An anonymous reader writes "Michael Nielsen has written a detailed article describing the nuts and bolts of a Bitcoin transaction. He builds the concepts from the ground up, starting with a basic, no-frills digital currency. He then examines it for flaws and tweaks the currency to patch up areas where we run into technical or security problems. Eventually, he ends up with Bitcoin, and explains how a transaction works. It's an interesting, technical read; much more in-depth than any explanation I've heard. Here's a brief snippet from a walkthrough of the transaction data: 'One thing to note about the input is that there's nothing explicitly specifying how many bitcoins from the previous transaction should be spent in this transaction. In fact, all the bitcoins from the n=0th output of the previous transaction are spent. So, for example, if the n=0th output of the earlier transaction was 2 bitcoins, then 2 bitcoins will be spent in this transaction. This seems like an inconvenient restriction – like trying to buy bread with a 20 dollar note, and not being able to break the note down. The solution, of course, is to have a mechanism for providing change. This can be done using transactions with multiple inputs and outputs...'" Bitcoin is going through another period of heavy fluctuation: it fell from a high of around $1,200 per bitcoin to roughly half that, and as of this writing trade around $760 per bitcoin.
Want business-intelligence news delivered to your inbox? Signup for SlashBI Update now.
Nerval's Lobster writes "Bank of America has issued a research report suggesting that the crypto-currency Bitcoin could become 'a major means of payment for e-commerce' on its way to emerging as 'a serious competitor to traditional money transfer providers.' The bank attaches a 'maximum market capitalization' of Bitcoin at roughly $1,300, based on its position as a 'major player in both e-commerce and money transfer' as well as 'a significant store of value with a reputation close to silver.' Bitcoin has come close to exceeding that theoretical ceiling in recent weeks, although its valuation dove today after the People's Bank of China decided to declare it a volatile 'currency' without real legal status; that financial institution is also concerned about its use in money laundering and black markets. Bank of America sees Bitcoins' advantages as low transaction costs, its finite supply (which will protect its value), and its increasing attractiveness as an alternative to 'traditional' cash. As with the People's Bank of China, however, the bank sees the currency's extreme volatility and lack of legal backing as a bad thing, and frowns at the possibility that regulators could step in and increase transaction costs. 'A 50 minute wait before payment receipt confirmation is received will prohibit wider use,' the report adds. 'This is less of an issue for two parties that know each other because they trust the other will not double spend, but when dealing with an anonymous counterparty this creates a high level of unhedgeable risk.' Without a 'central counterparty' to verify transactions and thus mitigate that risk, Bitcoin could fail to break into wider use."
quantr writes with this excerpt from Bloomberg: "China's central bank barred financial institutions from handling Bitcoin transactions, moving to regulate the virtual currency after an 89-fold jump in its value sparked a surge of investor interest in the country. Bitcoin plunged more than 20 percent to below $1,000 on the BitStamp Internet exchange after the People's Bank of China said it isn't a currency with 'real meaning' and doesn't have the same legal status. The public is free to participate in Internet transactions provided they take on the risk themselves, it said. The ban reflects concern about the risk the digital currency may pose to China's capital controls and financial stability after a surge in trading this year made the country the world's biggest trader of Bitcoin, according to exchange operator BTC China. Bitcoin's price jumped more than ninefold in the past two months alone, prompting former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan to call it a 'bubble.' 'The concern is that it interferes with normal monetary policy operation,' said Hao Hong, head of China research at Bocom International Holdings Co. in Hong Kong. 'It represents an unofficial leakage to the current monetary system and trades globally. It is difficult to regulate and could be used for money laundering.'"
Pseudonymous Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto (whether that name represents one person or several) is believed to hold many millions of dollars in Bitcoin. Various attempts have been made to pin down Nakamoto's identity; the IB Times reports today that a (sadly anonymous) analysis points to George Washington University economics professor Nick Szabo, based on textual analysis and some other clues, such as Szabo's expertise in digital currency and his role as founder of GoldCoin. Szabo's blog Unenumerated is fascinating reading, whether or not this analysis is right.
