Stellar Network Rolls Out Protocol 15 Upgrade, Adding Two New Payment Features; XLM Surges

Stellar blockchain network has upgraded to protocol 15, according to a blog post announcement on Nov 23. The publication was sent out by Stellar Development Foundation Ecosystem lead, Justin Rice; it highlights two new features: ‘make it easier than ever to build user-friendly apps on Stellar.’ The new functions are Sponsored Reserves and Claimable Balances.

According to the blog post, these new features are already changing Stellar’s ecosystem when it comes to hosting user-friendly DApps,

“We’ve already seen both deployed to great effect on the testnet, and we’re excited to see what you can do with them in a production environment.”

Notably, Stellar skipped protocol 14 after a critical bug was discovered in this update while in the testing phase. The previous protocol ‘13’ had been voted for by the validator nodes in June; improvements in this upgrade included fee bump transactions and advanced asset authorization control.

Stellar’s Protocol 15 Upgrade

This milestone was first announced in October, although the project had been a work in progress for several months. The upgrade went live on Nov 23 at 1600 UTC, and users have since been advised to install software that supports the latest protocol. According to the blog,

“Stellar Core will immediately throw an error if it’s not up to date, but Horizon and the Stellar SDKs may function as normal for a bit until they encounter — and are baffled by — one of the new operations.”

The value proposition in claimable balances can split payments into two by creating a new ledger entry. Stellar users can create a balance and claim a balance, which means that they can send an asset, regardless of the receiving account’s state.

On the other hand, Sponsored Reserves open up the window for funding innovations with Lumens (XLM) while maintaining control. An earlier blog post highlighted that,

“It also adds new extensions to account entries and ledger entries to record pertinent information about sponsorships.”

XLM Price Bullish

Meanwhile, the XLM price is currently bullish, having gained 72.6% within the past 24 hours. The coin is currently trading at $0.189 while its total market cap is well over $3 billion, according to metrics site Coingecko.

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Author: Edwin Munyui

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

Crypto, Blockchain Regulation Heats Up as 32 Bills Were Introduced In the 116th Congress

A recent publication by Forbes has revealed that blockchain and cryptocurrency are no longer far-fetched concepts.

Within the US’ 116th Parliament, a total of 32 bills have been introduced within the past year. Despite the controversial and dynamic nature of these emerging technologies, regulators in Washington D.C appear to have a growing interest; hence the spike in discussions around them.

Looking back, most of these discussions gained momentum after the announcement of Libra by Facebook. The IT giant is currently leading several entities towards the creation of a digital currency backed by financial assets like a basket of fiat currencies and treasury securities.

However, the project has had its fair share of challenges, especially with the intervention of the U.S senate: which saw Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, summoned back in 2019.

According to the Forbes review, bills that involve blockchain and crypto have since popped up and focus on four main areas:

These include regulation, promoting blockchain use, curbing illegal activities and the possibility of a digital dollar.

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Source: Forbes

Blockchain & Crypto Regulatory Bills

The regulatory framework of blockchain and crypto has been a hot topic not only in the U.S senate but other parts of the world as well. This was inevitable given the threat of disruption in existing financial ecosystems by ‘stablecoins’ like the proposed Libra cryptocurrency. It is quite notable that the project attracted quite a few bills around the regulation of digital assets.

Some of the prominent ones include ‘Managed Securities are Stablecoins Act’ which was pioneered by Congressman Lance Gooden and Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia. This bill was brought forward to ensure that projects with a similar model to Libra are regulated as securities.

Another one is the ‘Keeping big tech out of Finance’ by Rep Jesus Garcia in a bid to prevent large social media platforms like Facebook from engaging in financial activities.

Curbing Illegal Activities in Blockchain and Crypto

Digital currencies have raised global concerns on illegal activities such as money laundering, terrorism and human trafficking. This is mainly because of the anonymous nature of crypto transactions while some projects have gone to the extent of full privacy. As a result, Capitol Hill has seen the introduction of 12 bills within this regulatory scope.

Senator Lindsey Graham introduced a bill dubbed ‘Defending American Security from Kremlin Act’. The initiative is basically meant to protect crypto exchanges from cyber theft with the same level of attention given to financial institutions. There are also three bills focusing on the integration of blockchain and AI to enhance the KYC/AML procedures by banks offering cryptocurrency services.

Spurring Blockchain Adoption by the U.S Government

While there may be some challenges, Capitol Hill is not short of identifying opportunities that lay within the blockchain and crypto industry. The regulators are also looking to spur the growth and adoption of distributed ledgers to enhance efficiency and output within the current processes.

A bill tabled by Senator Todd Young dubbed ‘Blockchain Promotion Act’ is already past the committee stage and should be voted on soon.

This initiative will enable the legal formation of a blockchain working group that will be reporting to Congress on blockchain-related opportunities and their feasibility. Other bills within this niche include the potential use of blockchain for hospital data security in researches done by U.S government agencies.

Digital U.S Dollar

Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) has gained popularity in the past year after several central banks showed interest in digital assets. Most of them were motivated by Libra’s threat and therefore a need to create a digital currency that could be managed through monetary policy.

China appears to be ahead in this curve having pioneered a beta test of the much-awaited digital yuan.

In the U.S, two bills were recently introduced based on the possibility of a digital dollar. These are the ‘Automatic Boost Communities Act’ and ‘Banking for All Act’. Going forward, it is likely that more bills within this area of development will pop up in the 117th parliaments as Congress seeks to clarify the oversight of such an asset.

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Author: Edwin Munyui

Weibo Data Breach Has 538M Users Personal Information Up For Sale on Dark Web for BTC

According to PingWest, a Chinese technology publication, Sina Weibo, which most consider it the Chinese version of Twitter, had a data breach that caused 538 million records of its users to be exposed.

A platform user discovered on March 19 that 538 million Weibo users’ phone numbers were for sale on the dark web. The price for 172 million of these phone numbers was only 0.177 Bitcoin (BTC), which is about $1,150 at the moment. It seems the cyber-attackers gained access to information such as usernames, passwords, locations, ID numbers, Weibo posts, and other information details of the platform’s users without any problem.

Users’ Personal Information Circulating on Telegram

The Director of Information Security at Weibo tried to explain what happened by saying the phone numbers got leaked as a result of a 2019’s brute-force attack, resulting in users’ personal data ending up online. The police were informed about the breach and Weibo has an investigation underway.

Later on the same day, it was discovered on a gray market that was trading the personal data of these users on Telegram. The Telegram group has online bots that help with acquiring social media accounts’ personal information with the help of keywords as long as people are willing to pay.

Many Personal Details Can Be Revealed

Information such as records of hotel stays, express deliveries, phone numbers, and email addresses are easy to find online with the Telegram group. Just by inputting let’s say, a number from Tencent QQ, which is one of the biggest platforms for instant messaging in China, personal data like phone numbers, the account’s password and the user’s home address will be revealed. The essential information is blurred until a payment has been made to the Telegram group.

How Much Does Accessing Personal Data Cost?

With 0.00678 BTC or 0.358 Ether (ETH), a person interested in personal data can purchase 260 points. An inquiry costs 10 points, whereas the information associated with a social media account costs 50 points.

In case buyers don’t hold cryptocurrencies at all, they’re recommended to make a purchase of BTC or ETH from Paxful, LocalBitcoin, LocalEthereum or Huobi. Ever since the news about Weibo broke out, the Telegram group has seen over 28,000 new buyers.

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Author: Oana Ularu