Is Decentralized Centralized?

Vitalik Buterin VS Changpeng Zhao

I always found it strange when people refer to decentralized as completely decentralized when it comes to cryptocurrency. Because, there is never truly such a thing as decentralized. It is always run by someone (some people).

Vitalik Buterin said during an interview at the Tech Crunch sessions: Blockchain 2018, that he hoped, “centralized exchanges burn in hell as much as possible”.

He continued, stating that centralized exchanges wield “stupid king-like power”,  since they have the ‘power’ to chose which cryptocurrencies “become big” after making projects pay extortionate $10 to $15 million in exchange listing fee’s.

Many people, even cryptocurrency users might not have known that. Yes, you’re favorite coin has to pay up if they are going to be listed. And Buterin’s not wrong to say this.

However, there is a lot of hypocrisy in Vitalik’s statement.  He has the resources to make his own decentralized exchange if he wanted to but has not.  And further, it is his Ethereum honestly that enabled most of the ICO scams out there and is one of the worst and most vulnerable currencies in my opinion.  His idea of decentralized is the wild-wild west of the internet full of scams and fraud.  Let’s look at a popular decentralized exchange like “Etherdelta”.  It is widely known as a scam where people have lost money.  And it’s no wonder since almost all of the decentralized exchanges I’ve seen A.) don’t work right, and B.) force you to create a wallet where they hold and control the private keys (you cannot use your own wallet at least with ones like Etherdelta).

Considering Ethereum is essentially also a centralized currency which is first and foremost controlled by Vitalik.  Some of you are probably saying ‘how’, it’s a decentralized cryptocurrency. And some of you Tech nerds already know the back end side of all cryptocurrencies, and that it’s controlled essentially by someone. Even Bitcoin is being handled and maintained by people, it might not be “Satoshi Nakamoto” but it’s got people working and controlling it.

This verbal trashing of exchange, caused Binance Founder, Changpeng ‘CZ’ Zhao to respond on Twitter.

Zhao pointed out several flaws in Buterin’s argument.

“There is no absolute decentralization. Projects with core teams still have centralization. Today, Vitalik probably has more king-like powers than anyone else in this industry, and has used it, by serving as advisors to projects, therefore helped to decide their fate, at least fate of their ICOs to a large extent.”

He went on to say that “decentralization is not safer by default” and this was clearly supported by recent hack of decentralized exchange Bancor. Which saw $12 million worth of Ether as well as EtherDelta falling victim to a phishing attack late last year.

Zhou isn’t wrong, but he’s not right either.

Buterin chose not to reply publicly instead opting to respond to a cheeky Tweet from a new French cryptocurrency exchange Blockchain.io that asked whether their “decentralized settlement feature” would send them to purgatory.

Buterin  responded in French saying:

“It’s much better than a fully centralized exchange, but it doesn’t solve the other problem, as centralized exchanges have a lot of control over the market and can choose which currencies become the most popular etc etc. In all, I think this is a very good idea and I hope that more cryptocurrency exchanges will use this semi-centralized method.”

IDEX, is pretty much one of the most popular semi-centralized crypto exchanges as they offer features from both centralized and decentralized exchanges is currently ranked #91 in terms of total trading volume for all crypto exchanges in a 24 hour time frame.  I attempted to use it when it first came out and had nothing but problems and their support chat and twitter were full of complaints about scams and lost money and balances.

Apart from IDEX, there are several other decentralized exchanges ranking within the top 100 overall trading volume for crypto exchanges. But still, majority of the volume is held dominate by centralized exchanges.

The reason why it’s dominated over decentralized exchanges, is because of the scams, and no accountability. People naturally choose whats more ‘safe’ when it comes to their money. And in this case, centralized exchanges are safer.

But both Zhou and Buterin agree, that decentralized exchanges are the best option moving foward. I disagree with both.

In March, Binance announced their intentions to launch a decentralized exchange along with a public blockchain:

“Centralized and Decentralized exchanges will co-exist in the near future, complementing each other, while also having interdependence.” — Binance

There are hybrid exchanges already like the Binance is proposing. Blockchain.io and IDEX are two good examples.  Blockchain.io is still in the process of doing it though.

Although I understand the thought process behind this, as a IT professional and investor, this decentralized exchange is a open door to insanity. Nothing, not even cryptocurrency is 100% decentralized, that’s impossible and incredibly unsafe. Cryptocurrency is already filled with a lot of fraud, scams and hacks (but still not as much as Fiat currency by the way), but having decentralized exchanges is just asking for double the trouble.

At the end of the day, we just need a better coin and a better exchange, otherwise we’ll fall into the same traps as Fiat, and reguritate the same ol’ system again.

What do you think?
Cheers,
A.Yasir

Does the CIA know Or Not?

Who Is “Satoshi Nakamoto”

A video titled, CIA Project Bitcoin: Is Bitcoin a CIA or NSA project? made by a group calling themselves the “CIA Project” surfaced on youtube. This group is dedicated in finding all the governments secret projects and making it public. And in this latest video, they are claiming that Bitcoin is actually the creation of the US National Security Agency (NSA).

