blockchain

Anchorage emerges with $17M from a16z for ‘omnimetric’ crypto security

Posted by | Anchorage, Andreessen Horowitz, Apps, blockchain, Chris Dixon, cryptocurrency, Enterprise, funding, Fundings & Exits, Mobile, Recent Funding, Security, Startups, TC, Venture Capital | No Comments

I’m not allowed to tell you exactly how Anchorage keeps rich institutions from being robbed of their cryptocurrency, but the off-the-record demo was damn impressive. Judging by the $17 million Series A this security startup raised last year led by Andreessen Horowitz and joined by Khosla Ventures, #Angels, Max Levchin, Elad Gil, Mark McCombe of Blackrock and AngelList’s Naval Ravikant, I’m not the only one who thinks so. In fact, crypto funds like Andreessen’s a16z crypto, Paradigm and Electric Capital are already using it.

They’re trusting in the guys who engineered Square’s first encrypted card reader and Docker’s security protocols. “It’s less about us choosing this space and more about this space choosing us. If you look at our backgrounds and you look at the problem, it’s like the universe handed us on a silver platter the Venn diagram of our skill set,” co-founder Diogo Monica tells me.

Today, Anchorage is coming out of stealth and launching its cryptocurrency custody service to the public. Anchorage holds and safeguards crypto assets for institutions like hedge funds and venture firms, and only allows transactions verified by an array of biometrics, behavioral analysis and human reviewers. And because it doesn’t use “buried in the backyard” cold storage, asset holders can actually earn rewards and advantages for participating in coin-holder votes without fear of getting their Bitcoin, Ethereum or other coins stolen.

The result is a crypto custody service that could finally lure big-time commercial banks, endowments, pensions, mutual funds and hedgies into the blockchain world. Whether they seek short-term gains off of crypto volatility or want to HODL long-term while participating in coin governance, Anchorage promises to protect them.

Evolving past “pirate security”

Anchorage’s story starts eight years ago when Monica and his co-founder Nathan McCauley met after joining Square the same week. Monica had been getting a PhD in distributed systems while McCauley designed anti-reverse engineering tech to keep U.S. military data from being extracted from abandoned tanks or jets. After four years of building systems that would eventually move more than $80 billion per year in credit card transactions, they packaged themselves as a “pre-product acqui-hire” Monica tells me, and they were snapped up by Docker.

As their reputation grew from work and conference keynotes, cryptocurrency funds started reaching out for help with custody of their private keys. One had lost a passphrase and the $1 million in currency it was protecting in a display of jaw-dropping ignorance. The pair realized there were no true standards in crypto custody, so they got to work on Anchorage.

“You look at the status quo and it was and still is cold storage. It’s the same technology used by pirates in the 1700s,” Monica explains. “You bury your crypto in a treasure chest and then you make a treasure map of where those gold coins are,” except with USB keys, security deposit boxes and checklists. “We started calling it Pirate Custody.” Anchorage set out to develop something better — a replacement for usernames and passwords or even phone numbers and two-factor authentication that could be misplaced or hijacked.

This led them to Andreessen Horowitz partner and a16z crypto leader Chris Dixon, who’s now on their board. “We’ve been buying crypto assets running back to Bitcoin for years now here at a16z crypto. [Once you’re holding crypto,] it’s hard to do it in a way that’s secure, regulatory compliant, and lets you access it. We felt this pain point directly.”

Andreessen Horowitz partner and Anchorage board member Chris Dixon

It’s at this point in the conversation when Monica and McCauley give me their off-the-record demo. While there are no screenshots to share, the enterprise security suite they’ve built has the polish of a consumer app like Robinhood. What I can say is that Anchorage works with clients to whitelist employees’ devices. It then uses multiple types of biometric signals and behavioral analytics about the person and device trying to log in to verify their identity.

But even once they have access, Anchorage is built around quorum-based approvals. Withdrawals, other transactions and even changing employee permissions requires approval from multiple users inside the client company. They could set up Anchorage so it requires five of seven executives’ approval to pull out assets. And finally, outlier detection algorithms and a human review the transaction to make sure it looks legit. A hacker or rogue employee can’t steal the funds even if they’re logged in because they need consensus of approval.

That kind of assurance means institutional investors can confidently start to invest in crypto assets. That swell of capital could help replace the retreating consumer investors who’ve fled the market this year, leading to massive price drops. The liquidity provided by these asset managers could keep the whole blockchain industry moving. “Institutional investing has had centuries to build up a set of market infrastructure. Custody was something that for other asset classes was solved hundreds of years ago, so it’s just now catching up [for crypto],” says McCauley. “We’re creating a bigger market in and of itself,” Monica adds.

