Homepage / Technology / Here's why one of bitcoin's largest exchanges was brought down by the feds
Amazon says this Prime Day was its biggest shopping event ever Kudlow says President Trump is 'so dissatisfied' with China trade talks that he is keeping the pressure on As stocks regain their footing, an ominous warning looms Goldman Sachs downgrades Clorox to sell, says valuation is 'unsustainably high' How Satya Nadella has spurred a tripling of Microsoft's stock price in just over four years Kudlow says economic growth could top 4% for 'a quarter or two,' more tax cuts could be coming The one chart that explains Netflix’s stunning comeback US housing starts plunge 12% in June to a nine-month low Aerospace titans Boeing and Airbus top $110 billion in orders at Farnborough Target uses Prime Day to its advantage, logging its 'biggest online shopping day' so far this year Billionaire Marc Lasry sees bitcoin reaching up to $40,000 as it becomes more mainstream and easier to trade These are the 10 US airports where you're most likely to be hacked Amazon shares slightly higher as investors await Prime Day results Wreck of Russian warship found, believed to hold gold worth $130 billion A bullish ‘phenomenon’ in bond market is weeks away from fading, top credit strategist says Stocks making the biggest moves premarket: MS, GOOGL, TXN, UAL, NFLX & more Twitter shares up 50% since late April means most upside priced in, analyst says in downgrade EU fines Google $5 billion over Android antitrust abuse Mortgage applications fall 2.5% as buyers struggle to find affordable homes America may not have the tools to counter the next financial crisis, warn Bernanke, Geithner and Paulson Investors are getting spooked as the risk of a no-deal Brexit rises EU expected to fine Google $5 billion over Android antitrust abuse Ex-FBI chief James Comey urges Americans to vote for Democrats in midterm elections Elon Musk apologizes to British cave diver following baseless 'pedo guy' claim Disney, Comcast and Fox: All you need to know about one of the biggest media battles ever Xiaomi shares notch new high after Hong Kong, mainland China stock exchanges reach agreement The trade war is complicating China's efforts to fix its economy European markets set for a strong open amid earnings; Google in focus Hedge fund billionaire Einhorn places sixth in major poker tournament The biggest spender of political ads on Facebook? President Trump Asian stocks poised to gain after Fed's Powell gives upbeat comments; dollar firmer Stocks are setting up to break to new highs Not all FAANG stocks are created equal EU ruling may be too little, too late to stop Google's mobile dominance Cramer explains how Netflix's stock managed to taper its drop after disappointing on earnings Airbnb condemns New York City's 'bellhop politics,' threatens legal retaliation Amazon sellers say they were unfairly suspended right before Prime Day, and now have two bad choices Investor explains why 'duller' tech stocks can have better returns than 'high-flying' tech names Elon Musk is 'thin-skinned and short-tempered,' says tech VC Texas Instruments CEO Brian Crutcher resigns for violating code of conduct Google Cloud Platform fixes issues that took down Spotify, Snapchat and other popular sites Uber exec: We want to become the 'one stop' transportation app 'What a dumb hearing,' says Democrat as Congress grills tech companies on conservative bias Amazon shares rebound, report says Prime Day sales jumped 89 percent in first 12 hours of the event How to put your medical history on your iPhone in less than 5 minutes Investment chief: Watch these two big events in 2018 Even with Netflix slowing, the market rally is likely not over Cramer: Netflix subscriber weakness debunks the 'sky's the limit' theory on the stock Netflix is looking at watch time as a new area of growth, but the competition is stiff Why Nobel laureate Richard Thaler follows Warren Buffett's advice to avoid bitcoin Rolls-Royce is developing tiny 'cockroach' robots to crawl in and fix airplane engines After Netflix plunge, Wall Street analysts forecast just tame returns ahead for the once high-flying FANG group Roku shares rise after analyst raises streaming video company's price target due to customer growth China is investing 9 times more into Europe than into North America, report reveals Amazon says US Prime Day sales 'so far bigger than ever' as glitch is resolved Netflix is on pace for its worst day in two years US lumber producers see huge opportunity, rush to expand San Francisco to consider tax on companies to help homeless Homebuilder sentiment, still high, stalls as tariffs, labor and land drive up costs Powell backs more rate hikes as economy growing 'considerably stronger' Netflix history is filled with big stock declines – like today – followed by bigger rebounds Intel shares get downgraded by Evercore ISI due to rising competition from Nvidia, AMD Petco aims to reinvent the pet store with something you can't buy online Genetic testing is coming of age, but for consumers it's buyer beware Tech 'FAANG' was the most-crowded trade in the world heading into the Netflix implosion, survey shows Netflix weak subscriber growth may indicate a 'maturity wall' that could whack the stock even more: Analyst This chart may be predicting the bull market's demise Wall Street says Netflix's stock plunge is a ‘compelling’ buying opportunity because the streaming giant ‘never misses twice’ Tesla sinks after Musk tweets, again Boeing announces new division devoted to flying taxis Stocks making the biggest move premarket: NFLX, UNH, GS, AMZN, WMT & more Deutsche Bank downgrades Netflix, but says big subscriber miss is not 'thesis changing' IBM is experimenting with a cryptocurrency that’s pegged to the US dollar North Korea and Zimbabwe: A friendship explained Virgin Galactic spinoff Orbit to launch rockets from the UK with space deal Artificial intelligence will create more jobs than it destroys? That’s what PwC says ‘Treasonous’ Trump and ‘Putin’s poodle:' Scathing headlines follow the Trump-Putin summit China’s fintech companies offer ‘enormous’ opportunity, investment manager says Trump's performance at summit with Putin was 'unprecedented,' experts say Walmart and Microsoft link up on cloud technology as they both battle Amazon European stocks seen mixed amid earnings; Fed’s Powell to address Congress How I knew I should quit my day job and run my start-up full-time: Viral website founder China's stocks have been trounced, but the trade war may ultimately be good news for those shares Billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel bets on crypto start-up Block.one Asian shares subdued open after mixed close on Wall Street; energy stocks under pressure Amazon cloud hits snags after Amazon Prime Day downtime Netflix isn't doomed by one quarter unless people start questioning the long-term investor thesis Tech stocks set to sink on Tuesday after rough evening for ‘FANG’ Netflix plummets after missing big on subscriber growth This wristband lets humans control machines with their minds The U.S. has a rocky history convincing Russia to extradite computer criminals Amazon suffers glitches at the start of Prime Day Jeff Bezos is now the richest man in modern history 'The United States has been foolish': Read Trump and Putin's full exchange Goldman Sachs recommends these 5 highly profitable companies — including Nvidia — to combat rising inflation Goldman Sachs releases 'tactical' stock picks for this earnings season Three red flags for Netflix ahead of its earnings report The bond market may be raising recession fears, but don't expect one anytime soon Cramer: Banks are 'making fortunes' but are still as hated as they were during the financial crisis Putin told Trump at summit: Russia never meddled in US election

