Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Blockchain brainwashing and built-in negative bias

In writing for clients about topics relating to blockchain tech and cryptocurrency in general, I've learned a great deal. Not just about the technology, but about human nature. The reason lies in the fact that my job involves doing objective research. This research sheds light on a subject that should not be controversial in the slightest. Yet somehow, a great many people parrot the negativity found in the press.

They do so despite a total lack of knowledge regarding the subject matter of which they speak. And they tend to feel justified and superior in this even when their statements or questions demonstrate such ignorance beyond a shadow of a doubt. Knowledge means nothing. In today's world, and perhaps throughout history, feelings control our perceptions.

 Media influences our perceptions. And our perceptions often lead to opinions based on nothing more than a feeling, suggestion, or general sense of something. This wouldn't be such a big deal if those opinions didn't affect our choices. Those choices, influenced by such an emotional process, add up to a collective almost incapable of change.

 An absentmindedness of epic proportions 

 The lack of critical thought being demonstrated is as astonishing as it is alarming. It's no wonder why society as a whole finds itself mired in so many crises and divisions.

Not all of the blame can be placed upon incompetent or corrupt leaders. We the people must shoulder much of the responsibility for our unwillingness to investigate for ourselves, develop informed opinions, and make independent choices.

With such a susceptibility to subliminal influence by outside forces, there exists little hope for progress. Human beings are not rational creatures. We are emotional beings. Our instinct is to use our powers of reason to either rationalize inescapable emotions or to create a reality that avoids unwanted ones. It is a rare individual who chooses to investigate matters on their own absent any pre-conceived notions.

Such people are those who were early adopters of different blockchain-based technologies, whether they be cryptographic coins or other features of platforms too extensive to list. These trail-blazers now have to cope with increasing ridicule from those who do not care to educate themselves on a subject that is, in fact, rather simple.

Even those with little to no technical background can understand the basics with ease. Yet it appears most would rather not. It's easier to believe what feels right or what we first hear. Even when we don't know how we got that feeling in the first place. Even if it has no basis in reality. Even if it is to the detriment of society as a whole.

 The dreaded and evil B word 

Back to bitcoin (I hesitate to even use the word). Somehow the entire subject of anything related to blockchain technology has become so shrouded in senseless controversy that it's hard to even speak of it. I've learned to avoid mentioning what it is I most often write about, what my main specialty is, whenever possible.

Somehow, those uninformed on the subject seem to despise bitcoin for reasons they can't explain or understand. It's a bubble, it's fake news, a scam, a nothing-burger, it's dead, it's like a magical rainbow with no pot of gold at the end. Is this just a random occurrence? Is it a coincidence that the exact same tone of the average press article about bitcoin gets parroted by the average person who has no idea what they're talking about?

 Bitcoin bashing has become mainstream 

Upon examining most press pieces on the subject, it becomes clear early on that the vast majority use nothing more than hollow rhetoric to make their ridiculous points. The same tired arguments have been raised again and again for years.

Rather than get into specifics, simply refer to the website BitcoinObituaries.com. Also, see my article entitled "Bitcoin has died 235 times over the last nine years" (the number has now risen to over 245, just days after that article was first published).

The ease with which the average person is influenced by fleeting thoughts and momentary suggestions is not my only concern. As I mention in that article, the short attention span demonstrated by these downright delusional criticisms ought to worry all of us.

 A certain cycle has been repeated dozens of times over the past four to five years. In a society full of independent thinkers, the cycles would be recognized at some point and opinions would alter to better align with reality.

Yet the exact opposite has been happening. With each asylum-resembling repetition, the chorus of weird and ludicrous criticisms grows even stronger. The definition of insanity is repeating the same action and expecting a different result each time. In a very real and literal sense, this is what critics of cryptocurrency have been demonstrating by repeating the same unfounded points over and over again.

This is not an emotionally charged rant (e.g., a bitcoin criticism). This is an observation. All one needs to do in order to discern this insanity is to comb through online articles and social media posts (both past and present). The FUD forms some kind of a suffocating smog.

Fortunately, I spend most of my time reading white papers, lesser-known articles written by developers, and transcriptions of interviews with programmers or experts in the industry. The difference between the two can only be likened to parallel universes - there can be no comparison to speak of. Upon living in the calmer, more rational dimension for some time, one thing becomes clear.

 A brighter future in the blockchain

Blockchain technology has the potential to radically transform our whole entire world for the better and has already begun to do so.

