International Business Times

Bitcoin platform Luno announces European expansion and $9m Series B funding round

Bitcoin platform Luno announces European expansion and $9m Series B funding round

Popular Bitcoin platform Luno has completed a $9m (£6.7m) Series B funding round, led by London-based Balderton Capital, and is expanding into 35 new markets across Europe.

New investors AlphaCode and existing investors Digital Currency Group also participated in the round. This follows Luno’s $4m Series A round, which was led by emerging market tech giant Naspers.

Luno currently comprises a team of over 70 and has offices in London, Singapore and Cape Town.

Luno co-founder and CEO Marcus Swanepoel said: “We’re excited to partner with Balderton as we accelerate our business across Europe and the rest of the world.

“In Europe we’ve seen an unprecedented demand, not just for digital currency, but also for our high-quality, secure and very user friendly products, in particular the Luno mobile apps. Enabling more people in Europe to have access to these products and services is a critical part of our mission to bring digital currencies to everyone, everywhere – and in a way that makes everyone’s journey into the world of digital currency safe, super easy, and highly enjoyable”.

Tim Bunting, partner at Balderton Capital added: “The Luno team is one of the strongest in the space, and their grand vision and ability to execute has enabled them to build a global business from day one. We’re excited to be part of their journey.” He will be joining the Luno board as part of this funding round.

The funding will be used for product refinement and development, global expansion and to bring a number of exciting new features to mark. Luno will be hiring across all three their main hubs in London, Singapore and Cape Town, said a statement.

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Circle pushes OTC crypto trading, launches in France and Italy and adds group payments

Circle pushes OTC crypto trading, launches in France and Italy and adds group payments

Circle, which uses blockchain technology to do zero-cost instant payments, is launching in France and Italy, and also announcing a group payments application.

In addition, the company is pushing to the fore its over-the-counter service, Circle Trading, which up until now has been “the best kept secret” in the crypto space.

Over​ ​the​ ​past​ ​four​ ​years,​ ​Circle​ ​has​ ​built​ ​a​ ​treasury​ ​and​ ​trading​ ​operation​ ​that​ ​spans​ ​crypto​ ​as well​ ​as​ ​fiat​ ​currency​ ​markets, providing​ ​lots of ​market​ ​liquidity​ ​for bitcoin,​ ​ether,​ ​XRP​ ​and​ ​other​ ​crypto​ ​assets.​ ​ ​Last​ ​month​ ​(August​ ​2017)​ ​Circle directly​ ​traded​ ​over​ ​$2bn​ ​in​ ​crypto​ ​assets.

To capitalise on this growth, Circle​ ​is​ ​actively​ ​taking​ ​on​ ​more​ ​and​ ​more​ ​trading​ ​counterparties; accredited​ ​investors​, ​institutions​ and the like. It sees a virtuous ​circle​ ​of​ ​network​ ​effects​:​ ​the​ ​crypto​ ​asset​ ​trading​ ​business​ ​bootstraps​ ​and supports​ ​the​ ​value​ ​of​ ​the​ ​underlying​ ​token-fueled​ ​protocol​ ​and​ ​network;​ ​this​ ​grows​ ​the​ ​reach​ ​of the​ ​products​ ​and​ ​services​ ​built​ ​on​ ​top​ ​of​ ​that​ ​network​ ​(such​ ​as​ ​Circle​ ​Pay) and so on. ​ ​

Jeremy Allaire, CEO Circle, said: “We have a large scale OTC trading business providing liquidity to the market and that part of Circle, which has not been well known, is something that we are talking a lot more about now.”

Circle Trading’s OTC service handles trades that are minimum hundreds of thousands of dollars transactions, as opposed to retail exchange activity. The service is focused on core cryptocurrencies: bitcoin, ether, XRP, Ethereum Classic, Z-cash, Bitcoin Cash and litecoin.

“The market for digital assets is maturing and attracting broad interest as a mainstream category for investment and wealth management. To that end, you can expect us to combine our consumer product capability with our trading capability and create something that would be really attractive to the mainstream consumer. The growth has been really dramatic; we have one of the industry’s best kept secrets and so it’s a little bit of a coming out this week for it. We will have more to say about this soon,” said Allaire.

Circle Pay is also announcing a full scale move into France and Italy, while entering what it calls “early access” in 11 more countries: Belgium,​ ​Bulgaria,​ ​Denmark,​ ​Greece,​ ​Hungary,​ ​Hungary,​ ​Iceland, Lithuania,​ ​Norway,​ ​Romania,​ ​Sweden,​ ​and​ ​Switzerland.