Technology

Here's why one of bitcoin's largest exchanges was brought down by the feds

This week, one of Bitcoin’s largest and most notorious coin exchanges was brought down by law enforcement — and police and prosecutors are now beginning to explain why. On Thursday, the Department of Justice unsealed an indictment against Alexander Vinnik — thought to be the operator, or one of the operators of Bitcoin exchange BTC-e — charging him with 21 counts of money laundering and other related financial crimes. The counts range from operating an unlicensed money transmittal business to a variety of money laundering charges, including laundering associated with ransomware payouts and a theft from the now-defunct Mt Gox exchange. More generally, the indictment paints BTC-e as a hub of criminal activity, laundering the proceeds of everything from drug trafficking to ransomware attacks.

As some suspected, Vinnik’s alleged crimes go beyond just operating the exchange. Feds believe he played a role in the theft of more 800,000 bitcoin — about $400 million at the time — from Mt. Gox, a staggering loss that ultimately shuttered the exchange. According to the indictment, 530,000 of those bitcoin ended up passing through wallets controlled by or associated with Vinnik, although his role in the larger scheme remains unclear.

Read more from The Verge:
Tesla Model 3 first drive: this is the car that Elon Musk promised
YouTube wants to fix its awkward relationship with the music industry
Saturn’s moon Titan has a key ingredient that could be used to cook up life

Vinnik himself is in custody, arrested while on vacation in Greece, but the Bitcoin world is still sorting through the larger implications of his arrest. BTC-e was one of the last major exchanges outside the reach of conventional finance, and now that it’s gone, it’s unclear what might replace it. There are many legitimate uses of Bitcoin, but Bitcoin transactions have also become essential for online crime — whether it’s ransomware or Silk-Road-style online marketplaces. There will continue to be demand for exchanges like BTC-e, and with feds directly targeting exchanges that don’t play by the book, the split between the two halves of Bitcoin is becoming starker and starker.

BTC-e, founded in 2011, always stood out as an anomaly among the major Bitcoin exchanges. Even a cursory look at BTC-e flagged it as a little strange. “Their exchange prices always seemed weird and out of line with every other exchange, and I had wondered why,” Matthew Green, a professor at Johns Hopkins University told The Verge in an email.

Nicholas Weaver wrote at Lawfare that BTC-e was noted for its “sketchy ownership and control.” The exchange was supposedly located in Eastern Europe, but there were no clues as to who ran it — until now.

But the big surprise in the indictment is how closely tied BTC-e is to a massive theft at Mt. Gox, one that eventually bankrupted the exchange in 2014. Founded in 2010, Mt. Gox dominated the Bitcoin world for years, at one point processing 80 percent of all bitcoin-to-currency transactions. Mt. Gox first suffered a multimillion-dollar theft in June 2011. When the exchange collapsed in 2014, the equivalent of nearly half a billion dollars was unaccounted for.