With Anchorage steadfastly handling custody, the risk these co-founders admit worries them lies in the smart contracts that govern the cryptocurrencies themselves. “We need to be extremely wide in our level of support and extremely deep because each blockchain has details of implementation. This is inherently a very difficult problem,” McCauley explains. It doesn’t matter if the coins are safe in Anchorage’s custody if a janky smart contract can botch their transfer.

There are plenty of startups vying to offer crypto custody, ranging from Bitgo and Ledger to well-known names like Coinbase and Gemini. Yet Anchorage offers a rare combination of institutional-since-day-one security rigor with the ability to participate in votes and governance of crypto assets that’s impossible if they’re in cold storage. Down the line, Anchorage hints that it might serve clients recommendations for how to vote to maximize their yield and preserve the sanctity of their coin.

They’ll have crypto investment legend Chris Dixon on their board to guide them. “What you’ll see is in the same way that institutional investors want to buy stock in Facebook and Google and Netflix, they’ll want to buy the equivalent in the world 10 years from now and do that safely,” Dixon tells me. “Anchorage will be that layer for them.”

But why do the Anchorage founders care so much about the problem? McCauley concludes that, “When we look at what’s potentially possible with crypto, there a fundamentally more accessible economy. We view ourselves as a key component of bringing that future forward.”

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Spot is a cryptocurrency app to control all your wallets and exchange accounts

Posted by | Apps, blockchain, cryptocurrency, Edouard Steegmann, Europe, France Newsletter, Mobile, SPOT, Spot.so, Startups | No Comments

Meet Spot, a beautifully designed mobile app to control your cryptocurrencies. Spot looks like a portfolio-tracking app. But the company has built a strong foundation to add more features in the coming months. Spot wants to be your unique gateway to the world of cryptocurrencies.

“Spot’s vision isn’t to build a portfolio tracker — we went a bit overboard with this feature,” co-founder and CEO Edouard Steegmann told me. “Eventually, we want to become the app to manage all your cryptos, a sort of Revolut but with a crypto DNA.”

When you first install the app, you can connect it to your existing wallets by adding public addresses. Even if you store your tokens on a hardware wallet, Spot can read the public details of your wallet to show them in the app.

“We have our own nodes on Ethereum, Bitcoin, Litecoin, Stellar and others to recover the amount on your wallet,” Steegmann said. Data is also cross-checked with third-party services to make sure that everything is fine.

Spot also lets you connect to an exchange account using API keys. Right now, the app supports Binance, Kraken, Bitfinex and Poloniex, but the company already plans to add more exchanges.

The app then gives you a detailed overview of your holdings across all services and wallets. You can see detailed charts, and discover which token is performing better than the rest. It’s also one of the most well-designed mobile apps I’ve seen this year — the animations and interactions are gorgeous.

But Spot doesn’t rely on an API to get pricing information for each token. “We’ve rebuilt CoinMarketCap from the ground up, and we’re one of the few companies that have done it,” Steegmann said. The company stores pricing information for dozens of tokens across 150 exchanges. That’s a lot of pairings.

If you tap on the Spot logo at the top of the app, you can see the maximum value of your portfolio if you cash out on exchanges with the highest prices for your tokens. The company makes sure that there’s enough volume to show you coherent prices.

Spot thinks that controlling your own data is too important to rely on API calls. When you have your own data, you don’t have any API rate limits, you don’t have a major dependency and you can scale more calmly.

Up next, you’ll be able to trade directly in the app. The company isn’t going to build its own exchange, but you can expect to buy and sell tokens on a third-party exchange without having to visit the website.

“We think that many things will be tokenized and that there’s no user-friendly interface to transfer, receive, buy and sell,” Steegmann said.

The company raised a $1.2 million round (€1.056 million to be exact) from Kima Ventures and business angels, including Eric Larchevêque and Thomas France from Ledger, Jean-Daniel Guyot, Thibaud Elzière, Eduardo Ronzano, Nicolas Steegmann, Sébastien Lucas and Nicolas Debock.

Disclosure: I own small amounts of various cryptocurrencies.

