EU Commits 5 Million Euros to Fund Blockchain Surveillance Research

A group of government agencies, law enforcement groups and academic researchers are partnering on a new digital currency surveillance project.

EU Titanium Project

Backed by €5m in funding from the European Union, the initiative, dubbed "Tools for the Investigation of Transactions in Underground Markets", or TITANIUM, will be conducted over the next three years.

Participants include Interpol, Interior Ministries from Spain and Austria, Finland's National Bureau of Investigation, and University College London, among others.

In statements, the project's backers cited a recent wave of ransomware attacks around the globe, pointing to the event as a justification for beefing up the ability to track cryptocurrency payments.

At the same time, those involved pledged not to violate user privacy rights.

"The consortium will analyse legal and ethical requirements and define guidelines for storing and processing data, information, and knowledge involved in criminal investigations without compromising citizen privacy," said Ross King, senior scientist for the AIT Austrian Institute of Technology GmbH, one of the research institutions taking part.

That the EU would take this approach – let alone fund one – is perhaps unsurprising, given past efforts and statements from leaders and officials of the economic bloc.

The EU's executive branch, the European Council, began pushing aggressively for greater oversight of digital currency users in early 2016, with the European Parliament following suit earlier this year.

According to a press release published by the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT), the European Union funded a three-year project investigating the criminal use of virtual currencies and the darknet. Fifteen members from seven European countries are participating in the project. The solutions developed in the research are intended to prevent criminals and attackers from using the blockchain technology for criminal purposes while at the same time preserving the privacy rights of legitimate users.

Blockchain technology makes it possible to organize records in a distributed network without central control and thus presents new challenges for investigating authorities, the press release says. The best-known application of the blockchain technology is Bitcoin, a cryptocurrency currently on its all-time high at almost $2,500, which offers legal use, however, the virtual currency could be also used for criminal purposes. The press release stated that BTC’s illicit use most happens on the dark side of the internet, for example on darknet marketplaces or hacking forums. Since the dark web could not be accessed or crawled via common search engines, such as Google, and provides more anonymity to its users than the clearnet (the normal part of the internet everybody knows), criminals often take advantage of these perks and decide to conduct their illegal activities on the darknet. The press release emphasized that the WannaCry attackers, who locked computers in approximately 150 countries on May 12, 2017, also demanded the payment of the ransom in bitcoins.

The aim of the TITANIUM (Tools for the Investigation of Transactions in Underground Markets) project is the development of technical solutions for investigating and combating criminal and terrorist acts on the internet, which are carried out with the help of virtual currencies and underground marketplaces. The three-year project, worth a total of EUR 5 million, is funded by the European Union.

The tools developed and implemented by the partnership (including four law enforcement agencies and INTERPOL) are intended to support the forensic analysis of criminal transactions, identify anomalies in their application and identify money laundering techniques. In addition, the researchers will carry out training courses in order to “anchor” the corresponding know-how and knowledge to the law enforcement authorities of the EU helping officers in preventing and prosecuting cybercrime more efficiently. Furthermore, the tools and services developed in the project are to be tested and validated on site by the law enforcement authorities in order to check the project results for their success and effectiveness.

“Criminal and terrorist activities related to virtual currencies and dark net markets are developing rapidly and vary widely with regard to technical maturity, resilience and targeted goals,” Project Coordinator Ross King, Senior Scientist at the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT), said in a statement.

In order to counteract these activities, according to Dr. King, the development of efficient and effective forensics tools is a must, which can use different types of data from different sources, including virtual currencies, online forums, peer-to-peer networks on darknet marketplaces, and on electronic equipment, which law enforcement authorities seized from the suspects. Dr King emphasized that the development of the tools within the framework of the TITANIUM project is an important focus on the protection of the personality and fundamental rights of the users.

“The partnership will analyze the legal and ethical requirements and develop guidelines for the storage and processing of data, information, and findings from criminal investigations without affecting the privacy of citizens, Dr King said.

In addition to the AIT Austrian Institute of Technology, the following partners are part of the TITANIUM consortium: the Federal Criminal Police Office from Germany (BKA), Coblue Cybersecurity from the Netherlands, Countercraft SL from Spain, Dence GmbH from Germany, University of Innsbruck from Austria, INTERPOL (International Criminal Police Organization), Karlsruhe Institute of Technology from Germany, Federal Ministry of the Interior of Austria, Ministry of Interior of Spain, National Bureau of Investigation from Finland, TNO from the Netherlands, Trilateral Research Ltd. from the United Kingdom, University College London from the United Kingdom, VICOMTECH-IK4 from Spain.

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Stephen Hodgkiss
Chief Engineer at MarketHive

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Introduction – What is an Online Community?

