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Staking Coins for Gains Potentially a Good Strategy in a Bear Market but Is Not Without Risk

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Volatility coupled with one of the longest bear markets ever experienced by the cryptocurrency industry have compelled many investors to consider staking as a method of “playing it safe,” according to a Bloomberg article.

Staking, which is similar to earning dividends or interest on your investment, is not a new concept. However, in a long bear market, it does become more prevalent among cryptocurrency investors, as possible gains from regular trading are not as fruitful. As Kyle Samani, managing partner at Multicoin Capital Management, stated to Bloomberg:

“Regardless of market conditions, staking provides returns denominated in the asset being staked. If you’re going to be long, you might as well stake.”

Staking rewards are a byproduct of the proof-of-stake (PoS) consensus algorithm, first introduced by Sunny King and Scott Nadal in a white paper in 2012 for peer-to-peer cryptocurrency Peercoin (PPC).

Since then, hundreds of cryptocurrencies have adopted a PoS consensus algorithm as a method to verify transactions.

Proof-of-stake, explained

The majority of cryptocurrencies use either proof-of-work (PoW) or PoS — or some iteration of it.

PoW relies on the proof that a certain amount of work has been done to verify transactions. Both Bitcoin and Ethereum use PoW to validate transactions, although Ethereum has been making it clear that they will be moving to a PoS system, called Casper, as part of the Serenity network update expected for later in 2019.

At an August 2018 Blockchain at Berkeley event, hosted by the student-run organization Origin, Vitalik Buterin, co-founder of Ethereum, stated he can’t wait for all crypto networks to move away from PoW:

“I am seriously looking forward to when the cryptocurrency community basically passes away with proof-of-work.”

With PoW, nodes (or miners) compete to verify blocks of transactions by running highly specialized and expensive processing equipment (such as Application Specific Integrated Circuits, or ASICs) to solve complex mathematical equations. The first node to solve the equation can add the next block of transactions and collect the reward, which could either be a set amount or percentage of the transaction fee. The process, also called mining, has a number of drawbacks:

  • It is highly energy intensive (the Bitcoin network consumes almost the same amount of energy as the entire country of Singapore).
  • The high energy dependence is not only expensive but also bad for the environment in countries where nonrenewable fossil fuels (such as coal) is burned to generate electricity.
  • Specialized mining equipment requires a significant upfront investment, which can be risky, considering that rewards are not guaranteed.
  • With the advent of large centralized mining pools, the risk of a 51 percent attack on PoW networks is a very real threat.

PoS, on the other hand, only requires network participants to hold a certain amount of the native cryptocurrency in a specific wallet for a certain period of time. This is called staking and doesn’t call for any expensive computer equipment or massive amounts of processing power to solve complex mathematical equations.

Key differences from POW are:

  • Nodes are often called “validators” rather than “miners.”
  • There’s no specialized computer hardware requirement to become a node, which means the burden on power resources is drastically reduced. This is not only cheaper but also more eco-friendly.
  • With PoS, there’s no threat of centralized mining pools.
  • A 51 percent attack would be much more expensive to carry out. In order to take control of a PoS network, an individual or entity would have to purchase 51 percent of the available tokens. Not only that but, if you owned 51 percent of the tokens, you would want to do everything in your power to see the network succeed and continue to turn a profit. That means you are less likely to do anything to defraud the blockchain.

PoW & PoS

Different levels of PoS staking for different levels of rewards

It is common in PoS cryptocurrencies to award those with a bigger vested interest in the network with bigger benefits. This is both in network authority (such as voting weight) and rewards.

As such, cryptocurrency networks will often offer different levels of staking — i.e., the more coins you lock away for staking, the bigger the network will reward you.

This gives rise to two distinguishable types of staking: masternode staking and non-node staking.

Masternode staking to validate transactions

Masternodes are network participants that are tasked with validating and authenticating transactions on a PoS blockchain.

To apply for a masternode, participants will generally have to comply with some minimum requirements. This will be different from network to network but may include locking away a set number of tokens (typically a large minimum), being a network participant and holding tokens for a certain period of time, and being an active community member with a good reputation. The number of masternode positions will generally also be limited.

Rewards are distributed as part of the network fees (transaction fees) and tend to be big, as the vested interest in the network needs to be big. But the barrier to entry is also quite high — i.e., you would need a large initial investment to become a masternode.

For example, to become a Neo masternode (also called bookkeepers or consensus nodes), a participant will need to stake 1,000 GAS ($2,150) — the fuel token on the Neo network that represents the right to use the Neo blockchain and is used to pay the network fees for issuing new assets, running smart contracts and storage — to nominate themselves as a bookkeeper and also obtain a consensus authority certificate before Neo community members can vote for them. The Neo mainnet is limited to seven consensus nodes

According to Neo’s economic model, the maintainer of a Neo consensus node will be rewarded with network fees.