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The Coinmine One is a box that mines crypto at home

Posted by | amd, blockchain, celeron, computing, cryptocurrencies, decentralization, economy, Gadgets, Intel, mining, Monero, TC, technology | No Comments

For $799 you can start mining cryptocurrencies in your home, a feat that previously either required a massive box costing thousands of dollars or, if you didn’t actually want to make any money, a Raspberry Pi. The Coinmine One, created by Farbood Nivi, soundly hits the sweet spot between actual mining and experimentation.

The box is about as big as a gaming console and runs a custom OS called MineOS. The system lets you pick a cryptocurrency to mine — Monero, for example, as the system isn’t very good with mature, ASIC-dependent currencies like BTC — and then runs it on the built-in CPU and GPU. The machine contains an Intel Celeron Processor J Series processor and an AMD Radeon RX570 graphics card for mining. It also has a 1 TB drive to hold the massive blockchains required to manage these currencies.

The box mines Ethereum at 29 Mh/s and Monero at 800 h/s — acceptable numbers for an entry-level miner like this one. You can upgrade it to support new coins, allowing you to get in on the ground floor of whatever weird thing crypto folks create tomorrow.

I saw the Coinmine in Brooklyn and it looks nice. It’s a cleverly made piece of consumer tech that brings the mystery of crypto mining to the average user. Nivi doesn’t see this as a profit-making machine. Instead, it is a tool to help crypto experimenters try to mine new currencies and run a full node on the network. That doesn’t mean you can’t get a Lambo with this thing, but expect a Lambo to take a long, long time.

The device ships next month to hungry miners worldwide. It’s a fascinating move for the average user to experience the thrills and spills of the recent crypto bust.

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Meet ‘Bitski’, the single sign-on wallet crypto desperately needs

Posted by | Apps, Bitski, blockchain, crypto wallet, cryptocurrency, Developer, funding, Fundings & Exits, Mobile, OAuth, payments, Recent Funding, single sign-on, Startups, TC | No Comments

The mainstream will never adopt blockchain-powered decentralized apps (dApps) if it’s a struggle to log in. They’re either forced to manage complex security keys themselves, or rely on a clunky wallet-equipped browser like MetaMask. What users need is for signing in to blockchain apps to be as easy as Login with Facebook. So that’s what Bitski built. The startup emerges from stealth today with an exclusive on TechCrunch about the release of the developer beta of its single sign-on cryptocurrency wallet platform.

Ten projects, including 7 game developers, are lined up to pay a fee to integrate Bitski’s SDK. Then, whenever they need a user’s identity or to transact a payment, their app pops open a Bitski authorization screen, where users can grant permissions to access their ID, send money or receive items. Users sign up just once with Bitski, and then there’s no more punching in long private keys or other friction. Using blockchain apps becomes simple enough for novices. Given the recent price plunge, the mainstream has been spooked about speculating on cryptocurrencies. But Bitski could unlock the utility of dApps that blockchain developers have been promising but haven’t delivered.

“One of the great challenges for protocol teams and product companies in crypto today is the poor UX in dApps, specifically onboarding, transactions, and sign-in/password recovery,” says co-founder and CEO Donnie Dinch. “We interviewed a ton of dApp developers. The minute they used a wallet, there was a huge drop-off of folks. Bitski’s vision is to solve user onboarding and wallet usability for developers, so that they can in-turn focus on creating unique and useful dapps.”

The scrappy Bitski team raised $1.5 million in pre-seed capital from Steve Jang’s Kindred Ventures, Signia, Founders Fund, Village Global and Social Capital. They were betting on Dinch, a designer-as-CEO who’d built concert discovery app WillCall that he sold to Ticketfly, which was eventually bought by Pandora. After 18 months of rebranding Ticketfly and overhauling its consumer experience, Dinch left and eventually recruited engineer Julian Tescher to come with him to found Bitski.

Bitski co-founder and CEO Donnie Dinch

After Riff failed to hit scale, the team hung up its social ambitions in late 2017 and “started kicking around ideas for dApps. We mocked up a Venmo one, a remittance app…but found the hurdle to get someone to use one of these products is enormous,” Dinch recalls. “Onboarding was a dealbreaker for anyone building dApps. Even if we made the best crypto Venmo, to get normal people on it would be extremely difficult. It’s already hard enough to get people to install apps from the App Store.” They came up with Bitski to let any developer ski jump over that hurdle.

Looking across the crypto industry, the companies like Coinbase and Binance with their own hosted wallets that permitted smooth UX were the ones winning. Bitski would bring that same experience to any app. “Our hosted wallet SDK lets developers drop the Bitski wallet into their apps and onboard users with standards web 2.0 users have grown to know and love,” Dinch explains.