Social networks are booming – and not just Facebook! Thousands of niche communities have been created over the past few years, filling up the holes that Mark Zuckerberg's all-encompassing giant has created. While over a billion people are speaking to everyone they've met about everything they do, many are looking for focus. They want to connect with other like-minded individuals around the particular passions that inspire them, without all the extra “noise” that Facebook generates.

online community

Affordable social networking applications, allow users to create that niche social network easily, and thousands of people are doing it right now.

Online communities are being built by artists and schools, by thought leaders and by local communities. They're being set up by individuals and by groups and by anyone who wants to bring together people who share an interest and a passion.

Businesses, too, are building brands, creating loyalty and discovering valuable intelligence on what customers want and expect. And they're earning from it. When a company gives space to its customers to gather and talk, it stops being a place where people go when they need to make a purchase. It becomes a pillar of the community, the only place where people go when they want to buy something related to their interests.

And today, building those online communities is easier than ever.

The Internet means that anyone can now create their own community.

They can build a website that gives their customers all the tools they need to easily hold discussions, meet like-minded people and form strong bonds.

They keep people coming back day after day, month after month, providing a virtual and valuable forum for people who share an interest.

Built right and maintained properly, a community website hugs customers close, strengthens a business and advances an activity.

But having the right kind of software to create that community isn't enough.

You also need the right strategy to make your community grow steadily and organically, without spending millions.

This book will cover everything you need to know to create a successful online community, from the essential first steps to proven strategies for growth and engagement. Once you finish reading, you will have a clear understanding of what you should — and shouldn't — be doing to get your social network moving in the right direction.

We'll look at the right way to build an online community, but not just any community; a community that remains active and thriving. A community whose members don't register, look and leave but one whose members come back again and again, post comments and contribute to discussions.

A community that people don't just want to join but want to be a part of.

Building that kind of community may mean taking steps that can feel counterintuitive. We'll explain why you should be taking those steps anyway.

We'll start by talking you through the process of launching a community.

This can feel like the worst time for a new social site. There are few members, few discussions and little reaction to the content that’s being posted — not that there’s much content either. We'll explain how to find those all-important first members and discuss why it's better to engage a small number of highly dedicated early users than attract a large number of users who don’t return.

We’ll then talk about building on that foundation. We’ll discuss the importance of forming a group identity and show you how you to do it. We'll talk you through the role of the community manager; and describe the best strategies you should be using to increase participation.

Finally, we'll talk metrics and money.

Although communities don't have the same monetizing process as other forms of online marketing it is possible to turn a community into cash and online communities do generate figures.

You should know how to find those figures, how to read them and what to do with them.

While so many businesses and community leaders focus on building their Facebook pages or fret about their Twitter content, others are having a ball discussing their favorite topics with people who genuinely care about them and who return day after day to their website to see what’s new.

Building that website is easy. Building that community is a little harder but with a little effort, it's an option available to any business owner and any community leader.

If you believe that my message is worth spreading, please use the share buttons if they show on this page.

Stephen Hodgkiss
Chief Engineer at MarketHive

markethive.com


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Arbitrage – What it is and how it works

Arbitrage refers to the process of instantly trading one or more pairs of currencies or odds for a nigh risk-free profit.

Usually, this involves two exchanges (this is then called a two-legged arbitrage); although more are, of course, possible.

crypto currency arbitrage

There are several steps when executing an arbitrage:

Find a suitable opportunity
Execute trades
Rebalance accounts

Step 1: Find a suitable opportunity

This step is relatively easy. Simply check the order books of as many exchanges as you like, compare bids vs asks, and check if you can find a negative spread.

A small discourse into what a spread is

I will assume you're familiar with bids, asks and what an order book is – if not, you should definitely look up those first. As for the negative spread, I'll elaborate a bit more on that. The spread is what is used to refer to the difference between bids and asks – lowest ask – highest bid = spread. This should be (and typically is) a positive value, since the best bid at an exchange must be lower than the lowest ask of an exchange – otherwise the matching engine of the exchange would settle these orders automatically.

In a perfect world, all markets and all market participants would have the same information, hence all top bids and all top asks of all exchanges would be the exact same, after fees were applied.

If you've seen the recent US elections, however, you're probably aware that the world isn't perfect, though. Hence, not all participants of a market know the same thing as the others, resulting in bids at exchanges which are higher than the asks at other exchanges – and this is what is called a negative spread.

Step 2: Execute trades

Let's assume you've found an amazing opportunity at exchange A and exchange B – a negative spread of 100$!

Exchange A: Ask 1BTC@450$
Exchange B: Bid 1BTC@550$

Luckily, you have proper funding at both to match these instantly – but how do you go about doing that? Easy! Just place an order on the opposite side at each exchange with the quote's prices!

