more difficult as the time goes by,

  2. It prevents unauthorized transfer of coins by employing public key cryptography to sign off transactions, with only the authorized holder of a coin knowing the correct key,

  3. It prevents double-spending by using a distributed public ledger (“blockchain”), recording the chain of custody for coins in a tamper-proof way.

The blockchain is often described as the most important feature of Bitcoin, but in some ways, its importance is overstated. The idea of a currency that does not rely on a centralized transaction clearinghouse is what helped propel the platform into the limelight – mostly because of its novelty and the perception that it is less vulnerable to government meddling (although the government is still free to track down, tax, fine, or arrest any participants). On the flip side, the everyday mechanics of BTC would not be fundamentally different if all the transactions had to go through Bitcoin Bank, LLC.

A more striking feature of the new currency is the incentive structure surrounding the creation of new coins. The underlying design democratized the creation of new coins early on: all you had to do is leave your computer running for a while to acquire a number of tokens. The tokens had no practical value, but obtaining them involved no substantial expense or risk. Just as importantly, because the difficulty of the puzzles would only increase over time, the hope was that if Bitcoin caught on, latecomers would find it easier to purchase BTC on a secondary market than mine their own – paying with a more established currency at a mutually beneficial exchange rate.

The persistent publicity surrounding Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies did the rest – and today, with the growing scarcity of coins and the rapidly increasing demand, the price of a single token hovers somewhere south of $15,000.

6. So… is it bad money?

Predicting is hard – especially the future. In some sense, a coin that represents a cryptographic proof of wasted CPU cycles is no better or worse than a currency that relies on cotton decorated with pictures of dead presidents. It is true that Bitcoin suffers from many implementation problems – long transaction processing times, high fees, frequent security breaches of major exchanges – but in principle, such problems can be overcome.

That said, currencies live and die by the lasting willingness of others to accept them in exchange for services or goods – and in that sense, the jury is still out. The use of Bitcoin to settle bona fide purchases is negligible, both in absolute terms and in function of the overall volume of transactions. In fact, because of the technical challenges and limited practical utility, some companies that embraced the currency early on are now backing out.

When the value of an asset is derived almost entirely from its appeal as an ever-appreciating investment vehicle, the situation has all the telltale signs of a speculative bubble. But that does not prove that the asset is destined to collapse, or that a collapse would be its end. Still, the built-in deflationary mechanism of Bitcoin – the increasing difficulty of producing new coins – is probably both a blessing and a curse.

It’s going to go one way or the other; and when it’s all said and done, we’re going to celebrate the people who made the right guess. Because future is actually pretty darn easy to predict — in retrospect.

"Crypto" Is Being Redefined as Cryptocurrencies

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/12/crypto_is_being.html

I agree with Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, “Cryptocurrencies aren’t ‘crypto’“:

Lately on the internet, people in the world of Bitcoin and other digital currencies are starting to use the word “crypto” as a catch-all term for the lightly regulated and burgeoning world of digital currencies in general, or for the word “cryptocurrency” — which probably shouldn’t even be called “currency,” by the way.


To be clear, I’m not the only one who is mad about this. Bitcoin and other technologies indeed do use cryptography: all cryptocurrency transactions are secured by a “public key” known to all and a “private key” known only to one party­ — this is the basis for a swath of cryptographic approaches (known as public key, or asymmetric cryptography) like PGP. But cryptographers say that’s not really their defining trait.

“Most cryptocurrency barely has anything to do with serious cryptography,” Matthew Green, a renowned computer scientist who studies cryptography, told me via email. “Aside from the trivial use of digital signatures and hash functions, it’s a stupid name.”

It is a stupid name.

timeShift(GrafanaBuzz, 1w) Issue 24

Post Syndicated from Blogs on Grafana Labs Blog original https://grafana.com/blog/2017/12/01/timeshiftgrafanabuzz-1w-issue-24/

Welcome to TimeShift

It’s hard to believe it’s already December. Here at Grafana Labs we’ve been spending a lot of time working on new features and enhancements for Grafana v5, and finalizing our selections for GrafanaCon EU. This week we have some interesting articles to share and a number of plugin updates. Enjoy!

Latest Release

Grafana 4.6.2 is now available and includes some bug fixes:

  • Prometheus: Fixes bug with new Prometheus alerts in Grafana. Make sure to download this version if you’re using Prometheus for alerting. More details in the issue. #9777
  • Color picker: Bug after using textbox input field to change/paste color string #9769
  • Cloudwatch: build using golang 1.9.2 #9667, thanks @mtanda
  • Heatmap: Fixed tooltip for “time series buckets” mode #9332
  • InfluxDB: Fixed query editor issue when using > or < operators in WHERE clause #9871

Download Grafana 4.6.2 Now

From the Blogosphere

Monitoring Camel with Prometheus in Red Hat OpenShift: This in-depth walk-through will show you how to build an Apache Camel application from scratch, deploy it in a Kubernetes environment, gather metrics using Prometheus and display them in Grafana.

How to run Grafana with DeviceHive: We see more and more examples of people using Grafana in IoT. This article discusses how to gather data from the IoT platform, DeviceHive, and build useful dashboards.

How to Install Grafana on Linux Servers: Pretty self-explanatory, but this tutorial walks you installing Grafana on Ubuntu 16.04 and CentOS 7. After installation, it covers configuration and plugin installation. This is the first article in an upcoming series about Grafana.

Monitoring your AKS cluster with Grafana: It’s important to know how your application is performing regardless of where it lives; the same applies to Kubernetes. This article focuses on aggregating data from Kubernetes with Heapster and feeding it to a backend for Grafana to visualize.

CoinStatistics: With the price of Bitcoin skyrocketing, more and more people are interested in cryptocurrencies. This is a cool dashboard that has a lot of stats about popular cryptocurrencies, and has a calculator to let you know when you can buy that lambo.

