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Bitcoin Fork Avoided

Published July 21, 2017

The last few days have been an intense ride for cryptoasset holders.

The Enterprise Ethereum Alliance announced on Tuesday that MasterCard and Cisco were joining their group to help develop the standard for Ethereum-based enterprise. Whilst these companies are working mostly on private versions of Ethereum, the goal is to make them interoperable with the ever-growing public chain (the Ethereum that we know).

The Ethereum client Parity, which is used by many thousands to interact and write code for the Ethereum blockchain was exploited. Some poorly written/audited code allowed anyone to reassign ownership of its multi-signature wallets (don’t worry, if you’re new to Ethereum and don’t follow the above then your funds are safe). $30M was stolen as a result, however the damage could have been far worse – Ethereum’s “White Hat Group” who helped to secure funds during the DAO debacle of last year, were also able to secure $100M+ of ETH using the same exploit found in Parity. Prices crashed briefly but soon recovered.

The biggest news of all has been today’s “lock in” of the SegWit2x proposal (also known as the New York Agreement). Enough miners (94.4% in the last 24 hours) have signalled support for the change, meaning that – assuming nodes also support SegWit2x – SegWit will be introduced on the Bitcoin blockchain before August 1st. What all this means is that there will not be a hard fork on August 1st and that the Bitcoin network will allow for far greater transaction throughput (nowhere near enough to compete with VISA and co, but a giant step in the right direction).

The User Activated Soft Fork (UASF) that threatened to split Bitcoin in two on August 1st has played a critical role in forcing the hand of those powerful miners. It has shown that despite miners having enormous control over the network, their power can be influenced by “grass roots” code changes from users.

Overall, the last week has been turbulent for cryptoasset prices across the board. The outcome is now an extremely positive one, and the future is looking very bright indeed.

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Putting A Value On Ether

Published July 11, 2017

With the recent wholesale crash of the cryptocurrency market, many investors will be reevaluating their positions and considering the true value of Ether. Why is each Ethereum token worth $200, or for that matter – why was it worth $400, and how could it possibly be worth over $1,000 as so many were claiming during the frenzied hysteria of May and June. This brief piece will look at some of the fundamental considerations of the Ethereum blockchain, which may go some way to helping you to decide on whether Ether is priced fairly, or whether it is still sitting within a giant cryptocurrency bubble.

What is the supply of Ether?

The current circulating supply of Ether at the time of publication is ~94 million. 5 Ether is “minted” roughly every 15 seconds (mining). However, an “ice age” is coming, whereby mining will become so difficult that it is no longer feasible, and Ether issuance through mining will fall to zero. Instead of mining, users will commit to “staking” instead (discussed further below). The Ether payout for this new consensus mechanism will have a much smaller payout, as the costs of staking are negligible compared to the costs of mining (electricity). As a result, it has been estimated that the inflation rate of Ether will be in the region of 0-3% when this new consensus mechanism – called Proof of Stake – comes into play in early 2018. Inflation may even be negative.

Why is there demand for Ether today?

When discussing demand, we are looking at clear reasons as to why an individual or institution would buy and hold Ether. Someone may wish to purchase Ether to participate in an ICO, but demand such as this is largely irrelevant as a significant proportion of Ether raised during an ICO will be sold off to pay for operating costs. The same applies to remittance markets, where the demand for Ether is quickly offset by its subsequent sale. Why would someone choose to buy and hold Ether today?

  • Untethering from fiat systems
  • Ethereum is a volatile currency, however it does not experience volatility for the same reasons that the US Dollar or Euro might. By untethering from the fiat system, individuals and businesses are able to sidestep fiat currency risks whilst taking sovereignty (and privacy) over their own wealth.

  • Buying Ether to hold
  • Speculation is by far the biggest driver of demand today. Investors will purchase Ether to buy and hold over the long term, believing that in the years to come, there will be an overwhelming demand for Ether and the need to interact with the Ethereum blockchain.

Why will there be demand for Ether in the future?

The use cases for Ethereum are fairly limited in today’s terms, however there is an enormous amount of development underway which could see this blockchain reach billions of people much like the internet does today.

  • Regularly interacting with smart contracts and IoT
  • In the not too distant future, IoT devices will need to transact value autonomously. Using smart, rapid and cheap microtransactions will be essential, and Ethereum provides the most secure blockchain for making such transactions. Smart contracts will also be an essential application for many different industries, reducing operational costs for those in insurance, gambling and logistics among many others.

  • Staking Ether in validating contracts
  • Following the “ice age” and a move to Proof of Stake consensus as a means to secure the Ethereum blockchain, it will be possible for Ether holders to stake coins in specialized smart contracts. These contracts will reward the staker with “interest” paid in Ether, but will require that the amount staked (the deposit) is time locked for a minimum length (likely to be months). Once Proof of Stake is introduced, the circulating supply is expected to drop significantly as millions of Ether get time locked in these staking contracts. Demand may too increase as investors look to earn passive income through these interest payments.

  • Interacting with an enterprise framework being developed by the EEA
  • The Enterprise Ethereum Alliance is a collection of Fortune 500 companies as well as startups and individuals who are working together to produce the industry standard for building businesses on Ethereum. These companies include BP, Microsoft, BNY Mellon, JP Morgan, ING, Deloitte and dozens of others. If the time and cost saving impact of technologies like JP Morgan’s Quorum are to be believed, then future demand for Ethereum tokens by large corporations could be huge.

Smart contracts stand to improve the lives of billions of people through their transparent and trustless nature. These same smart contracts could connect billions more devices, making the need to hold Ether (human or machine) a necessity. With an effective supply cap estimated to be roughly 100m, Ether could become a highly demanded and scarce resource whose price has no upper bound. The only question that remains is whether these smart contracts can deliver on a massive scale.