Similarly, to apply for masternode status (also called Authority Masternode) on VeChain (VET), a participant will have to stake 25 million VET ($97,500) to be considered and will have to complete Know Your Customer (KYC) verification in the VeChain portal. Its masternode positions are limited to 101 members.

VeChain masternodes are compensated in part by transaction fees and part from a predetermined foundation reward pool.

Non-node staking to earn interest or dividends

Non-node staking is less complicated, and users are not involved in validating transactions. There is no minimum staking amount and often no minimum holding period, meaning the barrier of entry is much lower.

All a network participant has to do is hold the specific cryptocurrency in the network’s dedicated wallet to start earning interest or dividend payouts.

Both the Neo and VeChain examples above have calculators to show you how much you can earn per amount of tokens staked.

NEO Calculator / VeChain Calculator

Other popular PoS cryptocurrencies for staking include Ontology (ONT), Tezos (XTZ), Waves (WAVES), EOS (EOS), Cardano (ADA), Pivx (PIVX), Dash (DASH), Decred (DCR), Livepeer (LPT) and Factom (FCT).

Potential gains and risks of PoS staking

According to POS List and masternodes.online, rewards and earnings for both masternode staking and non-node staking vary significantly between cryptocurrencies, anything from 0.7 percent to well over 1,000 percent.

The possibility of long-term gains has also given birth to a number of startups that focus specifically on providing staking services to investors, including Anchorage, Eon Staking Inc., Figment and Staked.

Perhaps as an indication of the strong market interest in the possibilities of cryptocurrency staking, on Jan. 31, 2019, Staked announced that they raised $4.5 million in seed investment from a number of institutional investors that included Pantera Capital, Coinbase Ventures and Winklevoss Capital, while Anchorage launched on Jan. 23, 2019 after a $17 million funding round led by venture fund Andreessen Horowitz.

PoS staking is not without risk, though. It’s not just a bear market game, it’s a long game. So, a significant level of trust has to be put in the cryptocurrency network — trust that they will make it through the bear market and still be operational on the other side, and trust that they will consistently payout earnings and rewards in the long run.

Another risk is monopolization of a network, where a few large token holders end up getting the lion’s share of the rewards. Linked to the risk of monopolization is the possibility of a 51 percent attack. Although it would be much more expensive and counterintuitive, it is still possible for such an attack to be orchestrated and to devalue the network.





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Researchers Discover How To Automate Accountability On The Blockchain

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“The (virtual) gold rush is on, and as in the Wild West of yore, the outlaws are ever present,” wrote blockchain developers and academics in a recent paper, Polygraph: Accountable Byzantine Agreement. Luckily, these researchers have have discovered a way to detect and punish dishonest blockchain users.

The authors — Vincent Gramoli and Pierre Civit of the University of Sydney, and Seth Gilbert of the National University of Singapore — developed the Polygraph protocol, which automates accountability in blockchains to hold participants accountable for double spending, a notoriously knotty issue in cryptography.

Though the double spend problem was supposedly solved by Satoshi’s white paper, published in 2008, the researchers discovered that disagreements caused by blockchain forks can lead to double spending if the resulting branches have conflicting transactions.

They cite a zombie case:

“Byzantine nodes can override the General Polygraph Protocol by proposing directly two conflicting views to two different clients to then perform a double-spending attack. The coalition does not participate to the consensus in order to violate the liveness property…. Note that safety is also violated: When a client invokes the read() primitive, the coalition can answer arbitrary values, despite the non-termination of the legitimate consensus. The client is supposed to trust the coalition, like all the other clients who can forever receive a different output for the read() primitive. Hence, for t ≥ n − t0, the eventual prefix property is violated. This makes the blockchain vulnerable to a double-spending attack.”

Yes, the paper is scholarly, but it also provides pragmatic solutions to real problems in current consensus mechanisms.

The group considers the growing threat of centralization on blockchains, caused by the collectivizing of hashing power. Under traditional Byzantine protocol agreements, if one party amasses more than one-third of total mining output they gain decision making authority. As an aside, the authors note that the largest Bitcoin mining pool today controls approximately 19 percent of total hashing power.

“We need a new sheriff in town to bring the guilty parties to justice. What if, instead of preventing bad behavior by a party that controls too much of the network power, we guarantee accountability,” write the authors.

Much in the way we prevent crime in the real world, we can prevent bad blockchain behavior via “defense-in-depth” — the basic Byzantine agreement protocol that prevents usurpation if the attacker has less than one-third of network control or if the network infrastructure is working to pass messages in time.

“Byzantine agreement protocols act as the locks on the bank doors, preventing the gangs from making off with the loot,” they wrote.

However, when these guarantees fail — and the authors suggest they can and do — the Polygraph protocol will intercept malicious behavior.