Imagine an iOS game wants to reward users with a digital sword or token. Users would have to set up a whole new wallet, struggle with their credentials or use another clumsy solution. They’d have to own Ethereum already to pay the Ethereum “gas” price to power the transaction, and the developer would have to manually approve sending the gift. With Bitski, users can approve receiving tokens from a developer from then on, and developers can pay the gas on users’ behalf while triggering transactions programmatically.

Magik is an AR content platform that’s one of Bitski’s first developers. Magik’s founders tell me, “We’re building towards reaching millions of mainstream consumers, and Bitski is the only wallet solution that understands what we need to reach users at that scale. They provide a dead-simple, secure and familiar interface that addresses every pain point along the user-onboarding journey.”

Bitski will offer a free tier, priced tiers based on transaction volume or a monthly fee and an enterprise version. In the future, the company is considering doubling-down on premium developer services to help them build more on top of the blockchain. “We will never, ever monetize user data. We’ve never had any intent at looking at it,” Dinch vows. The startup hopes developers will seize on the network effects of a cross-app wallet, as once someone sets up Bitski to use one product, all future sign-ins just require a few clicks.

In August, Coinbase acquired a startup called Distributed Systems that was building a similar crypto identity platform called the Clear Protocol. A “login with Coinbase” feature could be popular if launched, but the company’s focus is to spread a ton of blockchain projects. “If [login with Coinbase] launched tomorrow, they wouldn’t be able to support games or anything with a unique token. We’re a lockbox, they’re a bank,” Dinch claims.

The spectre of single sign-on’s biggest player, Facebook, looms, as well. In May it announced the formation of a blockchain team we suspect might be working on a crypto login platform or other ways to make the decentralized world more accessible for mom and pop. Dinch suspects that fears about how Facebook uses data would dissuade developers and users from adopting such a product. Still, Bitski’s haste in getting its developer platform into beta just a year after forming shows it’s eager to beat them to market.

Building a centralized wallet in a decentralized ecosystem comes with its own security risks. But Dinch assures me Bitski is using all its own hardware with air-gapped computers that have been stripped of their Wi-Fi cards, and it’s taking other secret precautions to prevent anyone from snatching its wallets. He believes cross-app wallets will also deliver a future where users actually own their virtual goods instead of just relying on the good will of developers not to pull them away or shut them down.” The idea of we’ve never been able to provably own unique digital assets is crazy to me,” Dinch notes. “Whether it’s a skin in Fortnite or a movie on iTunes that you purchase, you don’t have liquidity to resell those things. We think we’ll look back in 5 to 10 years and think it’s nuts that no one owned their digital items.”

While the crypto prices might be cratering and dApps like Cryptokitties have cooled off, Dinch is convinced the blockchain startups won’t fade away. “There is a thriving developer ecosystem hellbent on bringing the decentralized web to reality; regardless of token price. It’s a safe assumption that prices will dip a bit more, but will eventually rise whenever we see real use cases for a lot of these tokens. Most will die. The ones that succeed will be outcome-oriented, building useful products that people want.” Bitski’s a big step in that direction.

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Blockchain gaming gets a boost with Mythical Games’ $16M Series A

Posted by | blockchain, funding, Gaming, niantic, Seismic Games, Startups, Venture Capital, Yahoo | No Comments

Fortnite, the free multi-player survival game, has earned an astonishing $1 billion from in-game virtual purchases alone. Now, others in the gaming industry are experimenting with how they too can capitalize on new trends in gaming.

Mythical Games, a startup out of stealth today with $16 million in Series A funding, is embracing a future in gaming where user-generated content and intimate ties between players, content creators, brands and developers is the norm. Mythical is using its infusion of venture capital to develop a line of PC, mobile and console games on the EOSIO blockchain, which will also be open to developers to build games with “player-owned economies.”

The company says an announcement regarding its initial lineup of games is on the way.

Mythical is led by a group of gaming industry veterans. Its chief executive officer is John Linden, a former studio head at Activision and president of the Niantic-acquired Seismic Games. The rest of its C-suite includes chief compliance officer Jamie Jackson, another former studio head at Activision; chief product officer Stephan Cunningham, a former director of product management at Yahoo; and head of blockchain Rudy Kock, a former senior producer at Blizzard — the Activision subsidiary known for World of Warcraft. Together, the team has worked on games including Call of Duty, Guitar Hero, Marvel Strike Force and Skylanders.

