Robinhood in Preparation for a Possible IPO Launch in Q1, 2021; Report

Robinhood might be planning to go public early next year, according to a recent publication by Bloomberg. This trading platform, whose popularity has risen in the past few years, is reportedly seeking advisers in the banking domain to support its Initial Public Offering (IPO) process.

Per the Bloomberg report, Robinhood could go public as soon as Q1 of 2021; sources opted to remain unidentified given this information’s private nature. However, they were also keen to highlight that the firm might change this position and abandon the IPO plan altogether.

While Robinhood’s official sources are yet to comment, this move might be a game-changer for the trading platform, given its value proposition to novice investors. Robinhood has become a darling to millennials and the tech-savvy Gen-Z, giving them exposure to various previously cumbersome assets to trade.

In fact, it is one of the popular trading platforms with access to crypto-assets and enjoys the backing of tech-focused VC’s such as Sequoia Capital. Other prominent investors that have allocated funds to Robinhood include Index Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, Ribbit Capital, DST Global, and D1 Capital Partners.

The latest Robinhood valuation is $11.8 billion; this was after the firm raised its series G funding, which totaled $200 million. With the murmurs of an IPO, Robinhood could soon be listed in the U.S stock markets, a move that would expose the firm to more market liquidity.

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Author: Edwin Munyui

Lebanon to Launch a CBDC in 2021 to Boost Confidence In the Country’s Banking Sector

According to the country’s central bank governor, Riad Salameh, Lebanon is set to debut its own Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) in 2021. Bloomberg, which reported on this development, cited a Lebanese state-run News Agency, noting that the Mediterranean island plans to make the paradigm shift due to transitioning to cashless networks and restoring confidence in the banking sector.

This comes as more jurisdictions begin to pay closer attention to CBDCs and the possibility of launching country-specific projects to support digital ecosystems. In fact, recent months have seen a spike in CBDC activity by local banks such as the PBoC and international bodies like the Bank of International Settlements (BIS). The latter published its first CBDC series report in collaboration with 7 major central banks.

With Lebanon set to join this bandwagon, Salameh emphasized the need to prepare for a Lebanese CBDC, per the global trends but mainly as a confidence boost to the country’s banking ecosystem. According to the central banker, implementing a CBDC will help increase cash flow efficiency both locally and internationally. Currently, this remains a challenge despite a good chunk of Lebanon’s GDP being complemented by remittances.

Salameh also highlighted that a cool $10 billion is held by Lebanese in their homes, an issue that could be attributed to the volatility of the country’s fiat currency ‘Lira.’ Earlier this year, Lebanese citizens found themselves in limbo after the currency devalued by almost 50% times compared to the dollar. At the time, they took to the streets with the sophisticated citizens opting to hedge against the Lira volatility by buying Bitcoin.

Notably, Lebanon began CBDC talks as early as 2018 but now seems to be in a more urgent position than in previous years. The country’s economy took a great hit this year, forcing local banks to cap withdrawals and increase foreign currency cash flows’ limitations. Previously, the main CBDC motivation was to curb terror financing and money laundering; this later shifted to making payment networks efficient, but now the urge seems to be a confidence boost in Lebanon’s banking sector.

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Author: Edwin Munyui

EU Draft Proposal Seeks to Access Data from End-to-end Encryption Platforms

The European Union (EU) could soon limit end-to-end encryption according to a draft leaked by the German Presidency, which seeks to increase the monitoring efficiency by Intelligence authorities and police.

This development comes in the wake of Vienna’s terrorist attack that took 4 lives and left 23 others with injuries. The news, which was initially reported by an Austrian media dubbed ‘FM4’, noted concerns on the accessibility of data from encrypted platforms like WhatsApp and Signal.

According to a draft deciphered by the Associated Press, this proposed piece will harmonize the process of accessing encrypted data,

“Competent authorities must be able to access data in a lawful and targeted manner, in full respect of fundamental rights and the data protection regime, while upholding cybersecurity.”