“We are in the process of getting into every European country, but the major launches are France and Italy which are very large markets and where social payments is still very much a wide open territory.

As far as competing payments systems are concerned, Allaire said: “There certainly are players out there who have tried to build a business just focused on a domestic person to person payment, or just focused on an international or cross border person to person payment.

“We collapse those categories all together. We dont make a distinction between a domestic payment and a cross border payment; we don’t think that idea even matters anymore.”

Circle has been very active in China where it is working to connect the proliferation of paytech and wallets with Circle in the West. Taking some inspiration from services like WeChat Pay, Circle is introducing group payments and event-based payments.

Allaire said: “Say you’re throwing a party and you need everyone to chip in $5 for snakes or beer, you create an event. If you are familiar with group payment on WeChat, it’s a similar experience – and it’s a great experience.

“Or say you’re doing a fundraiser to money for some cause, or a trip, a five aside league. We expect use by broad range of clubs, societies leagues etc.”

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Euromillions raffle winner from Suffolk forgot to check his ticket, collects prize money month later

Euromillions raffle winner from Suffolk forgot to check his ticket, collects prize money month later

Martin Crighton from Boxford, Suffolk, realised he won a raffle worth £1m ($1.4m) almost about a month later because he forgot about the ticket.

A recent newspaper article on the missing winner of the EuroMillions UK Millionaire Maker draw conducted on 15 August reminded him of his ticket, which he found in his wallet with a bunch of receipts and cards, he reportedly said.

The overjoyed 44-year-old said the money would now end all his worries and his life would change for the good. “I guess I really still cannot believe it,” he told BBC News after collecting his grand reward. “Life will just be so much easier now.”

Crighton said he couldn’t believe that the numbers on his ticket matched the numbers published in the newspaper advertisement, so he rushed to the local pub, where the owner, Shaun Davis, is his friend.

He showed the ticket to his friend and asked him to check again. “I asked Shaun to check again for me and he confirmed that I was now £1m richer,” he said.

Crighton currently lives in a rented house and plans to buy a house for himself. He works as a groundsman in his area, but wants to continue the work despite the huge windfall. He also plans to use his winnings on a trip to the north Norfolk coast.

“I am just delighted I will never have any money worries ever again,” he said.

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BTC China bitcoin exchange will cease trading amid uncertain cryptocurrency future

BTC China bitcoin exchange will cease trading amid uncertain cryptocurrency future

One of China’s biggest bitcoin exchanges says it will end trading after news reports regulators have ordered all Chinese exchanges to close caused the price of the digital currency to plunge.

BTC China said on its website it will “stop all trading business” on Sept. 30. The exchange said it was acting “in the spirit of” a central bank ban last week on initial coin offerings but gave no indication it received a direct order to close.

The central bank has not responded to questions about the currency’s future in China.

There was no immediate word from other Chinese bitcoin exchanges about their plans.

Bitcoin’s value tumbled 15 percent on Thursday to about $3,300. The famously volatile currency has shed about a third of its value since Sept. 1 but is up from about $600 a year ago.

Bitcoin surged in popularity in China last year as its price rose. Trading dwindled after regulators tightened controls and warned the currency might be linked to fraud.

Two business newspapers reported Thursday regulators in Shanghai, the country’s financial center, gave verbal instructions to Chinese bitcoin exchanges to close.

Bitcoin is created and exchanged without the involvement of banks or governments. Transactions allow anonymity, which has made bitcoin popular with people who want to conceal their activity. Bitcoin can be converted to cash when deposited into accounts at prices set in online trading.

A Chinese business news magazine, Caixin, said at one point up to 90 percent of global trading took place in China.

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China will force internet companies to log cyberattacks on new national database

China will force internet companies to log cyberattacks on new national database

The Chinese government has announced plans to create a centralised computer database to store information about cyberattacks and data breaches that take place in the country.

The nation’s internet watchdog, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), said this week (13 September) that online companies, telecommunications firms and domain name providers would all have to report known cyber threats to the repository.

The MIIT is now set to ask companies to provide a record of incidents involving malware, hardware bugs and malicious IP addresses, Reuters reported.

Firms that fail to report data breaches and cyberattacks to the ministry will be hit with “warnings, fines and other administrative penalties”.

It remains unclear how the law will be enforced and the full scope of the financial penalities.

The MIIT will reportedly be responsible for helping to resolve cybersecurity issues from 1 January 2018.

China has a strict internet regime and its so-called “Great Firewall” routinely blocks digital content the government does not want citizens to see.