Using OpenNTI As A Collector For Streaming Telemetry From Juniper Devices: Part 1: This series will serve as a quick start guide for getting up and running with streaming real-time telemetry data from Juniper devices. This first article covers some high-level concepts and installation, while part 2 covers configuration options.

How to Get Metrics for Advance Alerting to Prevent Trouble: What good is performance monitoring if you’re never told when something has gone wrong? This article suggests ways to be more proactive to prevent issues and avoid the scramble to troubleshoot issues.

Thoughtworks: Technology Radar: We got a shout-out in the latest Technology Radar in the Tools section, as the dashboard visualization tool of choice for Prometheus!

GrafanaCon Tickets are Going Fast

Tickets are going fast for GrafanaCon EU, but we still have a seat reserved for you. Join us March 1-2, 2018 in Amsterdam for 2 days of talks centered around Grafana and the surrounding monitoring ecosystem including Graphite, Prometheus, InfluxData, Elasticsearch, Kubernetes, and more.

Get Your Ticket Now

Grafana Plugins

We have a number of plugin updates to highlight this week. Authors improve plugins regularly to fix bugs and improve performance, so it’s important to keep your plugins up to date. We’ve made updating easy; for on-prem Grafana, use the Grafana-cli tool, or update with 1 click if you’re using Hosted Grafana.


Clickhouse Data Source – The Clickhouse Data Source received a substantial update this week. It now has support for Ace Editor, which has a reformatting function for the query editor that automatically formats your sql. If you’re using Clickhouse then you should also have a look at CHProxy – see the plugin readme for more details.



Influx Admin Panel – This panel received a number of small fixes. A new version will be coming soon with some new features.

Some of the changes (see the release notes) for more details):

  • Fix issue always showing query results
  • When there is only one row, swap rows/cols (ie: SHOW DIAGNOSTICS)
  • Improve auto-refresh behavior
  • Show ‘message’ response. (ie: please use POST)
  • Fix query time sorting
  • Show ‘status’ field (killed, etc)



Gnocchi Data Source – The latest version of the Gnocchi Data Source adds support for dynamic aggregations.



BT Plugins – All of the BT panel plugins received updates this week.

Upcoming Events:

In between code pushes we like to speak at, sponsor and attend all kinds of conferences and meetups. We have some awesome talks and events coming soon. Hope to see you at one of these!

KubeCon | Austin, TX – Dec. 6-8, 2017: We’re sponsoring KubeCon 2017! This is the must-attend conference for cloud native computing professionals. KubeCon + CloudNativeCon brings together leading contributors in:

  • Cloud native applications and computing
  • Containers
  • Microservices
  • Central orchestration processing
  • And more

Buy Tickets

FOSDEM | Brussels, Belgium – Feb 3-4, 2018: FOSDEM is a free developer conference where thousands of developers of free and open source software gather to share ideas and technology. Carl Bergquist is managing the Cloud and Monitoring Devroom, and we’ve heard there were some great talks submitted. There is no need to register; all are welcome.

Tweet of the Week

We scour Twitter each week to find an interesting/beautiful dashboard and show it off! #monitoringLove

YIKES! Glad it’s not – there’s good attention and bad attention.

Grafana Labs is Hiring!

We are passionate about open source software and thrive on tackling complex challenges to build the future. We ship code from every corner of the globe and love working with the community. If this sounds exciting, you’re in luck – WE’RE HIRING!

Check out our Open Positions

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A Thanksgiving Carol: How Those Smart Engineers at Twitter Screwed Me

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2017/11/a-thanksgiving-carol-how-those-smart.html

Thanksgiving Holiday is a time for family and cheer. Well, a time for family. It’s the holiday where we ask our doctor relatives to look at that weird skin growth, and for our geek relatives to fix our computers. This tale is of such computer support, and how the “smart” engineers at Twitter have ruined this for life.

My mom is smart, but not a good computer user. I get my enthusiasm for science and math from my mother, and she has no problem understanding the science of computers. She keeps up when I explain Bitcoin. But she has difficulty using computers. She has this emotional, irrational belief that computers are out to get her.

This makes helping her difficult. Every problem is described in terms of what the computer did to her, not what she did to her computer. It’s the computer that needs to be fixed, instead of the user. When I showed her the “haveibeenpwned.com” website (part of my tips for securing computers), it showed her Tumblr password had been hacked. She swore she never created a Tumblr account — that somebody or something must have done it for her. Except, I was there five years ago and watched her create it.

Another example is how GMail is deleting her emails for no reason, corrupting them, and changing the spelling of her words. She emails the way an impatient teenager texts — all of us in the family know the misspellings are not GMail’s fault. But I can’t help her with this because she keeps her GMail inbox clean, deleting all her messages, leaving no evidence behind. She has only a vague description of the problem that I can’t make sense of.

This last March, I tried something to resolve this. I configured her GMail to send a copy of all incoming messages to a new, duplicate account on my own email server. With evidence in hand, I would then be able solve what’s going on with her GMail. I’d be able to show her which steps she took, which buttons she clicked on, and what caused the weirdness she’s seeing.

Today, while the family was in a state of turkey-induced torpor, my mom brought up a problem with Twitter. She doesn’t use Twitter, she doesn’t have an account, but they keep sending tweets to her phone, about topics like Denzel Washington. And she said something about “peaches” I didn’t understand.

This is how the problem descriptions always start, chaotic, with mutually exclusive possibilities. If you don’t use Twitter, you don’t have the Twitter app installed, so how are you getting Tweets? Over much gnashing of teeth, it comes out that she’s getting emails from Twitter, not tweets, about Denzel Washington — to someone named “Peaches Graham”. Naturally, she can only describe these emails, because she’s already deleted them.

“Ah ha!”, I think. I’ve got the evidence! I’ll just log onto my duplicate email server, and grab the copies to prove to her it was something she did.

I find she is indeed receiving such emails, called “Moments”, about topics trending on Twitter. They are signed with “DKIM”, proving they are legitimate rather than from a hacker or spammer. The only way that can happen is if my mother signed up for Twitter, despite her protestations that she didn’t.