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An Age of Ransomware & Crypto-Criminals

Published June 29, 2017

Ransomware is an unfortunate inevitability of an increasingly digital society, and it will only become more prevalent as more assets are stored in 1s and 0s. The price of Ethereum and others have so far been resilient in the face of this new form of digital theft – hardly shifting following WannaCry and now Petya (although the latter may have had a slightly different agenda). And as cryptocurrencies implement features which allow for greater anonymity (Ethereum intends to do just this following the release of Metropolis), the incentive to conduct further ransomware attacks will only strengthen. Despite the relatively tiny amounts stolen by these ransomware attacks (tens of thousands, as opposed to millions), the mere existence of such a sinister term goes a long way to supporting a mainstream narrative that “cryptocurrencies enable criminals”.

There are two major risks that Ethereum and the price of Ether faces today, many of which – if realized at a large scale – could be catastrophic for investors. These are:

  • Platform risk – exploitable software bugs or major unforeseen roadblocks for scaling/development
  • Regulatory risk – government interference and overreach

Of these two major risks, the latter seems to be most likely – at least in the short term – and one that ransomware plays into the hands of.

There will be calls to ban encryption

UK prime minister Theresa May notoriously called for a ban on “end-to-end encryption” following a spate of extremist violence. While there was no plan for exactly how to achieve such a ban, it somewhat cemented the idea that there would be government push back in the fight for individual sovereignty/privacy. Unfortunately for May’s supporters, encryption is based on mathematical truths which follow the fundamental laws of the universe. Anyone can anonymously encrypt a message or a digital asset if they are provided the right tools.

One day, it is likely that crypoassets like Ether will replace the US Dollar as the currency of choice for terrorists and criminals. As that day nears, a governmental attack on encryption may well begin brewing, justified by a mainstream misunderstanding of the value of digitized, fungible and private cash. Whilst it seems unlikely that such a ban would ever see the light of day, it is not impossible to imagine a short period in our history where which cryptocurrencies are pushed underground, generating further problems and justifying even heavier handed policies.

An alternative outlook on ransomware

Despite the emotive and destructive nature of ransomware, there is a positive outcome from its use. For many individuals and organisations, there is an irrational bias towards physical security over that of their digital assets. If a door to an office is left open, or valuable items are left on the backseat of a car, then “clearly” there’s a risk of theft. However, running a 15 year old operating system or using 8 lowercase characters as the password to your email is – to some – not clearly a risk at all. Ransomware is the “bug bounty” of hacking. Individuals are unwittingly rewarding those who discover holes in their digital security. It is ransomware that will force users to look at digital security in a new light, pushing forward what is a natural and necessary evolution of a digital society.

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Flash Crash and ICO Fever

Published June 22, 2017

If you blinked yesterday, you may have missed something that sent some investors – briefly – into panic. The price of Ether experienced a flash crash on the GDAX exchange, falling from $328 to a temporary trading price of as low as $0.10. A “multi-million dollar” amount of Ether was dumped on the market, buying up orders between $317.81 to $224.48 and triggering a cascade of liquidations that sent the price plummeting. Despite quickly recovering, the event (which has happened before and will happen again) highlighted how much the market can be moved by a single whale – of which there are now many.

The timing wasn’t ideal, as the price of Ether had already been experiencing significant volatility following the token sale. Status, which was raising funds to develop its mobile “gateway to the decentralized world of Ethereum” had raised so much money (exact amount to be confirmed) in such a short period of time that the Ethereum network ground to a near-halt. At the time of writing, nearly 100,000 transactions have been sent to the token sale contract which opened 48 hours ago – this does not take into account the many tens of thousands of transactions that were not even broadcast through 3rd party services like MyEtherWallet. To put that figure into perspective, the entire network averaged only 50,000 transactions per day this time last year.

The falling price may well have been a wake up call to those unaware of just how challenging Ethereum’s scaling problem is. With a maximum network throughput of roughly 15 transactions per second, there is desperate need for a scaling solution if Ethereum is to become the “world computer”. However, unlike Bitcoin’s scaling debate which has lasted a number of years, the solutions to scaling the Ethereum blockchain are generally agreed and may be realized in the coming months. These solutions include “offchain” payment channels like Raiden and the shift to a Proof of Stake consensus mechanism and “sharding“. A proposal by the Ethereum Foundation’s, Nick Johnson also highlighted the potential for running token sales through an “offchain auction-based smart contract” which could dramatically reduce the pressure on the network.

The honeymoon period of 1000% returns for Ethereum investors may be showing signs of fading. And with a very possible split in the Bitcoin blockchain in August, there is plenty of uncertainty ahead.

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Welcome to Crypto & V1.3 Release Notes

Published June 15, 2017

Thanks to a sky rocketing price, Ethereum has grabbed the attention of many hundreds of thousands of new investors. Those same investors are no doubt looking at the last 48 hours in disbelief – possibly renewing some initial scepticism about the future of crypto. The 24 hour changes on are – quite frankly – a bloody mess. But hardened cryptoasset investors will be drooling at the sight.

We have been here before. We’ll be here again. And the fundamentals of Ethereum and others remain unchanged.

For those looking for some speculation as to what happened in the last 48 hours:

V1.3 Release notes:

  • Graphing updated to allow for more granularity
  • Timeframe preferences are now available at the top right; no longer forced to only “Today’s” changes
  • Users can now reset cookies from the preferences menu – deletes all cookies and resets to standard ETH/USD weighted average price
  • 5-minutely data will now be available for up to 1 month (collecting from now)

I will be adding some useful information to help new users purchase and secure Ethereum in the coming weeks.

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