Exchange A: Place Bid of 1BTC@450$
Exchange B: Place Ask of 1BTC@550$

Since your placed order match an order on the opposite side of the book, the trading engine matches them and the trade is settled, leaving you with a theoretical profit of a smooth 100$! Why theoretically, you ask? I'll get to that point further below.

Step 3: Rebalance Accounts

Unfortunately, you were only able to trade once today, but hey! Tomorrow's another day – but in order to be able to properly trade, you need to even out your balances. Right now, your accounts look like this:

Exchange A: 2 BTC | 50$
Exchange B: 0 BTC | 1050$

Hence, you go about and send 1 BTC from Exchange A to Exchange B, and 550$ dollars to Exchange A from Exchange B. No magic here – all accounts are re-balanced and you're ready to make a fortune again, tomorrow.

Exchange A: 1 BTC | 550$
Exchange B: 1 BTC | 550$ 

Arbitrage – Why everyone's not doing it

This all sounded wonderful? That's exactly what I thought when I first set out with my own arbitrage bot. However, there a some technical aspects that can really turn a sunny day into a poopy rain on your parade.

Caveats and risks

1. It needs to be as close to real-time as possible

This is possibly one of the hardest things to get right, and also the most underestimated aspect of arbitrage in crypto currency. The markets, compared to ForEx trading, are ridiculously slow – at busy exchanges, there may be a couple of dozen trades executed. Which gives the illusion, that polling data for bots via the most common API type, RESTful, is enough to trade risk-free. This is a misconception. Maybe for today this may appear to be enough – but what if markets picked up the pace? just 1 trade (or simply a placed order) within one second can change your opportunity from profit to loss.

2. Always trade limits, never market orders

Under the aspect of being the fastest, it might seem like a good idea to use market orders in order to be settled asap – you'd be terribly wrong. As discussed above, your data could be as old as 1 second (with above mentioned one order messing up your opportunity) – perhaps someone cleared the entire top level and all you're left with is a bid for twice the price you intended. Yikes.

3. REST API call rates make your life hard

Many exchanges employ a API call rate limit – that is, you're allowed to query data at the exchange X times every Y seconds. The differences are wide and nearly every exchange does its own little thing when it comes to limits. The problem with them is, they severely limit your actions. If you don't constantly keep an eye on how often you send a request, you might run into the limit when it seriously counts – for example when you have to cancel an order, because you couldn't place its counter part at another exchange. Unfortunately, websocket APIs are still rare and their brother on steroids, FIX sockets, even rarer – leaving you stuck with the turtle of programmable interfaces.

4. Integration with APIs can be a nightmare

There is no unified, standard definition for what an exchange API can do, or what data it returns. Which technically wouldn't be a problem, if they were documented properly. Incidentally, the exchanges with seemingly many opportunities also have the worst documentation (take btc-e.com's Documentation for example – heresy!). Of course, also the opposite is true – GDAX, Kraken, Bitfinex all have excellent documentation. But nonetheless you have to dig through them to understand how they work, what their rates are, how they handle data types, authentication and so forth. That is, if they even mention anything about that.

5. Fees will minimize, if not eliminate your profits

In my above step-by-step guide, I purposely omitted fees of all kind. But of course, they're essential to successfully arbitraging. The most commonly known fees, are trade commission fees – these range anywhere from 0.1% to 0.6% and need to be considered in Step 1: Find a suitable Opportunity. On top come fees for deposits and withdrawals during Step 3: Rebalancing Accounts. Depending on your preferred pair, these may range from feasible (transferring crypto currencies usually is cheap enough) to quite steep. For example, a deposit / withdrawal at Bitfinex entails the following fees:

Bank wire withdrawal & Deposit: 0.1% of amount deposited/withdrawn, 20$ minimum
And this does not include processing fees of your house bank – for me, for example, that's an additional 10€ for deposits, plus a 1% conversion fee. If you do the math you'll quickly realize that you don't even have to bother starting to trade at Bitfinex, unless you have a really big stack to trade with.

But this does not just apply to BTC-Fiat pairs. Alt-coins suffer a similar fate. In order to make arbitraging worthwhile, you will have to have enough funds at as many exchanges to make trades AND re-balancing worthwhile. And this quickly gets to a point where you realize your last month's savings aren't equipped to get the job done.

To give you a further example on how fees affect your profits, let's take a look back at the example from step 2, this time factoring in all fees. I'll walk you through it. For the argument's sake, we'll pretend to be a european trading BTCUSD at Bitfinex (Exchange A) and Kraken (Exchange B).

Bitfinex: Ask 1BTC@450$
Kraken: Bid 1BTC@550$ These prices are raw- they do not include trade commission fees, not transaction fees. Let's add those….