Now don’t scoff it off as a conspiracy theory or ‘FUD’ and run away. Lets have a gander at what this group is claiming to be their biggest proof.

Satoshi Nakamoto- the name itself.

Now I do touch on this subject a little in my post here, so have a read of that as well to put some other very important pieces of this together.

Satoshi (meaning ‘clear thinking, or intelligent). Nakamoto is a common Japanese surname meaning “central origin or one who lives in the middle) This surname is commonly found in Ryukyu Islands of Japan, which is strongly associated with the Ryukyu Kingdon, a highly centralized kindgom that originated in the Okinawa Islands.  This Island in particular was known as the ‘the place where cannibals lived’….not sure if this gives any weight to Warren Buffets fantastic quote, where he equates Bitcoin mining to harvesting baby brains…

Combined, both names could be interpreted as “Central Intelligence”- could be, loosely. There is in fact a real Satoshi Nakamoto (well Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto) but he vehemently denies he’s the Bitcoin creator and even hired a lawyer to clear his name. How badly do people want to know who this guy is?

The next claim is that no one has actually met Satoshi Nakamoto in person or spoken on the phone with him or her or even them.  Even Gavin Bell (known as Gavin Andresen), who only has contact by email, never in person or over the phone.

Other evidence includes the fact that Bitcoin uses a common PRNG (crypto program) to create secure keys, which is itself believed to have an NSA backdoor. Numerous Reddit threads linking Bitcoin or Satoshi Nakamoto with the NSA have been removed; and that Bitcoin is not decentralized as it is being controlled by a small group which is led by Gavin Bell. Which is true, I’ve said it before that cryptocurrencies are not decentralized in the sense people assume, there is a central body controlling it, and right now with Bitcoin it’s the 80% hashing power Chinese mining farms and Gavin Bell.

But do the CIA Project’s claims have any merit? I think there is- even just a little, is still too much.

The NSA creating Bitcoin has been rumor for many years. People have questioned why it uses the SHA-256 hash function- which by the way we designed by the NSA and published by the National Institute for Standards and Technology..

The fact that the NSA is tied to SHA-256 leads some to assume it’s created a backdoor to the hash function that no one has ever identified, which allows it to spy on Bitcoin users.

“If you assume that the NSA did something to SHA-256, which no outside researcher has detected, what you get is the ability, with credible and detectable action, they would be able to forge transactions. The really scary thing is somebody finds a way to find collisions in SHA-256 really fast without brute-forcing it or using lots of hardware and then they take control of the network,” cryptography researcher Matthew D. Green of Johns Hopkins University said in a previous interview.

This alone makes it worrisome for Bitcoin users or Cyber security specialists. Snowden is very harsh on Bitcoin and says it’s being watched by government agencies- more on that in a different post.

And of course this comes just at the heels after the CIA refused to confirm or deny if they knew who Satoshi Nakamoto is- leaving many to speculate, if they know.  And like Snowden says, ‘they know’.

I myself didn’t want anything to do with Bitcoin in 2009 when my wife told me about it- because of the sheer nightmare that is security and fraud. (Of course I’m glad I reconsidered it and mined as much as I could back then), but it did have the distinct smell of ‘government’ even back then.

Then there’s recent news of 21e8….that’s for another post.

What do you think? Does this prove that Satoshi Nakamoto is actually the NSA? Or does it simply just add another layer of conspiracy theories to an already large mystery.

We may never know.

Cheers,
A.Yasir

Binance Proposes a new Decentralized Exchange

Binance’s new blockchain which will be its own decentralized exchange could be just what the decentralized world needs.  I am actually not a fan of a decentralized exchange as it really means no one is responsible for your losses and in fact more scams have happened on the more famous ones like Etherdelta.  One look at most other decentralized exchanges just screams insecure and scam to me.

So this is where Binance comes in as a trusted central exchange.  Centralization is not always bad so long as the person or team behind is trustworthy and conversely as we’ve seen with Etherdelta the opposite applies.

Binance has a real shot here of being the top player in cryptoexchanges.

I’ve found Binance to be easy, safe, and honest for an exchange.  If they apply this to their new blockchain for decentralized exchange trading it could be a huge winner.

We must always remember it’s not so much about the technology but about the integrity, intention and ability of the team behind it.

I am still hesitant on decentralized exchanges because of rampant losses and scams, but if anyone can do it right I bet it will be Binance.  Time will tell but this is exciting to me.

The Future Of Blockchain Currencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum and Litecoin belong to governments, banks and large corporate players.