BitVulture writes "Richard Stallman took time to air his views on the crypto-currency that has become virtually as valuable as gold. In an interview with Russian media giant RT, Stallman praised Bitcoin for allowing people to 'send money to someone without getting the permission of a payment company'. But he also warned against a major weakness of Bitcoin and called for the development of 'a system for truly anonymous payment' online."
CowboyRobot writes "In November, Denmark-based Bitcoin Internet Payment System suffered a DDoS attack. Unfortunately for users of the company's free online wallets for storing bitcoins, the DDoS attack was merely a smokescreen for a digital heist that quickly drained numerous wallets, netting the attackers a reported 1,295 bitcoins — worth nearly $1 million — and leaving wallet users with little chance that they'd ever see their money again. Given the potential spoils from a successful online heist, related attacks are becoming more common. But not all bitcoin heists have been executed via hack attacks or malware. For example, a China-based bitcoin exchange called GBL launched in May. Almost 1,000 people used the service to deposit bitcoins worth about $4.1 million. But the exchange was revealed to be an elaborate scam after whoever launched the site shut it down on October 26 and absconded with the funds. The warnings are all the same: 'Don't trust any online wallet', 'Find alternative storage solutions as soon as possible', and 'You don't have to keep your Bitcoins online with someone else. You can store your Bitcoins yourself, encrypted and offline.'"
hypnosec writes "Bitcoin miners are being integrated with third party potentially unwanted programs (PUPs) that come bundled with legitimate applications. These miners surreptitiously carry out Bitcoin mining operations on the user's system consuming valuable CPU time without explicitly asking for user's consent. Malwarebytes, the company which found evidence of these miners, first came across such an instance of a Bitcoin miner when one of the users of its software requested for assistance on November 22 through a forum post. The user revealed that 'jh1d.exe' was taking up over 50 percent of the CPU resource and even after manual deletion the executable was re-appearing. Malwarebytes dug deeper into this and found traces of a miner 'jhProtominer,' a popular mining software that runs via the command line". However, it seems that the company behind the application has a specific clause 3 in EULA that talks about mathematical calculations similar to Bitcoin mining operation. This means that the company behind the software can and will install Bitcoin miners and use system resources to perform operations as required to mine Bitcoins and keep the rewards for themselves."
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Economist Edward Hadas writes in the NYT that developers of bitcoin are trying to show that money can be successfully privatized but money that is not issued by governments is always doomed to failure because money is inevitably a tool of the state. 'Bitcoin exemplifies some of the problems of private money,' says Hadas. 'Its value is uncertain, its legal status is unclear, and it could easily become valueless if users lose faith.' Besides, if bitcoin ever really started to take off, governments would either ban it or take over the system says Hadas. The authorities might be motivated by a genuine concern about the stability of a shadow monetary system or they might act out of self-preservation because tax evasion would be too easy in a parallel economy. 'Part of the interest in virtual currencies like bitcoin is that their anonymity can provide a convenient cloak for criminal activity. Part is technological — this is a cool idea. And part is speculative — gamblers bet that bitcoin's value will increase,' concludes Hadas. 'Truly private money is an inferior alternative to the money that comes with the backing of a political authority. After all, no bank or bitcoin-emitter can be as public-minded as a government, and no private power can raise taxes or pass laws to unwind monetary excesses.'" Could be there's something good about money that can't be manipulated by law. Some people at least think there's plenty of value in Bitcoin and similar currencies, despite the risks. And those risks at present probably aren't enough to comfort the unfortunate Welsh fellow who (HT to reader judgecorp) "has realised he threw out a hard drive containing 7500 bitcoins, worth £4 million at today's prices. It is now under four feet of garbage in a landfill site the size of a football pitch."