As John Mcafee has asserted, the invention of the blockchain rivals that of the invention of agriculture in terms of its widespread impact upon human civilization. More individual power and liberty, less fraud and crime, additional financial prosperity and security, and countless other untold benefits lie waiting in the untilled pasture of blockchains galore.

Yet ignorance holds back progress as it always has.

Just as blockchain has been exploding toward mass adoption, those with vested interests in the status quo have managed to exercise their influence on the minds of the masses. Banks and large corporations (like those who control corporate Western media) know that they have become obsolete and irrelevant.

Their time is done. Their days are numbered and their goose is cooked. This manipulation of public perception represents a last-ditch effort to bide their time. It is little more than the blood-curdled cry and final futile lashings of a dying wild animal.

Everything we have ever known is about to get better. Human beings lie on the cusp of the most dramatic peaceful revolution in the history of our existence. For the first time, we will soon be free of all centralized authorities and their intrinsic corruption, control, and oppression.

You can do something to help bring this future closer to the present. Think about what you're saying about bitcoin and blockchain before you say it. Know the reasons you feel how you do, and ask yourself, am I justified in this, or am I just repeating something I've heard somewhere? Investigate. Do your own research. Use your own reason and not someone else's. Last but not least, buy bitcoin and other cryptos and use them to buy something.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Bitcoin has died 235 times in the last nine years

The price of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as measured in dollars has fallen sharply in recent days and weeks.  Despite this, crypto in general has still seen a steady rise of epic proportion over the long term.  Every single times this happens, doom and gloom abounds.  Many people seem to have incredibly short memory spans.  Bitcoin makes banks obsolete.  Big banks have been responsible for the very crimes that many accuse bitcoin of enabling.  

Memory span blackout 

As a species, we have incredibly short memory spans.  We tend to only look at what has happened in the most recent past.

For example, each and every time there is a temporary decline in the price of bitcoin or the cryptocurrency markets in general, the doomers cry out.  The end is nigh, the bubble has gone bust, it’s all over. 

Such naysayers never seem to consider the long-term trends.

Bitcoin has fallen almost 50% from its all-time record high near $20,000.  And yet, even if it were to fall to $10,000, that still represents a 1,000% increase year-over-year.  But you will not hear a single soul talking about that.  All you will hear are those spreading FUD (fear, uncertatiny, doubt).  Somehow, these voices have been elevated above all the rest.  And this is no coincidence. 

Banks no longer necessary

Crypto poses a grave threat to the traditional banking system.  With cryptocurrency, users become their own bank.  There is no need for a third-party financial system any longer. 

That means that corrupt, fraudulent, insolvent, and criminal institutions like HSBC will no longer exist.  HSBC was convicted of laundering hundreds of millions of dollars for the Sinaloa drug cartel in 2012.  And yet, many people fear that bitcoin has the potential to assist money launderers and criminals.  How can this be?  Has everyone forgotten about the criminal acts of the international banks? 

From rigging financial markets, as Deutchebank and others have been convicted of, to outright defrauding customers, as Wells Fargo was convicted of in 2017, there is no end to the criminality of such institutions.  They have no moral capacity.  There are little to no consequences for their actions.  They simply receive a slap on the wrist in the form of a small fine and continue business as usual. 

Surely no one can forget the crisis of 2008.  The crises revolved around this international banking cabal and its crimes.  And what happened as a result?  They were handed trillions of dollars created out of thin air by central banks.  Their crimes not only went unpunished.  They were rewarded in masse.  Instead of bailing out the debtors (those who lost their homes due to predatory lending practices), governments and central banks bailed out the creditors (the criminal banks). 

The end is not nigh

All in all, many doomsayers have begun to change their tone, as they can no longer afford to lose credibility.  Jamie Dimon and Mark Cuban are two recent examples.  Cuban has even gone so far as to allow his NFL team, the Dallas Mavericks, to accept Bitcoin and Ether. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Basic cybersecurity - how to keep your data secure and private

[The following post about cybersecurity was stolen by the creator of Hacked .com and CryptoCoinNews .com in March of 2017.  It is my original work.  The creator of those sites stole it from me without payment.  Do not visit Hacked .com or CryptoCoinNews .com.]

Your most important information exists within cyberspace.

With each passing day, that information becomes more valuable, as well as more vulnerable.  Cybersecurity also becomes more important.

There are two main parties that want your information: cybercriminals and overreaching government spy agencies.  The former want financial information first and foremost.  The latter wants everything.

According to William Binney, a former high-ranking official at the National Security Administration (NSA), everything you do online – email, banking, credit cards, surfing the web, etc., all get recorded and archived by spy agencies such as the NSA.