I look further back and find that there were also confirmation messages involved. Back in August, she got a typical Twitter account signup message. I am now seeing a little bit more of the story unfold with this “Peaches Graham” name on the account. It wasn’t my mother who initially signed up for Twitter, but Peaches, who misspelled the email address. It’s one of the reasons why the confirmation process exists, to make sure you spelled your email address correctly.

It’s now obvious my mom accidentally clicked on the [Confirm] button. I don’t have any proof she did, but it’s the only reasonable explanation. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have gotten the “Moments” messages. My mom disputed this, emphatically insisting she never clicked on the emails.

It’s at this point that I made a great mistake, saying:

“This sort of thing just doesn’t happen. Twitter has very smart engineers. What’s the chance they made the mistake here, or…”.

I recognized condescension of words as they came out of my mouth, but dug myself deeper with:

“…or that the user made the error?”

This was wrong to say even if I were right. I have no excuse. I mean, maybe I could argue that it’s really her fault, for not raising me right, but no, this is only on me.

Regardless of what caused the Twitter emails, the problem needs to be fixed. The solution is to take control of the Twitter account by using the password reset feature. I went to the Twitter login page, clicked on “Lost Password”, got the password reset message, and reset the password. I then reconfigured the account to never send anything to my mom again.

But when I logged in I got an error saying the account had not yet been confirmed. I paused. The family dog eyed me in wise silence. My mom hadn’t clicked on the [Confirm] button — the proof was right there. Moreover, it hadn’t been confirmed for a long time, since the account was created in 2011.

I interrogated my mother some more. It appears that this has been going on for years. She’s just been deleting the emails without opening them, both the “Confirmations” and the “Moments”. She made it clear she does it this way because her son (that would be me) instructs her to never open emails she knows are bad. That’s how she could be so certain she never clicked on the [Confirm] button — she never even opens the emails to see the contents.

My mom is a prolific email user. In the last eight months, I’ve received over 10,000 emails in the duplicate mailbox on my server. That’s a lot. She’s technically retired, but she volunteers for several charities, goes to community college classes, and is joining an anti-Trump protest group. She has a daily routine for triaging and processing all the emails that flow through her inbox.

So here’s the thing, and there’s no getting around it: my mom was right, on all particulars. She had done nothing, the computer had done it to her. It’s Twitter who is at fault, having continued to resend that confirmation email every couple months for six years. When Twitter added their controversial “Moments” feature a couple years back, somehow they turned on Notifications for accounts that technically didn’t fully exist yet.

Being right this time means she might be right the next time the computer does something to her without her touching anything. My attempts at making computers seem rational has failed. That they are driven by untrustworthy spirits is now a reasonable alternative.

Those “smart” engineers at Twitter screwed me. Continuing to send confirmation emails for six years is stupid. Sending Notifications to unconfirmed accounts is stupid. Yes, I know at the bottom of the message it gives a “Not my account” selection that she could have clicked on, but it’s small and easily missed. In any case, my mom never saw that option, because she’s been deleting the messages without opening them — for six years.

Twitter can fix their problem, but it’s not going to help mine. Forever more, I’ll be unable to convince my mom that the majority of her problems are because of user error, and not because the computer people are out to get her.

Don Jr.: I’ll bite

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2017/11/don-jr-ill-bite.html

So Don Jr. tweets the following, which is an excellent troll. So I thought I’d bite. The reason is I just got through debunk Democrat claims about NetNeutrality, so it seems like a good time to balance things out and debunk Trump nonsense.

The issue here is not which side is right. The issue here is whether you stand for truth, or whether you’ll seize any factoid that appears to support your side, regardless of the truthfulness of it. The ACLU obviously chose falsehoods, as I documented. In the following tweet, Don Jr. does the same.

It’s a preview of the hyperpartisan debates are you are likely to have across the dinner table tomorrow, which each side trying to outdo the other in the false-hoods they’ll claim.

What we see in this number is a steady trend of these statistics since the Great Recession, with no evidence in the graphs showing how Trump has influenced these numbers, one way or the other.

Stock markets at all time highs

This is true, but it’s obviously not due to Trump. The stock markers have been steadily rising since the Great Recession. Trump has done nothing substantive to change the market trajectory. Also, he hasn’t inspired the market to change it’s direction.
To be fair to Don Jr., we’ve all been crediting (or blaming) presidents for changes in the stock market despite the fact they have almost no influence over it. Presidents don’t run the economy, it’s an inappropriate conceit. The most influence they’ve had is in harming it.

Lowest jobless claims since 73

Again, let’s graph this:

As we can see, jobless claims have been on a smooth downward trajectory since the Great Recession. It’s difficult to see here how President Trump has influenced these numbers.

6 Trillion added to the economy

What he’s referring to is that assets have risen in value, like the stock market, homes, gold, and even Bitcoin.
But this is a well known fallacy known as Mercantilism, believing the “economy” is measured by the value of its assets. This was debunked by Adam Smith in his book “The Wealth of Nations“, where he showed instead the the “economy” is measured by how much it produces (GDP – Gross Domestic Product) and not assets.
GDP has grown at 3.0%, which is pretty good compared to the long term trend, and is better than Europe or Japan (though not as good as China). But Trump doesn’t deserve any credit for this — today’s rise in GDP is the result of stuff that happened years ago.
Assets have risen by $6 trillion, but that’s not a good thing. After all, when you sell your home for more money, the buyer has to pay more. So one person is better off and one is worse off, so the net effect is zero.
Actually, such asset price increase is a worrisome indicator — we are entering into bubble territory. It’s the result of a loose monetary policy, low interest rates and “quantitative easing” that was designed under the Obama administration to stimulate the economy. That’s why all assets are rising in value. Normally, a rise in one asset means a fall in another, like selling gold to pay for houses. But because of loose monetary policy, all assets are increasing in price. The amazing rise in Bitcoin over the last year is as much a result of this bubble growing in all assets as it is to an exuberant belief in Bitcoin.
When this bubble collapses, which may happen during Trump’s term, it’ll really be the Obama administration who is to blame. I mean, if Trump is willing to take credit for the asset price bubble now, I’m willing to give it to him, as long as he accepts the blame when it crashes.