An anonymous reader writes with this bit from The Next Web "Bitcoin hit a new milestone today, passing the $1,000 mark for the first time. The virtual currency is currently trading above the four-digit figure, with its highest at $1,030 on Mt. Gox, one of the largest exchanges. Last week, Bitcoin's high for the day was $632. That means its trading value has surged 62.83 percent in a week, assuming we're looking at just its high points. That figure could of course rise even further if Bitcoin continues to push further up throughout the day."
wabrandsma writes "Two Israeli computer scientists say they may have uncovered a puzzling financial link between Ross William Ulbricht, the recently arrested operator of the Internet black market known as the Silk Road, and the secretive inventor of bitcoin, the anonymous online currency, used to make Silk Road purchases."
First time accepted submitter saidi writes "The Washington Post reports that yesterday a truly massive Bitcoin transaction occurred, from the article: 'In this particular transaction, bitcoins from 15 different Bitcoin addresses were consolidated and sent to address 12sENwECeRSmTeDwyLNqwh47JistZqFmW8. The size of the transaction? 194,993 bitcoins. Given that one bitcoin is worth around $800 right now, the transaction is valued at more than $150 million.'" A researcher did a bit of digging, and it appears that this was the Bitstamp exchange moving their balance around (business appears brisk).
First time accepted submitter memnock writes "ABC new reports: 'Political organizations can't accept contributions in the form of bitcoins, at least for now, The Federal Election Commission said Thursday. The commission passed on a request by the Conservative Action Fund, a political action committee, to use the digital currency. That group had asked the FEC recently whether it could accept bitcoins, how it could spend them and how donors must report those contributions. It was not immediately clear whether the same ruling would apply to individual political candidates.' Slashdot reported earlier this week that other federal agencies have taken positions that may recognize or regulate the currency."
Nerval's Lobster writes "Bitcoin hype has reached orbit: you can now use the virtual currency to fly on Virgin Galactic, which will begin taking passengers on sub-orbital flights in 2014. 'One future astronaut, a female flight attendant from Hawaii, has already purchased her Virgin Galactic ticket using bitcoins,' Virgin CEO Richard Branson wrote in a blog posting on Virgin's Website, 'and we expect many more to follow in her footsteps. All of our future astronauts are pioneers in their own right, and this is one more way to be forward-thinking.' Branson is an investor in Bitcoin, which has seen its per-unit value skyrocket from $10 to $900 over the past two years (today, its value stands at $766, but that could rapidly change). 'The lack of transparency from Bitcoin's founders has attracted some criticism, but its open source nature means anyone can audit the code,' he added in his posting. 'It is a brilliantly conceived idea to allow users to power the peer-to-peer payment network themselves, providing control and freedom for consumers.' A flight aboard Virgin Galactic costs $250,000, or roughly 320 Bitcoin at today's price. However, Bitcoin is also a volatile currency, diving and spiking in response to a variety of factors—while it's certainly possible that its value could zoom above $1,000 in the near future, there's always the possibility it could crash down to a few hundred dollars, or even lower."
An anonymous reader writes "The University of Nicosia has begun accepting bitcoins as payment for its courses, as well as launching a Master of Science degree focusing on digital currencies. The announcement is part of a proposal set up by the university to develop the Mediterranean island into a hub for bitcoin trading, processing and banking, as use of the virtual currency continues to gain traction." Warning: Auto-playing ad, with sound.