The draft, which is dated Nov 6, goes on to highlight those technical solutions to enable data access in encrypted platforms must be in line ‘with the principles of legality, transparency, necessity, and proportionality.’ However, it is quite noteworthy that the draft proposal does not call for total encryption; instead, it is set to initiate an exploratory phase that will guide stakeholders, including the EU, towards adopting favorable legislation in matters of end-to-end encryption.

Activists Decry the Move

As expected, the draft has already been met with opposition from rights activists who place fundamental importance on privacy and security. In fact, a German lawmaker Anke Domscheit-Berg, a left-wing politician, has voiced their concerns about the proposed draft. The lawmaker accused EU governments of masking under the extremism narrative to introduce higher surveillance within their jurisdictions.

According to Anke, the logic of accessing end-to-end encryption platforms does not make sense. He gave this example to support the argument,

“Anyone who finds an open back door into my house can enter it; the same is true for back doors in software …

The proposed EU regulation is an attack on the integrity of digital infrastructure and, therefore, hazardous.”

It appears he is not the only one who has called out the draft proposal; other stakeholders that have voiced their opinions against it include the executive director of Open Privacy Sarah Jamie Lewis and the director of Cybersecurity at Electronic Frontier Foundation, Eva Galperin. With the document set for presentation to the EU council on Nov 19, only time will tell if this draft will be adopted into law by member countries.

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Author: Edwin Munyui

Blockstream Reveals MuSig2; An Easy & Privacy-Focused 2-Round Schnorr Multisignature Scheme

As the Bitcoin Taproot upgrade approaches, a multi-signature solution is in development by Blockstream engineers, according to a medium blog post on Nov 4. Two engineers, Tim Ruffing and Jonas Nick said that they have already published a blueprint for MuSig2, an advanced version of the MuSig multi-signature scheme built to facilitate collective ownership of some Bitcoin and the creation of a single authorization signature.

Notably, Blockstream had debuted MuSig1 back in 2018 but is now seeking to solve communication shortcomings in the MuSig scheme’s initial version. MuSig1 brought in a privacy aspect that previously did not exist in the CHECKMULTISIG code; this version also reduced the transaction fees. However, this particular version had implemented multiple backs and forth signing process; something that Musig2 is designed to solve.

MuSig2 Non-Interactivity Signature

As highlighted, this MuSig scheme version introduces a less interactive signing process; to be precise, only two communication rounds are required. The initiative, which is currently undergoing a peer review, is set for presentation at the Real World Crypto Conference scheduled for next year. Per the blog, MuSig2 leverages a non-interactive signing approach to enhance the utility in MuSig1. It reads,

“As the name suggests, MuSig2 is intended to be the successor of MuSig1.

It offers the same functionality and security as MuSig1 but makes it possible to eliminate almost all interaction between signers.”

Basically, MuSig2 combines the best of MuSig1 and CHECKMULTISIG functionalities to provide an ecosystem with both privacy and efficient communication. With the Taproot integration around the corner, Blockstream is set to update the Schnorr signature code library by replacing MuSig1 with MuSig2. The blog also hinted that they might test MuSig2 on Taproot code earlier, in preparation for deployment on the Bitcoin Mainnet.

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Author: Edwin Munyui

Hackers Put 10,000 Robinhood Accounts for Sale On the Dark Web

According to a new report, Hackers on the dark web are offering hacked Robinhood accounts for sale. The report surveyed dark web marketplaces to find that the hackers claimed to have 10,000 login keys linked to the Robinhood investment and trading app’s client trading accounts.

Although Robinhood’s customers have complained in the past that their emails have been hacked, the company assured them that a stolen email is not enough to infiltrate a brokerage account. The latest development may be the last thing the app developers want now, as it could lead to serious legal issues.