1.5 million fewer people on food stamps

As you’d expect, I’m going to debunk this with a graph: the numbers have been falling since the great recession. Indeed, in the previous period under Obama, 1.9 fewer people got off food stamps, so Trump’s performance is slight ahead rather than behind Obama. Of course, neither president is really responsible.

Consumer confidence through the roof

Again we are going to graph this number:

Again we find nothing in the graph that suggests President Trump is responsible for any change — it’s been improving steadily since the Great Recession.

One thing to note is that, technically, it’s not “through the roof” — it still quite a bit below the roof set during the dot-com era.

Lowest Unemployment rate in 17 years

Again, let’s simply graph it over time and look for Trump’s contribution. as we can see, there doesn’t appear to be anything special Trump has done — unemployment has steadily been improving since the Great Recession.
But here’s the thing, the “unemployment rate” only measures those looking for work, not those who have given up. The number that concerns people more is the “labor force participation rate”. The Great Recession kicked a lot of workers out of the economy.
Mostly this is because Baby Boomer are now retiring an leaving the workforce, and some have chosen to retire early rather than look for another job. But there are still some other problems in our economy that cause this. President Trump has nothing particular in order to solve these problems.


As we see, Don Jr’s tweet is a troll. When we look at the graphs of these indicators going back to the Great Recession, we don’t see how President Trump has influenced anything. The improvements this year are in line with the improvements last year, which are in turn inline with the improvements in the previous year.
To be fair, all parties credit their President with improvements during their term. President Obama’s supporters did the same thing. But at least right now, with these numbers, we can see that there’s no merit to anything in Don Jr’s tweet.
The hyperpartisan rancor in this country is because neither side cares about the facts. We should care. We should care that these numbers suck, even if we are Republicans. Conversely, we should care that those NetNeutrality claims by Democrats suck, even if we are Democrats.

Game of Thrones Leaks “Carried Out By Former Iranian Military Hacker”

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/game-of-thrones-leaks-carried-out-by-former-iranian-military-hacker-171122/

Late July it was reported that hackers had stolen proprietary information from media giant HBO.

The haul was said to include confidential details of the then-unreleased fourth episode of the latest Game of Thrones season, plus episodes of Ballers, Barry, Insecure, and Room 104.

“Hi to all mankind,” an email sent to reporters read. “The greatest leak of cyber space era is happening. What’s its name? Oh I forget to tell. Its HBO and Game of Thrones……!!!!!!”

In follow-up correspondence, the hackers claimed to have penetrated HBO’s internal network, gaining access to emails, technical platforms, and other confidential information.

Image released by the hackers

Soon after, HBO chairman and CEO Richard Plepler confirmed a breach at his company, telling employees that there had been a “cyber incident” in which information and programming had been taken.

“Any intrusion of this nature is obviously disruptive, unsettling, and disturbing for all of us. I can assure you that senior leadership and our extraordinary technology team, along with outside experts, are working round the clock to protect our collective interests,” he said.

During mid-August, problems persisted, with unreleased shows hitting the Internet. HBO appeared rattled by the ongoing incident, refusing to comment to the media on every new development. Now, however, it appears the tide is turning on HBO’s foe.

In a statement last evening, Joon H. Kim, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Division of the FBI, announced the unsealing of an indictment charging a 29-year-old man with offenses carried out against HBO.

“Behzad Mesri, an Iranian national who had previously hacked computer systems for the Iranian military, allegedly infiltrated HBO’s systems, stole proprietary data, including scripts and plot summaries for unaired episodes of Game of Thrones, and then sought to extort HBO of $6 million in Bitcoins,” Kim said.

“Mesri now stands charged with federal crimes, and although not arrested today, he will forever have to look over his shoulder until he is made to face justice. American ingenuity and creativity is to be cultivated and celebrated — not hacked, stolen, and held for ransom. For hackers who test our resolve in protecting our intellectual property — even those hiding behind keyboards in countries far away — eventually, winter will come.”

According to the Department of Justice, Mesri honed his computer skills working for the Iranian military, conducting cyber attacks against enemy military systems, nuclear software, and Israeli infrastructure. He was also a member of the Turk Black Hat hacking team which defaced hundreds of websites with the online pseudonym “Skote Vahshat”.

The indictment states that Mesri began his campaign against HBO during May 2017, when he conducted “online reconnaissance” of HBO’s networks and employees. Between May and July, he then compromised a number of HBO employee user accounts and used them to access the company’s data and TV shows, copying them to his own machines.

After allegedly obtaining around 1.5 terabytes of HBO’s data, Mesri then began to extort HBO, warning that unless a ransom of $5.5 million wasn’t paid in Bitcoin, the leaking would begin. When the amount wasn’t paid, three days later Mesri told HBO that the amount had now risen to $6m and as an additional punishment, data could be wiped from HBO’s servers.

Subsequently, on or around July 30 and continuing through August 2017, Mesri allegedly carried through with his threats, leaking information and TV shows online and promoting them via emails to members of the press.

As a result of the above, Mesri is charged with one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, one count of computer hacking (five years), three counts of threatening to impair the confidentiality of information (five years each), and one count of interstate transmission of an extortionate communication (two years). No copyright infringement offenses are mentioned in the indictment.

The big question now is whether the US will ever get their hands on Mesri. The answer to that, at least through any official channels, seems to be a resounding no. There is no extradition treaty between the US and Iran meaning that if Mesri stays put, he’s likely to remain a free man.


Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN discounts, offers and coupons

How to Recover From Ransomware

Post Syndicated from Roderick Bauer original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/complete-guide-ransomware/

Here’s the scenario. You’re working on your computer and you notice that it seems slower. Or perhaps you can’t access document or media files that were previously available.

You might be getting error messages from Windows telling you that a file is of an “Unknown file type” or “Windows can’t open this file.”

Windows error message

If you’re on a Mac, you might see the message “No associated application,” or “There is no application set to open the document.”

MacOS error message

Another possibility is that you’re completely locked out of your system. If you’re in an office, you might be looking around and seeing that other people are experiencing the same problem. Some are already locked out, and others are just now wondering what’s going on, just as you are.

Then you see a message confirming your fears.

wana decrypt0r ransomware message

You’ve been infected with ransomware.

You’ll have lots of company this year. The number of ransomware attacks on businesses tripled in the past year, jumping from one attack every two minutes in Q1 to one every 40 seconds by Q3.There were over four times more new ransomware variants in the first quarter of 2017 than in the first quarter of 2016, and damages from ransomware are expected to exceed $5 billion this year.

Growth in Ransomware Variants Since December 2015

Source: Proofpoint Q1 2017 Quarterly Threat Report

This past summer, our local PBS and NPR station in San Francisco, KQED, was debilitated for weeks by a ransomware attack that forced them to go back to working the way they used to prior to computers. Five months have passed since the attack and they’re still recovering and trying to figure out how to prevent it from happening again.

How Does Ransomware Work?

Ransomware typically spreads via spam or phishing emails, but also through websites or drive-by downloads, to infect an endpoint and penetrate the network. Once in place, the ransomware then locks all files it can access using strong encryption. Finally, the malware demands a ransom (typically payable in bitcoins) to decrypt the files and restore full operations to the affected IT systems.

Encrypting ransomware or “cryptoware” is by far the most common recent variety of ransomware. Other types that might be encountered are:

  • Non-encrypting ransomware or lock screens (restricts access to files and data, but does not encrypt them)
  • Ransomware that encrypts the Master Boot Record (MBR) of a drive or Microsoft’s NTFS, which prevents victims’ computers from being booted up in a live OS environment
  • Leakware or extortionware (exfiltrates data that the attackers threaten to release if ransom is not paid)
  • Mobile Device Ransomware (infects cell-phones through “drive-by downloads” or fake apps)

The typical steps in a ransomware attack are:

After it has been delivered to the system via email attachment, phishing email, infected application or other method, the ransomware installs itself on the endpoint and any network devices it can access.
Secure Key Exchange
The ransomware contacts the command and control server operated by the cybercriminals behind the attack to generate the cryptographic keys to be used on the local system.
The ransomware starts encrypting any files it can find on local machines and the network.
With the encryption work done, the ransomware displays instructions for extortion and ransom payment, threatening destruction of data if payment is not made.
Organizations can either pay the ransom and hope for the cybercriminals to actually decrypt the affected files (which in many cases does not happen), or they can attempt recovery by removing infected files and systems from the network and restoring data from clean backups.

Who Gets Attacked?

Ransomware attacks target firms of all sizes — 5% or more of businesses in the top 10 industry sectors have been attacked — and no no size business, from SMBs to enterprises, are immune. Attacks are on the rise in every sector and in every size of business.

Recent attacks, such as WannaCry earlier this year, mainly affected systems outside of the United States. Hundreds of thousands of computers were infected from Taiwan to the United Kingdom, where it crippled the National Health Service.

The US has not been so lucky in other attacks, though. The US ranks the highest in the number of ransomware attacks, followed by Germany and then France. Windows computers are the main targets, but ransomware strains exist for Macintosh and Linux, as well.

The unfortunate truth is that ransomware has become so wide-spread that for most companies it is a certainty that they will be exposed to some degree to a ransomware or malware attack. The best they can do is to be prepared and understand the best ways to minimize the impact of ransomware.

“Ransomware is more about manipulating vulnerabilities in human psychology than the adversary’s technological sophistication.” — James Scott, expert in Artificial Intelligence

Phishing emails, malicious email attachments, and visiting compromised websites have been common vehicles of infection (we wrote about protecting against phishing recently), but other methods have become more common in past months. Weaknesses in Microsoft’s Server Message Block (SMB) and Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) have allowed cryptoworms to spread. Desktop applications — in one case an accounting package — and even Microsoft Office (Microsoft’s Dynamic Data Exchange — DDE) have been the agents of infection.

Recent ransomware strains such as Petya, CryptoLocker, and WannaCry have incorporated worms to spread themselves across networks, earning the nickname, “cryptoworms.”

How to Defeat Ransomware

Isolate the Infection
Prevent the infection from spreading by separating all infected computers from each other, shared storage, and the network.
Identify the Infection
From messages, evidence on the computer, and identification tools, determine which malware strain you are dealing with.
Report to the authorities to support and coordinate measures to counter attacks.
Determine Your Options
You have a number of ways to deal with the infection. Determine which approach is best for you.
Restore and Refresh
Use safe backups and program and software sources to restore your computer or outfit a new platform.
Plan to Prevent Recurrence
Make an assessment of how the infection occurred and what you can do to put measures into place that will prevent it from happening again.

1 — Isolate the Infection

The rate and speed of ransomware detection is critical in combating fast moving attacks before they succeed in spreading across networks and encrypting vital data.

The first thing to do when a computer is suspected of being infected is to isolate it from other computers and storage devices. Disconnect it from the network (both wired and Wi-Fi) and from any external storage devices. Cryptoworms actively seek out connections and other computers, so you want to prevent that happening. You also don’t want the ransomware communicating across the network with its command and control center.

Be aware that there may be more than just one patient zero, meaning that the ransomware may have entered your organization or home through multiple computers, or may be dormant and not yet shown itself on some systems. Treat all connected and networked computers with suspicion and apply measures to ensure that all systems are not infected.