Daniel_Stuckey writes "Congress held its first-ever hearing on virtual currencies this afternoon, and it may have been the best PR boost bitcoin's had yet. The tone at the hearing held before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee was overwhelmingly positive as the panel weighed the risks of the technology that grew out of the criminal underbelly of the web, with the potential economic value of the now-booming futurist money. The prevailing sentiment over the two-hour deep dive into the pros and cons of the digital coins boils down to this: We need to uphold America's position as center of technical innovation by welcoming the new currency—but that that can't be done without government safeguards and regulations." SonicSpike wrote in with a link to another report in Bloomberg. The Federal Reserve has no plans to regulate Bitcoin (lacking regulatory authority), but the SEC chair wrote "Regardless of whether an underlying virtual currency is itself a security, interests issued by entities owning virtual currencies or providing returns based on assets such as virtual currencies likely would be securities and therefore subject to our regulation."
schwit1 writes "As Silk Road emerged from the 'dark-web', other sites have appeared offering services that are frowned upon by most. As Forbes reports, perhaps the most-disturbing is 'The Assassination Market' run by a pseudonymous Kuwabatake Sanjuro. The site, remarkably, is a crowdfunding service that lets anyone anonymously contribute bitcoins towards a bounty on the head of any government official–a kind of Kickstarter for political assassinations. As Forbes reports, NSA Director Alexander and President Obama have a BTC40 bounty (~$24,000) but the highest bounty — perhaps not entirely surprising — is BTC 124.14 (~$75,000) for none other than Ben Bernanke."
An anonymous reader writes "The value of bitcoin has surged through the $400 barrier for the first time, as unprecedented growth sees the virtual currency's value quadruple in just three months. Meanwhile, on 18 November, a Senate subcommittee is scheduled to hold a hearing on virtual currencies like bitcoin and its lesser-known competitors litecoin and altcoin. The hearing comes after a unit of the Treasury Department earlier this year issued guidelines stating virtual currencies should be subject to the same anti-money-laundering laws as traditional currency-transfer businesses like Western Union."
An anonymous reader writes "A Chinese Bitcoin exchange has vanished without trace, taking more than $4 million of the virtual currency with it and leaving profit-hungry investors out of pocket. GBL, the Chinese Bitcoin exchange was launched in May 2013 and putatively based in Hong Kong, despite its servers being registered in Beijing. However GBL's Hong Kong offices do not exist. GBL mysteriously disappeared in early November taking an estimated $4.1m (£2.6m) of Bitcoins with it." (Beware the auto-playing ads, with sound.)
Trailrunner7 writes "In the wake of the publication of a new academic paper that says there is a fundamental flaw in the Bitcoin protocol that could allow a small cartel of participants to become powerful enough that it could take over the mining process and gather a disproportionate amount of the value in the system, researchers are debating the potential value of the attack and whether it's actually practical in the real world. The paper, published this week by researchers at Cornell University, claims that Bitcoin is broken, but critics say there's a foundational flaw in the paper's assertions. ... The idea of a majority of Bitcoin miners joining together to dominate the system isn't new, but the Cornell researchers say that a smaller pool of one third of the miners could achieve the same result, and that once they have, there would be a snowball effect with other miners joining this cartel to increase their own piece of the pie. However, other researchers have taken issue with this analysis, saying that it wouldn't hold together in the real world. 'The most serious flaw, perhaps, is that, contrary to their claims, a coalition of ES-miners [selfish miners] would not be stable, because members of the coalition would have an incentive to cheat on their coalition partners, by using a strategy that I'll call fair-weather mining,' Ed Felten, a professor of computer science and public affairs at Princeton University and director of the Center for Information Technology Policy, wrote in an analysis of the paper."
SonicSpike writes with this excerpt from Politico: "Political campaigns will be allowed to accept — but not spend — the digital currency Bitcoin, under a proposed federal rule released Thursday. The Federal Election Commission draft would require campaigns to first convert any Bitcoins collected as donation to dollars. According to the proposal, the currency will count as an 'in-kind' contribution to a campaign — like a stock or bond. The FEC will not consider them currency. Campaigns are permitted to accept non-monetary contributions like stocks, private stocks, commodities, and equipment— but must list their value in dollars on campaign finance reports. Attorneys for Conservative Action Fund PAC asked the agency in September to decide if and how political candidates and outside groups are allowed to use the digital currency, in addition to U.S. dollars. "