A new cyber law came into effect on 1 June this year and security experts found it gave officials “unprecedented” power over companies operating in the region.

The law is overly broad and its language vague noted Recorded Future, a cybersecurity firm.

“Companies seeking to conduct business in China, especially those in the critical information infrastructure sectors, now face a host of technical, legal, and ethical decisions about operating in China that might not have been previously considered,” the firm said.

Earlier this year, MIIT officials introduced new rules which required telecommunications companies to help restrict access to virtual private networks (VPNs).

Such software can be used to circumvent the government’s iron grip on information, but were effectively outlawed by the government and may even be banned from February 2018.

In January 2017, the ministry first announced a “clean-up” of the web that would force firms providing VPN software to apply for a government licence to operate legally. This month, a 26-year-old man called Deng Jiewei was jailed for nine months after selling VPN access.

The country has more than 730 million internet users and last year was branded the “worst abuser of internet freedom” by the global internet watchdog Freedom House.

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Hackers infect over 1.65 million computers with cryptocurrency miners, reaping up to $30,000 a month

Hackers infect over 1.65 million computers with cryptocurrency miners, reaping up to $30,000 a month

Cryptocurrency mining attacks are on the rise. This year alone, hackers have infected over 1.65 million computers with cryptocurrency miners in just eight months. Security experts say cryptocurrecny mining Trojans have risen dramatically over the past few years, from merely 205,000 global infections in 2013 to over a million in 2017.

Security researchers at Kaspersky Lab said in August alone they detected “several large botnets” being used by cybercriminals to profit from concealed crypto mining. The researchers also said that Monero and ZCash are the most popular virtual currencies, as the “anonymity of transactions” is attractive to cybercriminals.

The researchers said that according to even “the most conservative estimates” crypto mining hackers could rake in up to $30,000 a month. The researchers found hackers operating a roughly 4,000-strong botnet, whose wallet had transferred a total of 2,289 XMR (Monero), which is equivalent to $249,702 (£188,353).

The researchers added that they recently uncovered a network containing an estimated 5,000 computers that had been installed with Minergate, a legal console miner, without the users’ knowledge. While the primary method of installing crypto miners is via adware installers that are distributed by hackers using social engineering techniques, hackers are now also using more sophisticated tools such as the leaked NSA exploit EternalBlue.

“The development of the cryptocurrency market has led to an explosive growth in cases where miners are installed without users’ knowledge or consent. This can be explained by the fact that when a new cryptocurrency is emerging, it is much easier to mine and make money from it. Threat actors are on the lookout for ways to use the resources of somebody else’s hardware, and often it is regular users who fall victim,” the Kaspersky Lab researchers said in a blog.

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Bitcoin is a

Bitcoin is a

The popular cryptocurrency bitcoin is a “fraud” that will eventually fail and is only useful to drug dealers, murderers and people in countries like North Korea, Ecuador and Venezuela, according to Jamie Dimon, chief executive officer (CEO) of banking giant JPMorgan.

Dimon, who has previously discussed his disdain for the digital money, told attendees during a Barclays’ financial conference in New York on Tuesday (12 September) that he would not hesitate to fire JPMorgan employees found to be trading in the cryptocurrency.

“One, it’s against our rules. Two, it’s stupid,” he said. “You can’t have a business where people are going to invent a currency out of thin air,” he continued.

“It won’t end well […] someone is going to get killed and then the government is going to come down on it.”

He branded bitcoin a “fraud” and said that he is “just shocked anyone can’t see it for what it is.”

The banking chief later likened it to the infamous tulip bulb market bubble from the 17th Century.

“The only good argument I’ve ever heard […] is that if you were in Venezuela or Ecuador or North Korea […] or if you were a drug dealer, a murderer, stuff like that, you are probably better off dealing in bitcoin than in US dollars,” he said.

“There may be a market for that but it’s a limited market,” he added.

At a second keynote session, which took place on the same day, Dimon revealed that his own daughter had recently purchased bitcoin. “It went up and she thinks she’s a genius now,” he told the CNBC Institutional Investor Delivering Alpha Conference on Tuesday.

He said bitcoin‘s value could rise to $20,000, or even $100,000, but maintained it will still crash.

“Right now, you know, governments look at it like a novelty [but] wait until someone gets hurt – they will close it down,” he asserted, later going on to again voice the opinion that bitcoin is “not a real thing” and that “eventually it will be the emperor without clothes.”