Galaxy Digital’s EOS VC Fund has led the round for Mythical. The $325 million fund, launched earlier this year, is focused on expanding the EOSIO ecosystem via strategic investments in startups building on EOSIO blockchain software. Javelin Venture Partners, Divergence Digital Currency, cryptocurrency exchange OKCoin and others also participated in the round.

It’s no surprise investors are getting excited about the booming gaming business given the success of Epic Games, Twitch, Discord and others in the space.

Epic Games raised a $1.25 billion round late last month thanks to the cultural phenomenon that its game, Fortnite, has become. KKR, Iconiq Capital, Smash Ventures,Vulcan Capital, Kleiner Perkins, Lightspeed Venture Partners and others participated in that round. Discord, a chat application for gamers, raised a $50 million financing in April at a $1.65 billion valuation from Benchmark Capital, Greylock Partners, IVP, Spark Capital and Tencent. And Dapper Labs, best known for the blockchain-based game CryptoKitties, even raised a VC round this year — a $15 million financing led by Venrock, with participation from GV and Samsung NEXT.

In total, VCs have invested $1.8 billion in gaming startups this year, per PitchBook.

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Blockchain partners with Ledger for its hardware wallet

Posted by | blockchain, cryptocurrency, Distributed Ledger, Gadgets, hardware wallet, Ledger | No Comments

Blockchain startup Blockchain shared its roadmap for the coming months. The company is launching a hardware wallet in partnership with Ledger. Blockchain is also launching a new trading platform called Swap — this platform will find the best trading prices across a variety of exchanges and liquidity pools so that you can exchange tokens at a fair price straight from your Blockchain account.

Blockchain is one of the most successful cryptocurrency wallets out there. The company has built a solid user base with a software wallet for Bitcoin, and now also Ethereum and Bitcoin Cash.

Compared to traditional exchanges, you remain in control of your private keys. Blockchain can’t access your tokens, hackers can’t empty your wallet if Blockchain gets hacked. Blockchain currently manages 30 million wallets, which represent over $200 billion in transaction volume in the last two years.

But a software wallet isn’t as secure as a hardware wallet. There have been countless of phishing attempts and scams to take over your private keys. That’s why Blockchain is going to release its own hardware wallet, sort of.

The company is partnering with French startup Ledger to release the Blockchain Lockbox. It looks exactly like the Ledger Nano S, but with a Blockchain logo. It’ll feature a customer Blockchain firmware and integrate with Blockchain’s wallets.

Just like Ledger’s own app, you’ll be able to check your balance without connecting your hardware wallet to a computer. But as soon as you want to process a transaction, you’ll need to plug your Ledger wallet to confirm the transaction on the device itself.

It’ll be interesting to see how your Blockchain wallet and the one tied to your Blockchain Lockbox work together. The Lockbox could act as a sort of longterm vault while you could keep some coins on your standard Blockchain wallet for frequent transactions.

As for Swap, Blockchain is building its own trading product. It’s not going to be a separate exchange as the company plans to integrate with multiple sources. Eventually, Blockchain hopes to add support for decentralized exchange protocols so that you can exchange tokens without going through an exchange.

The Blockchain Lockbox will cost $99 and start shipping in November. I hope there will be other versions that support Bluetooth and mobile phones in the future as Blockchain is quite popular on mobile.

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Blok.Party raises $10M, will adapt Settlers of Catan to its blockchain game console

Posted by | blockchain, blok.party, Gadgets, Gaming, hardware, PlayTable, settlers of catan, Startups | No Comments

Blok.Party, the company that built the upcoming PlayTable game console, announced today it raised $10 million in new funding. It’s also unveiling a big content partnership, where Blok.Party will create its own version of the popular board game Settlers of Catan.

I first wrote about Blok.Party and PlayTable earlier this year, when co-founder and CEO Jimmy Chen first laid out his vision to use blockchain technology to build a console that can recognize real-world objects (like figurines and cards), creating a hybrid between tabletop and video gaming.

The idea may have sounded a little abstract at the time, but it got a lot clearer when Chen dropped by the TechCrunch New York office to play a couple rounds of Catan with me.

I’ll admit that I hadn’t played in a while, but it was clear from the start that PlayTable saved us some setup time — instead of putting all the pieces of the physical board together, you play on a digital representation of the board. Most of the pieces are digitized too, and we used and traded our cards using smartphones. But there is a physical “robber” piece, because Chen said this allows the robber’s movement to remain “a very visceral experience … that a digital version can’t ever capture.”