Why do they want this information?  For criminals, the answer is simple: to profit.  Either through direct theft or by selling bulk information to third parties, cybercriminals seek to make a quick buck for relatively little effort.

Government spy agencies, however, have even more nefarious intentions.

All stored data can be used against you at any time, for any reason.  Sound paranoid?  It has happened before.

The Importance of Privacy

The United States Federal Government (USFG) used such data in order to direct IRS agents toward impeding the actions of conservatives within the Tea Party movement.  The IRS targeted members within the movement with increased scrutiny, in some cases auditing them for no apparent reason.

When this information came to light, the presiding Acting Director of Exempt Organizations, Lois Lerner, was eventually put on trial in front of a congressional committee for her alleged crimes.  In the end, she would face no criminal charges.  Her infamous testimony consisted of only four words: “I plead the fifth” (referring to the fifth amendment of the constitution of the United States of America, which defends against self-incrimination).

Unlike corrupt politicians such as Lerner, pleading the fifth may not always be an option for the rest of us everyday citizens.  Everything you do, when watched and recorded for years, can amount to self-incrimination.  It has been estimated that the average person commits about three felonies a day, just going about their daily life.  This has occurred as a result of an explosion in federal laws and regulations, as well as those laws becoming more and more vague and malleable. 

 If you become a target for whatever reason, your data can be sifted through, and within it, something will be found to charge you with.  This occurred with members of the conservative Tea Party movement, as well as members of the liberal Occupy Wallstreet movement.  This shows that the state does not take sides in terms of politics.  Anyone disrupting the status quo can be labeled a threat and dealt with.

Perhaps the best speech ever given on the subject of privacy comes from Glenn Greenwald, the journalist at The Guardian who first broke the Snowden story:

In addition to so-called “privacy” concerns (which have more to do with potential government overreach and protection of individual rights than just wanting to be private), cybersecurity has shown to be of the utmost importance in recent years.

Historic Hacks Shed Light on The Value of Security

A number of high-profile hacks have happened in the recent past.  Among them are the Yahoo hack (largest in history), hacking of several large retailers and their customer’s data, and a laundry list of cloud-hosting companies such as Dropbox being compromised (do a search for “cloud data break” or “cloud hacking” - you’ll be shocked).  That's not to mention the recent Meltdown and Spectre revelations, which dwarf everything else in terms of cyber security flaws.

Now that you’ve been terrified by the insecurity of the Internet and the potential misuses of your data (if not, you should be), this brings us to the question: what can be done about it?
 Fortunately, there are several steps that anyone can take in order to make the vast majority of one’s online activity, including financial data, both secure and private.  And as we will see, they are simple, easy, and affordable.

Let’s begin with something most people do every day: email.

Cybersecurity Basics

All of your emails can be accessed and viewed by the company that holds them.  The company can also be required to hand this data over to government spy agencies.  This isn’t very secure at all, and it’s definitely not private by any means.

Alternatives to the many mainstream email providers do exist.  One of the most popular is Protonmail.  Protonmail uses advanced encryption on all of its servers.  This makes it much more difficult for your messages to be intercepted.  In addition, even the company itself cannot access your data. 

“ProtonMail's zero access architecture means that your data is encrypted in a way that makes it inaccessible to us. Data is encrypted on the client-side using an encryption key that we do not have access to. This means we don't have the technical ability to decrypt your messages, and as a result, we are unable to hand your data over to third parties. With ProtonMail, privacy isn't just a promise, it is mathematically ensured. For this reason, we are also unable to do data recovery. If you forget your password, we cannot recover your data.”

This also ensures that ProtonMail cannot hand over your information to spy agencies, even if it wanted to.  In addition, your most sensitive information, such as financial communications, will be far more secure.    

ProtonMail provides free accounts with a 500-megabyte storage limit.  For a small monthly fee, you can also upgrade to accounts with additional storage and features.  If you can afford it, I definitely recommend this option.  Not only will you support their efforts, but you also get added features such as using your own domain, access to aliases, and priority customer support.

If for some reason you don’t like Protonmail, alternatives do exist, but won’t be covered in detail here.  If you’re interested, just do a search for “ProtonMail alternatives”, or something similar.  (Side note on search engines – for privacy concerns, do not use Google - they keep an archive of everything you search for and click on.  Consider as an alternative https://www.startpage.com.  They use Google’s results, but do not track your movements.  In addition, they allow you to view external links using a proxy server, meaning your activity will appear to be coming from a server other than your personal computer or mobile device.). Duckduckgo.com is also a reasonable alternative.