Robinhood has once again given assurance to its customers, claiming its security measures are tough and advising clients to use 2-factor authentication to protect their accounts.

The company said it recently increased its customer service team to care for more customer needs and queries. However, clients are still not showing complete confidence in the company’s security measures, with the news of a possible leak of their account details circulating on the dark web.

One customer of the platform expressed his disappointment regarding Robinhood’s lack of security measures, pointing out that it took the platform more than a month to rectify a security issue that locked him out of his account.

Other brokerage accounts were also compromised

The Robinhood accounts’ compromise was not the only alleged compromised brokerage, as contained in the report. Bloomberg discovered that about 1,000 TD Ameritrade Holding Corp accounts were also compromised, with the details offered at a dark web known as SliPP.

However, the number of Robinhood accounts for sale is far higher than the accounts of other brokerages. This indicates that the platform’s accounts are more valuable and more marketable than other brokerage accounts, an analyst pointed out.

More dark web markets springing up

Authorities have shut down many dark web markets to discourage hackers from causing more havoc online. But instead of having a decreased number, it seems the darknets have multiplied.

A recent report by CipherTrace shows that new darknet markets have launched because they are relatively easy to set up and operate. The area is of particular interest because it generates high profits for the owners. The platform encourages the exchange of various items and services such as illicit goods, drugs, login credentials, and malware.

Most parties involved in the exchange pay with Bitcoin and other crypto coins such as Monero to avoid any trace.

Presently, Hydra is seen as the biggest darknet market, which has reportedly generated over $1.2 billion since it was launched. The darknet is also the main trading center of hackers who sell stolen credentials to those who need them for further phishing attacks or other forms of future attacks.

The Robinhood app has registered millions of users this year alone, with many young and new users to stock tracking. This makes the platform an easy target for hackers looking to compromise account information and sell them on the darknet.

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Author: Ali Raza

Enel Group Attacked Again by Ransomware, Netwalker Demands for 1234.0238 Bitcoins

According to an update from Bleeping Computer, Enel, a multinational energy firm based in Italy, is facing yet another ransomware attack. Barely five months since the firm neutralized a Snake ransomware attack, a Netwalker has now attacked its systems, touting to have accessed 5TB of Enel’s data. They are demanding to be paid 1234.0238 BTC ($16.3 million at the time of publication) as a ransom to surrender its decryption keys and maintain Enel’s data privacy.

As per the Bleeping computer report, the attacker first shared a ransom note with them; it appeared to be from a Netwalker who had compromised Enel’s data. Notably, Enel is a leading Fortune 500 company and operates in over 40 countries, while its customer outreach is more than 61 million.

Netwalker-Enel-ransom-note (1)
Source; Bleeping Computer

While Enel has yet to comment on the issue, the attackers have shared links to confirm that they have compromised data from the Enel group. So far, Enel has yet to respond to Netwalker, a situation that now appears to be doubling the amount of ransom. The attackers are now asking for 1234.0238 BTC to give Enel access to the decryptor; something they say must be bought.

Nonetheless, the Netwalker attackers have communicated with the Enel group as per a recent post on Enel’s support chat.

“Hello, Enel. Don’t be afraid to write to us. Tomorrow we will make a blog post about you or start looking for good hands for your files.”

Meanwhile, they have shown that they are willing to leak Enel’s data if their demands are not met. The Netwalker has already released a screenshot of Enel’s unencrypted data, threatening to make it public and analyze further for ‘interesting things.’

As the crypto industry grows, attackers have found a ‘favorite’ in privacy coins like Monero while others don’t go past Bitcoin. Recent months have seen multiple malicious players demand ransom in BTC, one of the latest attacks on Argentina’s immigration office where the hackers demanded $4 million in BTC.