This Week in Tech (TWiT.tv) did a videocast showing what happens when WannaCry is released on an isolated system and encrypts files and trys to spread itself to other computers. It’s a great lesson on how these types of cryptoworms operate.

2 — Identify the Infection

Most often the ransomware will identify itself when it asks for ransom. There are numerous sites that help you identify the ransomware, including ID Ransomware. The No More Ransomware! Project provides the Crypto Sheriff to help identify ransomware.

Identifying the ransomware will help you understand what type of ransomware you have, how it propagates, what types of files it encrypts, and maybe what your options are for removal and disinfection. It also will enable you to report the attack to the authorities, which is recommended.

wanna decryptor 2.0 ransomware message

WannaCry Ransomware Extortion Dialog

3 — Report to the Authorities

You’ll be doing everyone a favor by reporting all ransomware attacks to the authorities. The FBI urges ransomware victims to report ransomware incidents regardless of the outcome. Victim reporting provides law enforcement with a greater understanding of the threat, provides justification for ransomware investigations, and contributes relevant information to ongoing ransomware cases. Knowing more about victims and their experiences with ransomware will help the FBI to determine who is behind the attacks and how they are identifying or targeting victims.

You can file a report with the FBI at the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

There are other ways to report ransomware, as well.

4 — Determine Your Options

Your options when infected with ransomware are:

  1. Pay the ransom
  2. Try to remove the malware
  3. Wipe the system(s) and reinstall from scratch

It’s generally considered a bad idea to pay the ransom. Paying the ransom encourages more ransomware, and in most cases the unlocking of the encrypted files is not successful.

In a recent survey, more than three-quarters of respondents said their organization is not at all likely to pay the ransom in order to recover their data (77%). Only a small minority said they were willing to pay some ransom (3% of companies have already set up a Bitcoin account in preparation).

Even if you decide to pay, it’s very possible you won’t get back your data.

5 — Restore or Start Fresh

You have the choice of trying to remove the malware from your systems or wiping your systems and reinstalling from safe backups and clean OS and application sources.

Get Rid of the Infection

There are internet sites and software packages that claim to be able to remove ransomware from systems. The No More Ransom! Project is one. Other options can be found, as well.

Whether you can successfully and completely remove an infection is up for debate. A working decryptor doesn’t exist for every known ransomware, and unfortunately it’s true that the newer the ransomware, the more sophisticated it’s likely to be and a perhaps a decryptor has not yet been created.

It’s Best to Wipe All Systems Completely

The surest way of being certain that malware or ransomware has been removed from a system is to do a complete wipe of all storage devices and reinstall everything from scratch. If you’ve been following a sound backup strategy, you should have copies of all your documents, media, and important files right up to the time of the infection.

Be sure to determine as well as you can from file dates and other information what was the date of infection. Consider that an infection might have been dormant in your system for a while before it activated and made significant changes to your system. Identifying and learning about the particular malware that attacked your systems will enable you to understand how that malware operates and what your best strategy should be for restoring your systems.

Backblaze Backup enables you to go back in time and specify the date prior to which you wish to restore files. That date should precede the date your system was infected.

Choose files to restore from earlier date in Backblaze Backup

If you’ve been following a good backup policy with both local and off-site backups, you should be able to use backup copies that you are sure were not connected to your network after the time of attack and hence protected from infection. Backup drives that were completely disconnected should be safe, as are files stored in the cloud, as with Backblaze Backup.

System Restores Are not the Best Strategy for Dealing with Ransomware and Malware

You might be tempted to use a System Restore point to get your system back up and running. System Restore is not a good solution for removing viruses or other malware. Since malicious software is typically buried within all kinds of places on a system, you can’t rely on System Restore being able to root out all parts of the malware. Instead, you should rely on a quality virus scanner that you keep up to date. Also, System Restore does not save old copies of your personal files as part of its snapshot. It also will not delete or replace any of your personal files when you perform a restoration, so don’t count on System Restore as working like a backup. You should always have a good backup procedure in place for all your personal files.

Local backups can be encrypted by ransomware. If your backup solution is local and connected to a computer that gets hit with ransomware, the chances are good your backups will be encrypted along with the rest of your data.

With a good backup solution that is isolated from your local computers, such as Backblaze Backup, you can easily obtain the files you need to get your system working again. You have the flexility to determine which files to restore, from which date you want to restore, and how to obtain the files you need to restore your system.

Choose how to obtain your backup files

You’ll need to reinstall your OS and software applications from the source media or the internet. If you’ve been managing your account and software credentials in a sound manner, you should be able to reactivate accounts for applications that require it.

If you use a password manager, such as 1Password or LastPass, to store your account numbers, usernames, passwords, and other essential information, you can access that information through their web interface or mobile applications. You just need to be sure that you still know your master username and password to obtain access to these programs.

6 — How to Prevent a Ransomware Attack

“Ransomware is at an unprecedented level and requires international investigation.” — European police agency EuroPol

A ransomware attack can be devastating for a home or a business. Valuable and irreplaceable files can be lost and tens or even hundreds of hours of effort can be required to get rid of the infection and get systems working again.

Security experts suggest several precautionary measures for preventing a ransomware attack.

  1. Use anti-virus and anti-malware software or other security policies to block known payloads from launching.
  2. Make frequent, comprehensive backups of all important files and isolate them from local and open networks. Cybersecurity professionals view data backup and recovery (74% in a recent survey) by far as the most effective solution to respond to a successful ransomware attack.
  3. Keep offline backups of data stored in locations inaccessible from any potentially infected computer, such as external storage drives or the cloud, which prevents them from being accessed by the ransomware.
  4. Install the latest security updates issued by software vendors of your OS and applications. Remember to Patch Early and Patch Often to close known vulnerabilities in operating systems, browsers, and web plugins.
  5. Consider deploying security software to protect endpoints, email servers, and network systems from infection.
  6. Exercise cyber hygiene, such as using caution when opening email attachments and links.
  7. Segment your networks to keep critical computers isolated and to prevent the spread of malware in case of attack. Turn off unneeded network shares.
  8. Turn off admin rights for users who don’t require them. Give users the lowest system permissions they need to do their work.
  9. Restrict write permissions on file servers as much as possible.
  10. Educate yourself, your employees, and your family in best practices to keep malware out of your systems. Update everyone on the latest email phishing scams and human engineering aimed at turning victims into abettors.