The Polygraph’s basic algorithm is based on the Byzantine agreement protocol, but goes further in that proceeds through asynchronous rounds, or a vote that receives democratic imput.

“First, a reliable broadcaster is used to distribute the proposal values. Then, a second phase of communication is used to determine whether enough processes have converged on a single value. Finally the processes decide, if they can; and if not, they update their estimate in an attempt to converge on a single value.”

This Town Isn’t Big Enough

If the process determines that someone is pursuing illegal actions, the consensus can vote them off the network.

“Accountability has been overlooked in blockchains but it is actually key to security,” said Gramoli, who also serves as Red Belly Blockchain CEO. “The industry cannot accept blockchain to be a simple distributed system where valuable assets vanish as soon as a third of the participants form a coalition.”

Red Belly Blockchain has been funded by the Australian Research Council and developed by researchers of the Concurrent Systems Research Group at the University of Sydney and Data61-CSIRO.

Photo by Xiang Gao on Unsplash

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A New Bitcoin Exchange Point On the Colombian-Venezuelan Border Will Help Refugees

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A new cryptocurrency exchange service is available on the border between Colombia and Venezuela and its aim is to help refugees traveling across the Simon Bolivar International Bridge.

Visitors are now able to use the point-of-sale service with cryptocurrencies to buy goods. The POS is located in Santander, Colombia, just across the border from Venezuela. Panda Group created the payment alternative with refugees in mind. The group, a Columbian-Venezuela joint venture, announced the implementation of the new service through their Twitter account.

According to the data published by Coinatmradar.com, the service lets users exchange using bitcoin (BTC), bitcoin cash (BCH) and dai (DAI), and converts them into to Colombian Pesos (COP).

At the physical location – a small phone service provider in a mall called La Parada – customers can buy bitcoin with prices based on the Localbitcoins rate in pesos. The service will charge 10 percent above the market price and those who sell their bitcoins will do so for 5 percent more than the established market value.

This is not the first cryptocurrency service in the country. The Panda Group has already installed another five cryptocurrency exchanges in Colombia, most of them in the Colombian capital, Bogotá.

According to Panda CEO, Arley Lozano Jaramillo, their solutions are focused on helping the Venezuelan users and they announced the addition of a new service called Xpay.Cash to encourage adoption.

“This service is for all our brothers to pay directly in Cucuta with their cryptoassets and mitigate the loss of exchanging from BTC to COP, which represents a loss of at least 20%,” Jaramillo said.

Colombia has the highest rate of cryptocurrency investors in South America, next to Brazil. There are reportedly over 20 businesses accepting bitcoin payments in the country. The establishments are mainly focused in tourism, food and digital services.

Bitcoin At The Border

The ATM installed in Villa del Rosario City is connected to the Venezuelan border by the state of Tachira. The states are only separated by the Simon Bolivar International Bridge, one of the most heavily traveled borders used by Venezuelan refugees.

The refugee situation has also sparked a focus on the cryptocurrency, mainly for humanitarian aid purposes.

On the other hand, the last point of sale with cryptocurrency was implemented in Cúcuta, another border location with an growing Venezuelan population. The state also has a Bitcoin ATM, one of forty-two in the country.

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Fidelity-Backed Crypto Analytics Firm to Integrate Twitter-Based Crypto Sentiment Feed

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Crypto analytics firm Coin Metrics partnered with Social Market Analytics (SMA) to collaborate on a feed of real-time sentiment towards cryptocurrency based on social media data, according to a press release on June 17.

The new partnership intends to collect and analyze data posted by crypto community on social media in order to provide a new tool to help crypto traders to track social media sentiment data to build their portfolio strategies.

The new product will initially target sentiment data solely on social media giant Twitter, Coin Metrics CEO Tim Rice confirmed to Cointelegraph, adding that the firms are currently not considering integration of the service into Facebook.

Specifically,Coin Metrics will incorporate the product into market data platform, called the SMA cryptocurrency Sentiment Feed, providing calculated metrics of data on Twitter, according to a report by crypto media outlet The Block. In the report, Rice said that the calculation algorithms would include relevant tweets and calculate “19 different aggregate sentiment metrics down to snapshots of one minute.”

Social Market Analytics is providing social media-powered predictive data analytics to traditional capital markets participants in various markets, including stocks, forex, Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs), futures, among others. Since its establishment in 2012, SMA has been a Twitter Finance partner, the firm’s CEO Joe Gits stated in an email to Cointelegraph.

Meanwhile, Coin Metrics is backed by major American investment management company Fidelity in February 2019, which participated in a $1.9 million funding round in February 2019.

Earlier today, social media giant Facebook released the white paper for its long-anticipated cryptocurrency and blockchain-powered financial project known as Libra stablecoin.





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