It may not be too long before you get to try this out for yourself, at least if you’re among the 10,000 pre-orders Blok.Party has received so far. Chen said the company will start shipping its first devices this fall.

He added that Catan, like many of the other games built for PlayTable, will be priced at around $20.

“For us, it’s not about trying to compete based on price,” Chen said. “We’re trying to compete based on experience.”

The new funding comes from crypto fund JRR Capital and other investors. Chen said the company will use the money to continue scaling the product, including further software development and building out the library of games.

At the same time, he emphasized that although Blok.Party is manufacturing the initial devices, his vision is to achieve real scale through partnerships with hardware manufacturers, who will build their own PlayTable consoles. Apparently, some of those discussions are already underway.

“Our strategy is to always have [our own] hardware program running to continually do research,” Chen said. “What I’ve discovered is that keeping a hardware program running is not that expensive. The expensive part is when you try to scale the program.”

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Committed to privacy, Snips founder wants to take on Alexa and Google, with blockchain

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon, blockchain, cryptocurrency, Developer, Europe, Gadgets, Google, siri, Snips, Startups, TC | No Comments

Earlier this year we saw the headlines of how the users of popular voice assistants like Alexa and Siri and continue to face issues when their private data is compromised, or even sent to random people. In May it was reported that Amazon’s Alexa recorded a private conversation and sent it to a random contact. Amazon insists its Echo devices aren’t always recording, but it did confirm the audio was sent.

The story could be a harbinger of things to come when voice becomes more and more ubiquitous. After all, Amazon announced the launch of Alexa for Hospitality, its Alexa system for hotels, in June. News stories like this simply reinforce the idea that voice control is seeping into our daily lives.

The French startup Snips thinks it might have an answer to the issue of security and data privacy. Its built its software to run 100% on-device, independently from the cloud. As a result, user data is processed on the device itself, acting as a potentially stronger guarantor of privacy. Unlike centralized assistants like Alexa and Google, Snips knows nothing about its users.

Its approach is convincing investors. To date, Snips has raised €22 million in funding from investors like Korelya Capital, MAIF Avenir, BPI France and Eniac Ventures. Created in 2013 by 3 PhDs, and now employing more than 60 people in Paris and New York, Snips offers its voice assistant technology as a white-labelled solution for enterprise device manufacturers.

It’s tested its theories about voice by releasing the result of a consumer poll. The survey of 410 people found that 66% of respondents said they would be apprehensive of using a voice assistant in a hotel room, because of concerns over privacy, 90% said they would like to control the ways corporations use their data, even if it meant sacrificing convenience.

“Сonsumers are increasingly aware of the privacy concerns with voice assistants that rely on cloud storage — and that these concerns will actually impact their usage,” says Dr Rand Hindi, co-founder and CEO at Snips. “However, emerging technologies like blockchain are helping us to create safer and fairer alternatives for voice assistants.”

Indeed, blockchain is very much part of Snip’s future. As Hindi told TechCrunch in May, the company will release a new set of consumer devices independent of its enterprise business. The idea is to create a consumer business that will prompt further enterprise development. At the same time, they will issue a cryptographic token via an ICO to incentivize developers to improve the Snips platform, as an alternative to using data from consumers. The theory goes that this will put it at odds with the approach used by Google and Amazon, who are constantly criticised for invading our private lives merely to improve their platforms.

As a result Hindi believes that as voice-controlled devices become an increasingly common sight in public spaces, there could be a significant shift in public opinion about how their privacy is being protected.

In an interview conducted last month with TechCrunch, Hindi told me the company’s plans for its new consumer product are well advanced, and will be designed from the beginning to be improved over time using a combination of decentralized machine learning and cryptography.

By using blockchain technology to share data, they will be able to train the network “without ever anybody sending unencrypted data anywhere,” he told me.

And ‘training the network” is where it gets interesting. By issuing a cryptographic token for developers to use, Hindi says they will incentivize devs to work on their platform and process data in a decentralized fashion. They are starting from a good place. He claims they already have 14,000 developers on the platform who will be further incentivized by a token economy.

“Otherwise people have no incentive to process that data in a decentralized fashion, right?” he says.

“We got into blockchain because we’re trying to find a way to get people to participate in decentralized machine learning. We’ve been wanting to get into consumer [devices] for a couple of years but didn’t really figure out the end goal because we had always had this missing element which was: how do you keep making it better over time.”