One aspect of cryptocurrencies that some users aren’t aware of is that decentralized blockchain based currencies are in their own ways their own worst enemy.  The blockchain is the problem, as currencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum keep getting slower due to their limited transactions per second, and the blockchain gets large this has started the end game.   The end game is clearly spelled out in Ethereum’s current white paper and it’s that essentially the blockchain will get so large no small players (individuals) will be able to participate.   This is because all transactions are stored in the blockchain ledger, and the more transactions the larger it gets.  Eventually the blockchains will grow to several terabytes and require more memory.  This will mean that only big corporate, government and banking players will have the resources to control these so-called decentralized currencies.  It is really inevitable unless a mechanism is adopted for off-loading this storage to trusted third parties.

I may not be a huge Microsoft fan but I think Ankur Patel has stated what many in the cryptocurrency already understand to be correct.

Patel said that blockchains that increase network capacity through on-chain scaling, which involves raising the blocksize, will eventually experience degraded centralization and will not be able to function on a “world-scale.”

https://www.ccn.com/public-blockchain-chain-scaling-degrades-decentralization-microsoft-researcher/

This is something that Stellar Lumens and Ripple essentially do.  They are a centralized blockchain that are generally faster than the competitors but are centralized and literally supported by big corporate players and banks.  These have pros and cons.  As an investment they are an excellent hedge against threatened regulations that people fear for the decentralized currencies and they also provide real value and work very well.

Is this all bad?  It’s hard to say because public blockchains can be attacked literally with DDOS/SPAM/bad blocks and this has happened with all the major currencies.  On top of that you are still giving up trust to unknown people and the value and stability of these currencies are at risk for other reasons such as hardfork cash grabs like Bitcoin Cash and the Bitcoin Gold Group.

The future is bright for crypto but these uncertainties need to be accounted for and sorted out.  It may be that the future is going to involve a combination of foundations and semi-decentralized currencies.

Bitcoin – I Don’t “Get It”

This may sound strange coming from a CEO who owns and uses Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency through multiple businesses that accept Bitcoin each day.   But I still really don’t understand Bitcoin on a practical level, the technical part is understandable but for how long will the current model of currencies like Bitcoin and Litecoin work?  Do not get me wrong, I am long on crypto still but what that means in the coming years and decades is probably going to be vastly different than the current model of today.

What Is A Confirmation And Why Does It Take So Long?

What I’m referring to is when you send or receive currency there are varying opinions of what it means to actually “confirm” you have it.  But even before that people who have sent and received cryptocurrency know it is actually quite slow.  It can easily take a number of minutes and even after that point it is recommended you wait for a certain amount of confirmations.

It’s quite simple, these crypto networks with multiple nodes have to talk to each other, this takes time for them to all be in sync or agreeance with the blockchain.  Once that happens you get your first confirmation, however this can be a number of minutes and still doesn’t absolutely guarantee you have the money in your wallet.

The current system is nearly impossible to use as a daily transaction/banking experience.

I’m used to using cash, debit, credit or even services like PayPal.  It is all fairly instant (although sometimes it can take several seconds for debit or credit) but once the payment is approved and the merchant is notified instantly, they knew they have their money.  Imagine waiting for even a single confirmation for cryptocurrency while in line at a supermarket?

Why does the problem exist?

It’s quite simple, ironically it’s the one huge negative side effect of distributed, decentralized cryptocurrencies.   There are other drawbacks too such as what happens to banks if they are DOS’d but this hasn’t been a huge factor so far in crypto’s history.

What other risks exist?

My biggest fear is that in the future a powerful organization or entity may eventually be able to reverse engineer or find another way to attack the blockchain and algorithm of some cryptocurrencies.  This would essentially spell disaster, chaos and the end of that currency.  It would be the equivalent of the destruction or infiltration of a fiat currency’s central banking and distribution system.

One other issue with the blockchain

Everyone knows the safest way to hold crypto is with your own wallet because exchanges are routinely hacked and coins are stolen, it is more risky to keep your coins with a third party wallet (essentially the equivalent of an online crypto bank).  The problem lays with the issue at this moment that those deposits are not insured (although I believe Coinbase and a few others may have some insurance).  This may change in the future and exchanges and currencies that are insured will definitely rise above the rest.

What is the solution?

This may draw the ire of a lot of hardcore crypto users but there has got to be some sort of central authority, body or “top-tier” network similar to root DNS servers on the internet that can serve and validate transactions on the blockchain.  There must be some sort of physical organization between the nodes on the blockchain.

Is there a current solution to this problem?

Ripple/XRP solves this problem by essentially verifying transactions instantly and keeping all the currency in essentially an online global wallet (there is no such thing as paper wallet or traditional on your computer/device wallet).  The advantage is that you don’t have to store hundreds of gigabytes of blockchain data (and growing) like Bitcoin and other currencies.  Ripple has the benefit of also being endorsed by major financial institutions which is a first for digital crypto that I’m aware of.

I haven’t done further research but currencies like XRP I believe are the future, things can be done anyway technically and Bitcoin, Litecoin and similar blockchained coins can do this if they change some of their decentralized model.  I expect there will be more infighting and similar splits as the Bitcoin Cash that emerged from the Segwit update as the industry matures and expands.

Disclaimer

I hold positions in multiple cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin and Ripple and have given my true opinion of both in this article.