At the time of writing, the price of a single bitcoin is approximately £2,994 ($4,000) however that number fluctuates on a daily basis. It is “mined” with computing power and does not require traditional banks (such as JPMorgan, for example) or governments to operate.

Chamath Palihapitiya, well-known venture capitalist and CEO of Palo Alto’s Social Capital investment partnership, later commented on Dimon‘s comments, saying that the “genie is fundamentally out of the bottle whether we like it or not.”

He added: “What countries can constrain today is how it’s effectively traded but [they] cannot control it. It is a fundamentally distributed system that exists peer to peer.”

Erik Voorhees, CEO of fintech and cryptocurrency company Shapeshift, tweeted: “My memory is failing, was it Bitcoin or was it JPMorgan that was bailed out by the government?”

The market is violate, and after Dimon‘s comments the value of a single bitcoin dropped.

Online, critics of the CEO’s blunt comments quickly noted that his own global institution does not appear to share the same pessimistic stance when it comes to the blockchain, the underlying ledger technology (DLT) that cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin are built upon.

JPMorgan is currently investing heavily in the cutting-edge technology and is currently probing the use of Ethereum, a separate type of digital cash and a major rival to bitcoin.

During the New York conference this week, Dimon said there were clear differences between bitcoin and its competitors, and stressed the future adoption of blockchain “won’t be overnight”. The FCA also recently issued a stark warning about investing in cryptocurrency.

You can’t accuse Dimon of flip-flopping.

Back in 2014, he warned that bitcoin developers were “going to try and eat our lunch”. The next year, he told attendees during a financial conference that a major government crackdown on cryptocurrency was on the horizon and it had no chance of competing with banks.

This year, following a meteoric spike in value, China touted plans to clamp down on bitcoin.

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North Korean hackers ramp up attacks to steal Bitcoin to get around sanctions and fund the regime

North Korean hackers ramp up attacks to steal Bitcoin to get around sanctions and fund the regime

North Korea seems to be ramping up cyberattacks to steal Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies that could be used to circumvent trade restrictions and international sanctions and obtain hard currencies to fund the regime. This week, the UN Security Council unanimously approved fresh, tighter sanctions on Pyongyang, following its alarming missile and nuclear tests, that would deprive the Hermit Kingdom of about $1.3 bn ($985m) in annual revenues.

In a report on Monday, researchers at security firm FireEye said they observed threat actors linked to Pyongyang have targeted at least three South Korean cryptocurrency exchanges since May this year to steal funds.

In these attacks, hackers used spear-phishing attacks to target the personal email accounts of employees at digital currency exchanges using lures related to taxes or by deploying malicious malware such as PEACHPIT and other variants. The malware used in these attacks have been linked to North Korean groups suspects of attacks targeting global banks last year, FireEye said.

At least one virtual currency exchange was successfully compromised in late May.

“Add to that the ties between North Korean operators and a watering hole compromise of a bitcoin news site in 2016, as well as at least one instance of usage of a surreptitious cryptocurrency miner, and we begin to see a picture of North Korean interest in cryptocurrencies,” FireEye researcher Luke McNamara wrote in a blog post published Monday (11 September).

In April, four digital wallets at Seoul-based cryptocurrency exchange Yapizon were compromised by hackers who stole more than 3,800 bitcoin ($16.3m, £12.4m at current rates). However, FireEye noted that some of the tactics and procedures reportedly used during this attack were different than the ones seen in the May attacks noting that there are “no clear indications of North Korean involvement.”

“While bitcoin and cryptocurrency exchanges may seem like odd targets for nation state actors interested in funding state coffers, some of the other illicit endeavours North Korea pursues further demonstrate interest in conducting financial crime on the regime’s behalf,” the firm said.

“As the regulatory environment around cryptocurrencies is still emerging, some exchanges in different jurisdictions may have lax anti-money laundering controls easing this process and make the exchanges an attractive tactic for anyone seeking hard currency.”

Although North Korean hackers’ new emphasis on finances do mark a shift from their previous patterns of cyberespionage for traditional nation state activities, FireEye says this new activity is “not all that surprising” given North Korea’s position as a “pariah nation cut off from much of the global economy” and a country that “employs a government bureau to conduct illicit economic activity”.

“Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have increased in value in the last year, nation states are beginning to take notice,” FireEye said.”Consequently, it should be no surprise that cryptocurrencies, as an emerging asset class, are becoming a target of interest by a regime that operates in many ways like a criminal enterprise.”

Security experts and intelligence agencies have previously identified connections between North Korean hackers and the WannaCry ransomware attacks that ensnared more than 300,000 computers in over 150 countries across the globe earlier this year. Pyongyang, however, has dismissed the allegations as “ridiculous”.