On Wednesday, in the wake of the arrest of Vinnik, WizSec published a blogpost presenting the findings of an investigation into the Mt. Gox thefts that they have apparently been preparing for years. According to WizSec, the Mt. Gox hot wallet private keys were stolen sometime in 2011, and the hacker (or multiple hackers) continued to steal bitcoin through 2012 and 2013. The bitcoin were laundered through wallets controlled by Alexander Vinnik. The indictment claims that 300,000 bitcoin were stolen from Mt. Gox went directly to three connected BTC-e accounts “directly linked” to “BTC-e administrative accounts” that only BTC-e admins and operators could have had access to. At least one of the accounts — under the name “Vamnedam” — was controlled by Vinnik and “others known and unknown.” (The “others known” are either not named in the indictment or have been redacted from the published document.)

More bitcoin from the theft were sent to other Mt. Gox wallets and wallets at a third exchange — the now-defunct Tradehill, which operated out of San Francisco, California. From there, they eventually ended up at BTC-e, in an account that was directly controlled by Vinnik.

WizSec also claims that the wallets that laundered Mt. Gox coins also handled “coins stolen from Bitcoinica, Bitfloor and several other thefts from back in 2011 and 2012.”

It’s not clear whether Vinnik was directly involved in the Mt. Gox theft, or how close he is to any of those previous thefts, or even the CryptoWall ransomware hackers whose funds he is accused of laundering. But when it comes to Mt. Gox, at least, BTC-e’s proximity to the theft is fairly suspicious.

While the Mt. Gox allegations are the most eye-catching, many of the charges that brought down BTC-e allege more straightforward money laundering. The very first count listed in the indictment is for operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business: a criminal charge based on failing to register with FinCEN, an intelligence network that’s mandatory for all financial companies dealing with US customers.

Participating in FinCEN comes with a range of requirements, from registration to internal anti-money laundering programs. Since 2013, it’s been clear that Bitcoin exchanges had to follow those same rules, and for the most part, exchanges have complied — and prosecutors haven’t been shy about filing charges against services that don’t. In recent years, BTC-e has been the largest Bitcoin exchange not registered with FinCEN, a distinction that made it an obvious target for law enforcement, even without Vinnik’s alleged Mt. Gox involvement.

“Anybody who thought about this for a second understood that law enforcement was working on a case against BTC-e,” said Jerry Brito, executive director of Coin Center. “The question was just whether the government would catch them.”

Where other counts in the indictment focus on money transfers linked to theft and ransomware, the first two — operation of an unlicensed money transmitter and conspiracy to commit money-laundering — focus on the technological capabilities of BTC-e itself, claiming that the exchange had a “criminal design.”

“BTC-e’s system was designed so that criminals could accomplish financial transactions with anonymity and thereby avoid apprehension by law enforcement or seizure of funds,” the indictment says, pointing out that BTC-e only required “a username, password, and an email address,” unlike “legitimate payment processors or digital currency exchangers.” The indictment also points to suspicious usernames like “ISIS,” “CocaineCowboys,” “blackhathackers,” “dzkillerhacker,” and “hacker4hire” as additional support for the money-laundering allegations.

The language in the indictment about BTC-e’s “criminal design” mimics the indictment against Liberty Reserve — an anonymous currency service taken down by law enforcement in 2013 — which also accused the online exchange of having a “criminal design” and a system “designed so that criminals could effect financial transactions under multiple layers of anonymity.” (The Liberty Reserve indictment also took the time to point out that account names on the site included “Russia Hackers” and “Hacker Accounts.”)

BTC-e’s website claimed that they required customers to provide proof of identity — namely, a scanned ID card and a scanned utility bill or bank statement — and forbid any US customers, letting them off the hook for FinCEN registration. But neither turned out to be true, according to the indictment.

Now that BTC-e is down for good, it could have a profound impact on the criminal ecosystem more broadly. BTC-e handled about 5 percent of total Bitcoin transactions, but recent research found that as much as 95 percent of ransomware cashouts happened through the platform. With most comparably sized exchanges already registered under FinCEN, the takedown could make it both harder and riskier for criminals to cash out — something law enforcement seems to be counting on. In the same Lawfare piece, Weaver says he thinks taking down BTC-e “will probably prove more important than the AlphaBay and Hansa takedowns” in fighting online crime.

For Bitcoiners less invested in law enforcement’s war on dark web marketplaces, the lesson is a more ambiguous one. Cornell professor Emin Gun Sirer says the focus on FinCEN compliance could lead to a lasting split in Bitcoin markets, as exchanges face the choice of whether to comply with US government demands.

“Exchanges will go one of two ways,” Sirer says. “Either they will clean their act, by first shopping for the most lenient jurisdictions and complying with relevant KYC/AML laws, or they’ll go ‘fully underground,’ and operate with no rules, behind Tor and other anonymous communication technologies. The most colorful drama ahead will involve exchanges, such as Bitfinex, that operate in the gray zone, where they seem to neither comply with relevant laws nor go fully underground.”

For a technology with a surrounding community built on libertarian ideas, that may be a difficult pill to swallow. But as the past week has made clear, those that don’t will be taking a very serious risk.

Source: Tech CNBC
Here's why one of bitcoin's largest exchanges was brought down by the feds

Comments are closed.