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Author: Edwin Munyui

Silvergate Bank Q3 Earnings Call Upholds Bullish Trajectory; Net Income Shot Up 29% to $7.1M

Silvergate, a Fintech and crypto-focused bank, has reported another bullish quarter according to its latest earnings call. The Q3 Silvergate Bank stats show that they have been gaining on most fronts, especially with increased activity in the Silvergate Exchange Network (SEN). As earlier reported by BEG, this platform recently crossed the $100 billion mark in transfer volumes.

Notably, $36 billion of the total transfer volumes were done in the last quarter, according to the Silvergate Q3 report. The company’s CEO, Alan Lane, attributed this growth to increased activity and strong digital asset prices during the past quarter,

“During the third quarter, bitcoin and other digital currencies saw strong price appreciation and an active trading environment, which we believe contributed to the increase in the number of transactions occurring on the SEN.”

Silvergate’s Q3 Earnings Call Break Down

The California-based bank’s growth has been quite exponential, most of which can be pegged to a burgeoning crypto industry in 2020. On that note, Silvergate reported a 29% increase in net income to $7.1 million compared to the previous $5.5 million in Q2. The figure also jumped year-over-year compared to 2019’s third quarter, where the reported net income stood at $6.7 million.

As for the market growth, Silvergate’s clients are now over 900, with a larger part being institutions. Lane has also pointed out that there around 200 prospective clients who might soon be onboarded as well. With such growth, he is confident that the debut of heavyweights like JP Morgan is not a threat to Silvergate’s sustainability and market expansion. In fact, Lane believed that exchanges are better off with more banking options,

“Those exchanges really want to have multiple banking partners and multiple sources of liquidity … And when volumes increase across the ecosystem and volumes are increasing from other customers, we’re seeing the same type of volume increases from those customers that JP Morgan is reportedly banking.”

Silvergate also reported a spike in its clients’ deposits; the amount went up by $586 million, marking its second-highest quarterly increase after the 2017 bull-run. Consequently, the firm’s fee income increased to $3.3 million in Q3; this is a 40% gain compared to the Q2 $2.4 million fee income.

Another highlight is Silvergate’s lending service ‘SEN Leverage,’ which recorded a $13 million increase, bringing the total amount of credit approvals to $35.5 million. Lane is quite optimistic about this specific product, although there are no plans to scale past Bitcoin anytime soon,

“We anticipate a long growth trajectory for SEN Leverage and will judiciously expand credit availability to our customers over time.”

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Author: Edwin Munyui

Ethereum 2.0 Deposit Contract Almost Ready, Awaiting NCC Group Audit Approval

The Deposit Contract of Ethereum 2.0 is almost ready, according to Danny Ryan, a researcher from the Ethereum Foundation. He revealed this development when speaking on the Blankless podcast last week, noting that the deposit contract will be ready after an audited approval of its BLST crypto library. The audit currently ongoing and being undertaken by the NCC Group crypto audit firm. Ryan was keen to emphasize the criticality of this particular library,

“This library is critical to creating keys, signing messages. Critical, in early phases, [means] that if you use this library, they need to be secure; if you use it to generate your wallets, it needs to have good randomness; and if you are signing your deposits which have a signature associated, it needs to be correct.”

He speculated a release date between early and mid-Nov, slightly later than the anticipated October release. The Deposit Contract will play a fundamental role in the ETH 2.0 ecosystem; touted as the last ‘piece of the puzzle,’ it will facilitate ETH transfer between the current and expected blockchain iteration.

Almost Sunrise for ETH 2.0!

After a very long wait, it appears there is some ‘white smoke’ coming from the ETH 2.0 development team. Last week, BEG reported that the Beacon Chain launch might be a few weeks away, according to an update by Ben Edgington, a developer at ConsenSys. Going by his estimation, this launch is likely to take place in late November or December. Notably, the Beacon chain launch will mark phase 0 of the ETH 2.0 rollout in what will be followed by a series of phases 1 and 2.