It’s clear that the best way to respond to a ransomware attack is to avoid having one in the first place. Other than that, making sure your valuable data is backed up and unreachable by ransomware infection will ensure that your downtime and data loss will be minimal or avoided completely.

Have you endured a ransomware attack or have a strategy to avoid becoming a victim? Please let us know in the comments.

The post How to Recover From Ransomware appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

BitBarista: a fully autonomous corporation

Post Syndicated from Alex Bate original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/bitbarista/

To some people, the idea of a fully autonomous corporation might seem like the beginning of the end. However, while the BitBarista coffee machine prototype can indeed run itself without any human interference, it also teaches a lesson about ethical responsibility and the value of quality.


Bitcoin coffee machine that engages coffee drinkers in the value chain

Autonomous corporations

If you’ve played Paperclips, you get it. And in case you haven’t played Paperclips, I will only say this: give a robot one job and full control to complete the task, and things may turn in a very unexpected direction. Or, in the case of Rick and Morty, they end in emotional breakdown.


While the fully autonomous BitBarista resides primarily on the drawing board, the team at the University of Edinburgh’s Center for Design Informatics have built a proof-of-concept using a Raspberry Pi and a Delonghi coffee maker.

BitBarista fully autonomous coffee machine using Raspberry Pi

Recently described by the BBC as ‘a coffee machine with a life of its own, dispensing coffee to punters with an ethical preference’, BitBarista works in conjunction with customers to source coffee and complete maintenance tasks in exchange for BitCoin payments. Customers pay for their coffee in BitCoin, and when BitBarista needs maintenance such as cleaning, water replenishment, or restocking, it can pay the same customers for completing those tasks.

BitBarista fully autonomous coffee machine using Raspberry Pi

Moreover, customers choose which coffee beans the machine purchases based on quality, price, environmental impact, and social responsibility. BitBarista also collects and displays data on the most common bean choices.

BitBarista fully autonomous coffee machine using Raspberry Pi

So not only is BitBarista a study into the concept of full autonomy, it’s also a means of data collection about the societal preference of cost compared to social and environmental responsibility.

For more information on BitBarista, visit the Design Informatics and PETRAS websites.

Home-made autonomy

Many people already have store-bought autonomous technology within their homes, such as the Roomba vacuum cleaner or the Nest Smart Thermostat. And within the maker community, many more still have created such devices using sensors, mobile apps, and microprocessors such as the Raspberry Pi. We see examples using the Raspberry Pi on a daily basis, from simple motion-controlled lights and security cameras to advanced devices using temperature sensors and WiFi technology to detect the presence of specific people.

How to Make a Smart Security Camera with a Raspberry Pi Zero

In this video, we use a Raspberry Pi Zero W and a Raspberry Pi camera to make a smart security camera! The camera uses object detection (with OpenCV) to send you an email whenever it sees an intruder. It also runs a webcam so you can view live video from the camera when you are away.

To get started building your own autonomous technology, you could have a look at our resources Laser tripwire and Getting started with picamera. These will help you build a visitor register of everyone who crosses the threshold a specific room.

Or build your own Raspberry Pi Zero W Butter Robot for the lolz.

The post BitBarista: a fully autonomous corporation appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Assassins Creed Origin DRM Hammers Gamers’ CPUs

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/assassins-creed-origin-drm-hammers-gamers-cpus-171030/

There’s a war taking place on the Internet. On one side: gaming companies, publishers, and anti-piracy outfits. On the other: people who varying reasons want to play and/or test games for free.

While these groups are free to battle it out in a manner of their choosing, innocent victims are getting caught up in the crossfire. People who pay for their games without question should be considered part of the solution, not the problem, but whether they like it or not, they’re becoming collateral damage in an increasingly desperate conflict.

For the past several days, some players of the recently-released Assassin’s Creed Origins have emerged as what appear to be examples of this phenomenon.

“What is the normal CPU usage for this game?” a user asked on Steam forums. “I randomly get between 60% to 90% and I’m wondering if this is too high or not.”

The individual reported running an i7 processor, which is no slouch. However, for those running a CPU with less oomph, matters are even worse. Another gamer, running an i5, reported a 100% load on all four cores of his processor, even when lower graphics settings were selected in an effort to free up resources.

“It really doesn’t seem to matter what kind of GPU you are using,” another complained. “The performance issues most people here are complaining about are tied to CPU getting maxed out 100 percent at all times. This results in FPS [frames per second] drops and stutter. As far as I know there is no workaround.”

So what could be causing these problems? Badly configured machines? Terrible coding on the part of the game maker?

According to Voksi, whose ‘Revolt’ team cracked Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus before its commercial release last week, it’s none of these. The entire problem is directly connected to desperate anti-piracy measures.

As widely reported (1,2), the infamous Denuvo anti-piracy technology has been taking a beating lately. Cracking groups are dismantling it in a matter of days, sometimes just hours, making the protection almost pointless. For Assassin’s Creed Origins, however, Ubisoft decided to double up, Voksi says.

“Basically, Ubisoft have implemented VMProtect on top of Denuvo, tanking the game’s performance by 30-40%, demanding that people have a more expensive CPU to play the game properly, only because of the DRM. It’s anti-consumer and a disgusting move,” he told TorrentFreak.

Voksi says he knows all of this because he got an opportunity to review the code after obtaining the binaries for the game. Here’s how it works.

While Denuvo sits underneath doing its thing, it’s clearly vulnerable to piracy, given recent advances in anti-anti-piracy technology. So, in a belt-and-braces approach, Ubisoft opted to deploy another technology – VMProtect – on top.