We'll define a taker fee of 0.25% at both exchange – the taker fee applies whenever you remove liquidity from the order book. Next, let's add deposit & withdrawal fees to the mix. At Bitfinex, we pay a minimum of 20$ for each fiat withdrawal & deposit, or 0.1% of the moved amount (if its more than 500$). At Kraken, we pay 0.09€ per fiat withdrawal, deposits are free. In addition, btc withdrawals cost 0.0005 BTC at kraken, while Bitfinex charges no fees for this. Deposits cost nothing at both exchanges. Furthermore, we can't transfer fiat directly from exchange to exchange – an additional 10€ fee per sent out transaction needs to be facotred in, as well as 1% conversion fee whenever we receive or send fiat from our bank account (2 times total).

Let's list these fees to try and maintain an overview

  1. Profit from arbitrage (bid – fee – ask + fee )
  2. Withdrawal Fee Bitfinex (20$)
  3. Deposit Fee Kraken (0.0$)
  4. Miner Fee for withdrawal at Kraken (0.0005BTC)
  5. Transaction Cost of our house bank (10€) (Bank to Bitfinex)
  6. Conversion Fee of our house Bank (1% of transfer amount x 2)

Let's put some numbers to these:

  1. (550 – 550*0.0025) – (450 + 450 * 0.0025) = 97.5$
  2. Move ~497$ to House bank = 20$
  3. 0.0$
  4. 0.0005BTC * 500$ = 0.25$ # Assuming this is the end of day price of the coin
  5. 10€ * 1.05 = 10.05$
  6. (497 * 0.02) = 9.94$

Which brings us to net profit of: 57.26$ This translates to 42.74% reduction of your originally seen profit.

This is neither a worst, nor a best case scenario – it's merely designed to show you how many hidden fees are involved in an arbitrage. Also, keep in mind that a 22% arbitrage opportunity is practically non-existant.

As a matter of fact, had the spread been anything less than 40$, the fixed fees of our house bank and Bitfinex alone would have made our supposed arbirtrage opportunity a loss.

6. Volatility of coins is your enemy

"No matter where the market goes, arbitrage makes a profit anyway!"

This is true – if your currencies don't tend to drop or rise by 50% within 24 hours. Ideally, both currencies you trade in should be relatively stable, while still showing a certain volatility – no volatility would mean the chart is a flat line, resulting in no opportunities for you.

The problem with pure crypto currency arbitrage (LTCBTC), however, is that Alt-coins can go completely fubar – as opposed to a fiat-based crypto arbitrage (i.e. BTCUSD). A personal anecdote:

When ZEC launched, I was instantly fascinated at the terrible market efficiency and arbitrage opportunities of almost 5% regularly. Hence, I bought in at 1ZEC@1.2BTC, thinking this is probably where market will stay at (at least it's not as bad as the guy who bought a ZEC for 3k BTC). I started arbitraging and immediately increased the amount of ZEC I was holding – completely oblivious to the fact that since I started trading, the price had fallen to 1ZEC@0.1BTC. My ZEC was worth 90% less, and I lost almost half a bitcoin worth of money.

Some volatility is great for arbitrage – too much volatility isn't.

7. Exchanges aren't as technically robust as they ought to be

Most of the time, you will find that smaller exchanges offer opportunities more often than big exchanges. This is in part due to the previously mentioned slow movement of information, but also their (often significantly lower) trading volume. Initially, this may appear like a steal – but there's usually a reason that particular exchange only has the low volume it currently does.

In a time where any one in the world can open up an exchange running on his raspberrypi and Ethereum, trading on the more alternative exchanges can be a serious risk to your investment.

From things like DDOS attacks and overloaded matching engines not matching your orders, to more serious issues like stuck withdrawals due to too low miner fees, or even theft – and the latter is a very omnipresent issue not exclusively affecting small exchanges, as the Bitfinex Heist has shown this summer; the list of potential technical failures is long and you should be aware of these at all times.

Conclusion

I'm aware this answer is overtly negative – this was intentional. Arbitrage, as well as crypto currency in general, is not the quick buck everyone on forums and dubious sites advertising trading bots make you believe. While its inner mechanisms and workings are still quite cryptic* to even the most professional traders (sorry for the pun), even the fabled cryptographic adheres to some basic principles, afterall. The 'quick way to wealth' usually will just end up quickly making you wealthless.

Start by opening up some of the well known exchanges … do not use ones such as localbitcoins .. far too risky. A good one is OKCoin.com as they have a good verification system.

(*) Another great myth is that the chinese dictate the BTCUSD market. There is no empirical proven correlation between chinese and american markets. The only defacto correlation that has been found was that of google searches for bitcoin to btc trading volume – but whether this was positive or negative was inclusive.

If you believe that my message is worth spreading, please use the share buttons if they show on this page.

Stephen Hodgkiss
Chief Engineer at MarketHive

markethive.com


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