“This is the main argument for Google and Amazon to pretend that you need to send your data to them, to make the service better. If we can fix this [by using blockchain] then we can offer a real alternative to Alexa that guarantees Privacy by Design,” he says.

“We now have over 14000 developers building for us and that’s really completely organic growth, zero marketing, purely word of mouth, which is really nice because it shows that there’s a very big demand for decentralized voice assistance, effectively.”

It could be a high-risk strategy. Launching a voice-controlled device is one thing. Layering it with applications produced by developed supposedly incentivized by tokens, especially when crypto prices have crashed, is quite another.

It does definitely feel like a moonshot idea, however, and we’ll really only know if Snips can live up to such lofty ideals after the launch.

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Stealthy wants to become the WeChat of blockchain apps

Posted by | Apps, Battlefield, blockchain, disrupt sf 2018, messaging, Mobile, Social, Startups, Stealthy | No Comments

Meet Stealthy a new messaging app that leverages Blockstack’s decentralized application platform to build a messaging app. The company is participating in TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield at Disrupt SF and launching its app on iOS and Android today.

On the surface, Stealthy works like many messaging apps out there. But it gets interesting once you start digging to understand the protocol behind it. Stealthy is a decentralized platform with privacy in mind. It could become the glue that makes various decentralized applications stick together.

“We started Stealthy because Blockstack had a global hackathon in December of last year,” co-founder Prabhaav Bhardwaj told me. “We won that hackathon in February.” After that, the #deletefacebook movement combined with the overall decentralization trend motivated Bhardwaj and Alex Carreira to ship the app.

Blockstack manages your identity. You get an ID and a 12-word passphrase to recover your account. Blockstack creates a blockchain record for each new user. You use your Blockstack ID to connect to Stealthy.

Stealthy users then choose how they want to store their messages. You can connect your account with Dropbox, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, etc.

Every time you message someone, the message is first encrypted on your device and sent to your recipient’s cloud provider. Your recipient can then open the Stealthy app and decrypt the message from their storage system.

All of this is seamless for the end user. It works like an iMessage conversation, which means that Microsoft or Amazon can’t open and read your messages without your private key. You remain in control of your data. Stealthy plans to open source their protocol and mobile product so that anybody can audit their code.

Some features require a certain level of centralization. For instance, Stealthy relies on Firebase for push notifications. If you’re uncomfortable with that, you can disable that feature.

The company also wants to become your central hub for all sorts of decentralized apps (or dapps for short). For instance, you can launch Graphite Docs or Blockusign from Stealty. Those dapps are built on top of Blockstack as well, but Stealthy plans to integrate with other dapps that don’t work on Blockstack.

“We have dapp integrations in place right now and we want to make it easier to add dapp integrations. If somebody wants to come in and start selling messaging stickers, you could do that. If you want to come in and implement a payment system to pay bloggers, you could do that,” Bhardwaj said. “Eventually, what we want to be is to make it as easy as submitting an app in the App Store.”

When you build a digital product, chances are you’ll end up adding a messaging feature at some point. You can chat in Google Docs, Airbnb, Venmo, YouTube… And the same is likely to be true with dapps. Stealthy believes that many developers could benefit from a solid communication infrastructure — this way, other companies can focus on their core products and let Stealthy handle the communication layer.

Stealthy is an ambitious company. In many ways, the startup is trying to build a decentralized WeChat with the encryption features of Signal. It’s a messaging app, but it’s also a platform for many other use cases.

A handful of messaging apps have become so powerful that they’ve become a weakness. Governments can block them or leverage them to create a social ranking. Authorities can get a warrant to ask tech companies to hand them data. And of course, the top tech companies have become too powerful. More decentralization is always a good thing.


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What happens when hackers steal your SIM? You learn to keep your crypto offline

Posted by | Apps, Bank, blockchain, business, coinbase, cryptography, cybercrime, economy, identity theft, mining, Mobile, social engineering, T-Mobile, TC | No Comments

A year ago I felt a panic that still reverberates in me today. Hackers swapped my T-Mobile SIM card without my approval and methodically shut down access to most of my accounts and began reaching out to my Facebook friends asking to borrow crypto. Their social engineering tactics, to be clear, were laughable but they could have been catastrophic if my friends were less savvy.

Flash forward a year and the same thing happened to me again – my LTE coverage winked out at about 9pm and it appeared that my phone was disconnected from the network. Panicked, I rushed to my computer to try to salvage everything I could before more damage occurred. It was a false alarm but my pulse went up and I broke out in a cold sweat. I had dealt with this once before and didn’t want to deal with it again.

