Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "SF writer Charles Stross writes on his blog that like all currency systems, Bitcoin comes with an implicit political agenda attached and although our current global system is pretty crap, Bitcoin is worse. For starters, BtC is inherently deflationary. There is an upper limit on the number of bitcoins that can ever be created so the cost of generating new Bitcoins rises over time, and the value of Bitcoins rise relative to the available goods and services in the market. Libertarians love it because it pushes the same buttons as their gold fetish and it doesn't look like a "Fiat currency". You can visualize it as some kind of scarce precious data resource, sort of a digital equivalent of gold. However there are a number of huge down-sides to Bitcoin says Stross: Mining BtC has a carbon footprint from hell as they get more computationally expensive to generate, electricity consumption soars; Bitcoin mining software is now being distributed as malware because using someone else's computer to mine BitCoins is easier than buying a farm of your own mining hardware; Bitcoin's utter lack of regulation permits really hideous markets to emerge, in commodities like assassination and drugs and child pornography; and finally Bitcoin is inherently damaging to the fabric of civil society because it is pretty much designed for tax evasion. "BitCoin looks like it was designed as a weapon intended to damage central banking and money issuing banks, with a Libertarian political agenda in mind—to damage states ability to collect tax and monitor their citizens financial transactions," concludes Stross. "The current banking industry and late-period capitalism may suck, but replacing it with Bitcoin would be like swapping out a hangnail for Fournier's gangrene.""
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SonicSpike writes with a story about the huge amount of bitcoins owned by the FBI. "In September, the FBI shut down the Silk Road online drug marketplace, and it started seizing bitcoins belonging to the Dread Pirate Roberts — the operator of the illicit online marketplace, who they say is an American man named Ross Ulbricht. The seizure sparked an ongoing public discussion about the future of Bitcoin, the world's most popular digital currency, but it had an unforeseen side-effect: It made the FBI the holder of the world's biggest Bitcoin wallet. The FBI now controls more than 144,000 bitcoins that reside at a bitcoin address that consolidates much of the seized Silk Road bitcoins. Those 144,000 bitcoins are worth close to $100 million at Tuesday's exchange rates. Another address, containing Silk Road funds seized earlier by the FBI, contains nearly 30,000 bitcoins ($20 million)."
An anonymous reader writes with news of the latest major fluctuation in the price people are willing to pay for Bitcoins. From the article: "China's ban on its financial institutions handling bitcoin causes world's largest exchange to cease trading, halving the value of the currency from $1,000 to less than $500 in a matter of days. The country's central bank took a hard line on Bitcoin in early December when it banned financial institutions from handling the decentralized crypto-currency, and as a result BTC China, the world's largest bitcoin exchange, has stopped accepting deposits from its users." Just watch that line trend downward.
An anonymous reader writes "Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto could be a group from Europe which has a strong footing in the financial sector. From the article: 'Josh Zerlan, the Chief Operating Officer of Butterfly Labs and a person familiar with the Bitcoin network, has said it is highly likely that Nakamoto could be a group of people working the financial sector. Speaking to IBTimes UK on the sidelines of a Global Bitcoin Conference in Bangalore, India, Zerlan said: "One of the prevailing theories, I think has credibility, is that it was some group of people from financial sector that created this. They released it and stepped back and let it go. So, Satoshi Nakamoto is a group of people, I think, is a reasonable possibility."'"
An anonymous reader writes "Norway is the latest country to consider the legal implications of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Norway's director general of taxation has come out and said '[Bitcoin] doesn't fall under the usual definition of money,' which means that it will be considered as assets and charged under capital gains laws. This sentiment was echoed last week by the European banking authority as well, where citizens were warned of using the cyrptocurrency."
New submitter hamster_nz writes "Hot topics for the maker community are things such as embedded vision, Bitcoin mining, autonomous vehicle control, Arduino, Open Hardware, software defined radio, small ARM/Linux boards and reconfigurable computing. A current Kickstarter project, LOGi FPGA, is touching all these bases. Funding has been reached after just a day, and Kicktraq currently has it projected to reach over $133,000. As a long time FPGA enthusiast I'm very interested to see what will happen when a thousand keen users get together to explore programmable logic."
New submitter Kenseilon writes "Extremetech reports that the recent price hike of Litecoins has triggered yet another arms race for the *coinminers out there, leading to a shortage of AMD graphics cards. While Bitcoin mining is quickly becoming unfeasible for GPU rigs with general purpose graphics cards, there are several alternative currencies with opportunities. The primary candidate is now Litecoin, which has the aim of 'being silver if Bitcoin is gold' Swedish Tech site Sweclockers also reports [in Swedish] that GPU manufacturer Club3D have told them that miners are becoming a new important group of potential customers. However, concerns are being raised that this is a temporary boom that may hurt AMD in the long run, since gamers, their core consumer group, may not be able to acquire the cards and instead opt for Nvidia."
First time accepted submitter Austrian Anarchy writes with this story via Reason (and based on a report at Wired) about a maker of physical Bitcoin tokens. Quoting from Reason's take: "Mike Caldwell ran a business called Casascius that printed physical tokens with a bitcoin digital key on it, key hidden behind a tamper proof strip. He'd charge $50 worth of bitcoin to print a bitcoin key you sent him via computer on this token. Cool stuff--a good friend of mine found one sitting unnoticed in her tip jar from an event at which she sold her artisan lamps from 2011 and was naturally delighted given the nearly 1000x increase in value of a bitcoin since then. So, you're making something fun, useful, interesting, harmless--naturally the federal government is very concerned and wants to hobble you. 'Just before Thanksgiving, [Caldwell] received a letter from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FINCEN, the arm of the Treasury Department that dictates how the nation’s anti-money-laundering and financial crime regulations are interpreted. According to FINCEN, Caldwell needs to rethink his business. "They considered my activity to be money transmitting," Caldwell says. And if you want to transmit money, you must first jump through a lot of state and federal regulatory hoops Caldwell hasn't jumped through.'"
Velcroman1 writes "Banking giant JPMorgan Chase has filed a patent application for an electronic commerce system that sounds remarkably like Bitcoin — but never mentions the controversial, Internet-only currency. The patent application was filed in early August but made publicly available only at the end of November; it describes a 'method and system for processing Internet payments using the electronic funds transfer network.' The system would allow people to pay bills anonymously over the Internet through an electronic transfer of funds — just like Bitcoin. It would allow for micropayments without processing fees — just like bitcoin. And it could kill off wire transfers through companies like Western Union — just like Bitcoin. There are 18,126 words in the patent application. 'Bitcoin' is not one of them."
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 trades around $760 per bitcoin.
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).