“While at present North Korea is somewhat distinctive in both their willingness to engage in financial crime and their possession of cyber espionage capabilities, the uniqueness of this combination will likely not last long-term as rising cyber powers may see similar potential,” the firm said. “Cyber criminals may no longer be the only nefarious actors in this space.”

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Blockchain insurance collective B3i launches reinsurance beta in Monte Carlo

Blockchain insurance collective B3i launches reinsurance beta in Monte Carlo

Some of the world’s largest insurance firms have launched a working reinsurance blockchain prototype at the 61st Monte Carlo RVS conference in Monte Carlo.

The 15-strong insurance industry blockchain consortium, B3i, which includes the likes of Aegon, Swiss Re, Zurich Insurance Group, have been working on a joint distributed ledger for reinsurance transactions for over a year now.

This is the first time the group has showcased its work: a fully functional beta version of its integrated blockchain solution for the re/insurance industry.

Paul Meeusen of B3i said: “I am really excited about our launch. Over the past four months, a dedicated, combined team drawn from B3i member firms has produced a working prototype covering the core functionalities required to enable a distributed smart contract management system for Property Cat XoL contracts.

“The deployment architecture is already close to a production-ready environment and the team is preparing for feature enhancements of the prototype and a first deployment into production in 2018.”

The system is being built on IBM Blockchain, which leverages the underlying Hyperledger Fabric 1.0. This is a flexible, general purpose blockchain architecture with notable features like privacy channels, as well as the physical hardware-based security modules that come with IBM products.

B3i members have been looking to develop an industry platform for market participants to more easily cede, handle and trade risks. The short-term focus of the platform is on handling reinsurance contracts. The consensus amongst the companies is that a productivity gain of up to 30% is achievable; B3i’s Sylvain De Crom added that all parties involved will gain from this efficiency. This means that brokers, insurers and reinsurers alike will benefit from lower administration costs and will be able to offer more attractive rates and fees in the future, in a statement.

The immediate next step is to launch a market beta-testing program for the prototype starting in October 2017. All insurance industry participants (insurers, brokers, reinsurers) are welcome to join this testing program, said B3i. Existing B3i members and new participants will be able to take part in the test on an equal basis of a common testing agreement.

The participants will be granted access to a ‘sandbox’ environment to simulate the creation and settlement of contracts and will be expected to feedback comments and change requests through defined channels.

All participants will also gain access to B3i user group workshops until the end of 2017. The current governance and membership composition of B3i, based on a contractual agreement between the 15 companies, will remain unchanged until 31st December 2017.

A review is underway to consider creating a more permanent operation within a legal entity in 2018, it said.

The current 15 members of B3i are Achmea, Aegon, Ageas, Allianz, Generali, Hannover Re, Liberty Mutual, Munich Re, RGA, SCOR, Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Insurance, Swiss Re, Tokio Marine Holdings, XL Catlin and Zurich Insurance Group.

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Blockchain-for-good startup Stellar launches partnership grant programme

Blockchain-for-good startup Stellar launches partnership grant programme

The blockchain-for-good startup Stellar, led by cryptocurrency pioneer Jed McCaleb, has launched the Stellar Partnership Grant Program, to promote the development of high-impact projects in the Stellar ecosystem.

Stellar is accepting proposals from innovative organisations that are interested in building upon its blockchain technology to promote global financial access and inclusion.

To incentivise our partners and reward network development, we will grant selected partners up to $2,000,000 per grant (paid in XLM) to ensure that they are co-beneficiaries of network growth, said a statement from Stellar. Grants will be subject to a multi year vesting schedule based on achievement of milestones.

Anchors and Exchanges

The goal of the program is to encourage organisations to develop useful and high-impact products and services using Stellar technology, with the primary focus on anchors (both fiat currencies and cryptocurrencies) and exchanges. Winners be chosen on the basis that each partnership meets the following high-level criteria:

  1. The partnership fulfills an important and unmet need in the Stellar ecosystem OR significantly improves upon an existing solution; and
  2. The team exhibits great promise in being able to successfully develop, deploy, and scale the technology.

Other Proposals

Stellar says it will also consider partnership proposals from NGOs, Fintech companies, other organisations proposing projects that do not relate directly to anchors or exchanges, or teams working on the categories listed in the Stellar Build Challenge (SBC). “We encourage interested organizations to present new, innovative, ‘outside the box’ ideas or use cases that significantly enhance access to and/or functionality of the Stellar Network,” it said.

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