Sadly, I probably will. And you will, too. The SIM card swap hack is still alive and well and points to one and only one solution: keeping your crypto (and almost your entire life) offline.

Trust No Carrier

Stories about massive SIM-based hacks are all over. Most recently a crypto PR rep and investor, Michael Terpin, lost $24 million to hackers who swapped his AT&T SIM. Terpin is suing the carrier for $224 million. This move, which could set a frightening precedent for carriers, accuses AT&T of “fraud and gross negligence.”

From Krebs:

Terpin alleges that on January 7, 2018, someone requested an unauthorized SIM swap on his AT&T account, causing his phone to go dead and sending all incoming texts and phone calls to a device the attackers controlled. Armed with that access, the intruders were able to reset credentials tied to his cryptocurrency accounts and siphon nearly $24 million worth of digital currencies.

While we can wonder in disbelief at a crypto investor who keeps his cash in an online wallet secured by text message, how many other services do we use that depend on emails or text messages, two vectors easily hackable by SIM spoofing attacks? How many of us would be resistant to the techniques that nabbed Terpin?

Another crypto owner, Namek Zu’bi, lost access to his Coinbase account after hackers swapped his SIM, logged into his account, and changed his email while attempting direct debits to his bank account.

“When the hackers took over my account they attempted direct debits into the account. But because I blocked my bank accounts before they could it seems there are bank chargebacks on that account. So Coinbase is essentially telling me sorry you can’t recover your account and we can’t help you but if you do want to use the account you owe $3K in bank chargebacks,” he said.

Now Zu’bi is facing a different issue: Coinbase is accusing him of being $3,000 in arrears and will not give him access to his account because he cannot reply from the hacker’s email.

“I tried to work with coinbase hotline who is supposed to help with this but they were clueless even after I told them that the hackerchanged email address on my original account and then created a new account with my email address. Since then I’ve been waiting for a ‘specialist’ to email me (was supposed to be 4 business days it’s been 8 days) and I’m still locked out of my account because Coinbase support can’t verify me,” he said.

It has been a frustrating ride.

“As an avid supporter and investor in crypto it baffles me how one of the market leaders who just supposedly launched institutional grade custody solutions can barely deal with a basic account take-over fraud,” Zu’bi said.

How do you protect yourself?

I’ve been using Trezor hardware wallets for a while, storing them in safe places outside of my home and maintaining a separate record of the seeds in another location. I have very little crypto but even for a fraction of a few BTC it just makes sense to practice safe storage. Ultimately, if you own crypto you are now your own bank. That you would trust anyone – including a fiat bank – to keep your digital currency safe is deeply delusional. Heck, I barely trust Trezor and they seem like the only solution for safe storage right now.

When I was first hacked I posted recommendations by crypto exchange Kraken. They are still applicable today:

Call your telco and:

  • Set a passcode/PIN on your account

    • Make sure it applies to ALL account changes
    • Make sure it applies to all numbers on the account
    • Ask them what happens if you forget the passcode
      • Ask them what happens if you lose that too
  • Institute a port freeze

  • Institute a SIM lock

  • Add a high-risk flag

  • Close your online web-based management account

  • Block future registration to online management system

  • Hack yo’ self

    • See what information they will leak

    • See what account changes you can make

They also recommend changing your telco email to something wildly inappropriate and using a burner phone or Google Voice number that is completely disconnected from your regular accounts as a sort of blind for your two factor texts and alerts.

Sadly, doing all of these things is quite difficult. Further, carriers don’t make it easy. In May a 27-year-old man named Paul Rosenzweig fell victim to a SIM-swapping hack even though he had SIM lock installed on his account. A rogue T-Mobile employee bypassed the security, resulting in the loss of a unique three character Twitter and Snapchat account.

Ultimately nothing is secure. The bottom line is simple: if you’re in crypto expect to be hacked and expect it to be painful and frustrating. What you do now – setting up real two-factory security, offloading your crypto onto physical hardware, making diligent backups, and protecting your keys – will make things far better for you in the long run. Ultimately, you don’t want to wake up one morning with your phone off and all of your crypto siphoned off into the pocket of a college kid like Joel Ortiz, a hacker who is now facing jail time for “13 counts of identity theft, 13 counts of hacking, and two counts of grand theft.” Sadly, none of the crypto he stole has surfaced after his arrest.

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