The ETH 2.0 upgrade is a much-anticipated event by the whole crypto community as it will mark Ethereum’s shift from a Proof-of-Work (PoW) to a Proof-of-Stake (PoS) blockchain. This move is expected to improve Ethereum’s scalability and security to create a sustainable ecosystem. So far, a couple of testnets have been held in preparation for the Beacon chain launch, with the latest being Zinken testnet.

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Author: Edwin Munyui

Another Fork of the Fork? Bitcoin Cash Upgrade Coming in November

Bitcoin ABC and its lead developer Amaury Sechet are forking Bitcoin Cash now, according to BCH proponent Roger Ver.

“Bitcoin ABC and @deadalnix have announced that they are forking away from #BitcoinCash on Nov 15th. We wish them good luck with their new coin and thank them for the free airdrop to all BCH holders,” tweeted Ver.

Ironically, November 15th is also the day when Bitcoin Cash (BCH) was hard forked into Bitcoin SV (BSV) back in 2018.

However, it is just an upgrade, as a month back, Sechet published an update about Bitcoin ABC where he talked about making primary improvements such as a new Coinbase Rule and change to the Difficulty Adjustment Algorithm to the blockchain.

“The addition of this new rule represents a significant step. […] node implementations, have developed a financial reliance on powerful interests such as mining corporations, venture capital funds, and angel investors,” read the blog.

Ver’s reaction came following Bitcoin ABC’s 0.22.1 release, which will activate the new coinbase rule, diverting 8% of all newly minted BCH to a development fund on Nov. 15.

Cointext CTO Vin Armani, who sees a split to be a more desirable outcome than infighting, says the most important thing about the event is that “there will finally be a Bitcoin network, with the roadmap necessary to become peer-to-peer cash at a global scale, that doesn’t include vocal and influential humans who believe you can fund such a project with donations.”

He further shared that the vocal people in the council have cryptographically proven that they are major miners and holders in the network, and their incentives are aligned with increasing the value of the network. If these influential people get “overthrown,” it will be by those with an even greater stake.

In the Bitcoin Cash network, Bitcoin ABC has 533 nodes (42%), while BCHN’s 126 nodes represent just a 10% share in the network’s 1,260 total nodes.

Bitcoin Unlimited (BU) implementation that has the largest share 44%, with 565 nodes, however, is opposed to the coinbase rule. And if BU and BCHN come together, they can reject the November upgrade.

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Author: AnTy

Anheuser-Busch InBev, ING Bank, & Rolls Royce Join Mousebelt’s Blockchain Education Alliance

Blockchain Education Alliance, an initiative by Mousebelt, has gained four new significant members according to an announcement by the blockchain accelerator on August 17. They include margin crypto trading platform Multi.io, Rolls Royce, Belgium brewing firm Anheuser-Busch InBev and Dutch-based ING bank.

The project whose fundamental goal is to accelerate blockchain education and research now has 26 members following this addition. Having launched in October 2019, pioneer members included ETC Labs, Nem, LTO Network, Harmony One, Wanchain, ICON, Tron, and the Stellar Development Foundation. It was not long before the initiative attracted the likes of Binance, Mastercard, KuCoin crypto exchange, and Constellation Labs onboard as well.

With such players already approving the Blockchain Education Alliance strategy, some of its milestones include a 72-hour live blockchain education event that was held in May. This virtual conference was dubbed ‘REIMAGINE 2020’ and featured networking events, panel and debates, and a continuous livestream of the keynotes.

Given the prevailing lockdowns at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, REIMAGINE 2020 attracted students from various universities, giving them exposure to cutting edge tech like blockchain as well as an opportunity to meet with the industry veterans. Mousebelt’s head of Education, Ashlie Meredith, further pointed out that they are looking to nature skills given the looming uncertainty in the global economy,

“In a time when many students will not be returning to campus, increasing opportunities for educational experiences, jobs and internships is of utmost importance.”

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Author: Edwin Munyui