VMProtect is software that protects other software against reverse engineering and cracking. Although the technicalities are different, its aims appear to be somewhat similar to Denuvo, in that both seek to protect underlying systems from being subverted.

“VMProtect protects code by executing it on a virtual machine with non-standard architecture that makes it extremely difficult to analyze and crack the software. Besides that, VMProtect generates and verifies serial numbers, limits free upgrades and much more,” the company’s marketing reads.

VMProtect and Denuvo didn’t appear to be getting on all that well earlier this year but they later settled their differences. Now their systems are working together, to try and solve the anti-piracy puzzle.

“It seems that Ubisoft decided that Denuvo is not enough to stop pirates in the crucial first days [after release] anymore, so they have implemented an iteration of VMProtect over it,” Voksi explains.

“This is great if you are looking to save your game from those pirates, because this layer of VMProtect will make Denuvo a lot more harder to trace and keygen than without it. But if you are a legit customer, well, it’s not that great for you since this combo could tank your performance by a lot, especially if you are using a low-mid range CPU. That’s why we are seeing 100% CPU usage on 4 core CPUs right now for example.”

The situation is reportedly so bad that some users are getting the dreaded BSOD (blue screen of death) due to their machines overheating after just an hour or two’s play. It remains unclear whether these crashes are indeed due to the VMProtect/Denuvo combination but the perception is that these anti-piracy measures are at the root of users’ CPU utilization problems.

While gaming companies can’t be blamed for wanting to protect their products, there’s no sense in punishing legitimate consumers with an inferior experience. The great irony, of course, is that when Assassin’s Creed gets cracked (if that indeed happens anytime soon), pirates will be the only ones playing it without the hindrance of two lots of anti-piracy tech battling over resources.

The big question now, however, is whether the anti-piracy wall will stand firm. If it does, it raises the bizarre proposition that future gamers might need to buy better hardware in order to accommodate anti-piracy technology.

And people worry about bitcoin mining……?

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Blockchain? It’s All Greek To Me…

Post Syndicated from Bozho original https://techblog.bozho.net/blockchain-its-all-greek-to-me/

The blockchain hype is huge, the ICO craze (“Coindike”) is generating millions if not billions of “funding” for businesses that claim to revolutionize basically anything.

I’ve been following all of that for a while. I got my first (and only) Bitcoin several years ago, I know how the technology works, I’ve implemented the data structure part, I’ve tried (with varying success) to install an Ethereum wallet since almost as soon as Ethereum appeared, and I’ve read and subscribed to newsletters about dozens of projects and new cryptocurrencies, including storj.io, siacoin, namecoin, etc. I would say I’m at least above average in terms of knowledge on how the cryptocurrencies, blockchain, smart contracts, EVM, proof-of-wahtever operates. And I’ve voiced my concerns about the technology in general.

Now it’s rant time.

I’ve been reading whitepapers of various projects, I’ve been to various meetups and talks, I’ve been reading the professed future applications of the blockchain, and I have to admit – it’s all Greek to me. I have no clue what these people are talking about. And why would all of that make any sense. I still think I’m not clever enough to understand the upcoming revolution, but there’s also a cynical side of me that says “this is all a scam”.

Why “X on the blockchain” somehow makes it magical and superior to a good old centralized solution? No, spare me the cliches about “immutable ledger”, “lack of central authority” and the likes. These are the phrases that a person learns after reading literally one article about blockchain. Have you actually written anything apart from a complex-sounding whitepaper or a hello-world smart contract? Do you really know how the overlay network works, how the economic incentives behind that network work, how all the cryptography works? Maybe there are many, many people that indeed know that and they know it better than me and are thus able to imagine the business case behind “X on the blockchain”.

I can’t. I can’t see why it would be useful to abandon a centralized database that you can query in dozens of ways, test easily and scale trivially in favour of a clunky write-only, low-throughput, hard-to-debug privacy nightmare that is any public blockchain. And how do you imagine to gain a substantial userbase with an ecosystem where the Windows client for the 2nd most popular blockchain (Ethereum) has been so buggy, I (a software engineer) couldn’t get it work and sync the whole chain. And why would building a website ontop of that clunky, user-unfriendly database has any benefit over a centralized competitor?

Do we all believe that somehow the huge datacenters with guarnateed power backups, regular hardware and network checks, regular backups and overall – guaranteed redundancy – will somehow be beaten by a few thousand machines hosting a software that has the sole purpose of guaranteeing integrity? Bitcoin has 10 thousand nodes. Ethereum has 22 thousand nodes. And while these nodes are probably very well GPU-equipped, they aren’t supercomputers. Amazon’s AWS has a million servers. How’s that for comparison. And why would anyone take seriously 22 thousand non-servers. Or even 220 thousand, if we believe in some inevitable growth.

Don’t get me wrong, the technology is really cool. The way tamper-evident data structures (hash chains) were combined with a consensus algorithm, an overlay network and a financial incentive is really awesome. When you add a distributed execution environment, it gets even cooler. But is it suitable for literally everything? I fail to see how.

I’m sure I’m missing something. The fact that many of those whitepapers sound increasingly like Greek to me might hint that I’m just a dumb developer and those enlightened people are really onto something huge. I guess time will tell.

But I happen to be living in a country that saw a transition to capitalism in the years of my childhood. And there were a lot of scams and ponzi schemes that people believed in. Because they didn’t know how capitalism works, how the market works. I’m seeing some similarities – we have no idea how the digital realm really works, and so a lot of scams are bound to appear, until we as a society learn the basics.

Until then – enjoy your ICO, enjoy your tokens, enjoy your big-player competitor with practically the same business model, only on a worse database.

And I hope that after the smoke of hype and fraud clears, we’ll be able to enjoy the true benefits of the blockchain innovation.

The post Blockchain? It’s All Greek To Me… appeared first on Bozho's tech blog.