Your email can be made secure and private with relative ease, but what about your browsing habits and IP address?  Options exist there as well.

Tor and VPNs

The two most common options for securing and protecting what you view and do online include the Tor network and Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).

The following definition of Tor comes from Pcmag.com:

“Tor (The Onion Router) - The largest implementation of onion routing, which is a method for transmitting data anonymously over the Internet. Run by volunteers, there are approximately a thousand Tor proxy servers on the Internet that provide the routing paths.”
In essence, Tor works via a network of proxy servers.  When you utilize Tor, the network makes it appear as though your device is communicating with one of their servers, rather than whatever you are really doing.  This provides anonymity and some measure of cybersecurity (although the Tor network has proven to be vulnerable in the past).

While Tor is a free service, VPNs come with a small price.  For as little as three to four dollars per month, you can both encrypt your activity and cloak your IP address.  VPNs are a great step to take toward better cybersecurity, and an easy one to use.

The following definition of a VPN comes from whatismyipaddress.com:

“A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a network technology that creates a secure network connection over a public network such as the Internet or a private network owned by a service provider. Large corporations, educational institutions, and government agencies use VPN technology to enable remote users to securely connect to a private network."

 "A VPN can connect multiple sites over a large distance just like a Wide Area Network (WAN). VPNs are often used to extend intranets worldwide to disseminate information and news to a wide user base. Educational institutions use VPNs to connect campuses that can be distributed across the country or around the world.”

For a list of popular VPN services, search for “Top Ten VPNs”.  Shop around for the best deal.
When using a VPN, you can typically install it on up to five devices.  So your laptop, smartphone, tablet, and two other devices can all be made secure and anonymous.  It’s simple enough that if you can access this webpage and read this article, you can install and use a VPN.

You can choose between a number of servers to route your IP address through, located in locations around the globe.  Most often, a server in your home country will have the least delay.  When using foreign servers, you may experience a slight lag time in browsing.

To be sure, securing your communications and computer system will not mean much if your accounts do not have the appropriate safeguards in place.

Encrypted Passwords & 2FA

Now let’s turn our attention to more local aspects of cybersecurity.  One of the first things to do that is even easier than what has been described so far involves using encrypted passwords and two-factor authentication (2FA).  Most financial institutions (e.g., Paypal and Bank of America) now provide options for two-factor authentication.

2FA works by requiring (you guessed it) two factors in order to verify your identity.  First, you will need a password, which I’ll tell you how to encrypt in just a moment.  Then, you will be sent either an SMS text message or email containing a six-digit numerical code.  You will enter this code before gaining access to your account.

Now, when it comes to passwords, what is considered secure?  Hackers can use sophisticated cracking programs in order to try millions of potential character combinations in a matter of seconds.  To defend against this, you must create a complex password.  A few simple methods exist to do this (side note – remember when John Podesta had his email account hacked and the data released to Wikileaks?  Believe it or not, his password was: p@ssw0rd.  Hah!  It’s no wonder he got hacked!)
First, take a word.  Let’s try: security.

Let’s add some special characters – secur!ty&.

Now throw in a few numbers – 1s3cur!ty&

Finally, add capital letters – 1S3cUr!Ty&.

Now you have a far more secure password.  Yet it can be made better still.
This example is only ten characters long - a bare minimum.  I recommend at least twelve to fifteen characters or more.  This can be done either by adding random characters or creating a physical pattern on your keyboard.

For example N^B%v4c3X@Z! looks random and very secure.  But if you type these characters, you will see a pattern.  The pattern alternates between a letter on the bottom line and a number on the top.  The first four holding Shift, the next four without Shift, and so on.
This is just one example out of an infinite number of such patterns that can be created.  If someone looks over your shoulder, they may decipher the code with ease.  But in this digital age, that’s not our main concern.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, allow me to mention a few random facts.  Let’s briefly look at Secured Socket Layer (SSL) tech and Google account options.

Websites can obtain an SSL certificate.  This encrypts the data sent between the site and its visitors.  For most sites, the simplest version will do.  For e-commerce sites, however, a more elaborate (and expensive) version will be required.  When you see the padlock symbol in the URL bar of your browser, along with https:// instead of HTTP://, you can be assured that no one will access anything you submit to that website (email address, credit card numbers, etc.).  This blog does not have an SSL certificate for the simple fact that readers don't enter any information here other than an email address (because you subscribed to my mailing list, of course). 

Even having taken all the steps above, Google can still track much of the moves you make online (in some online communities, Google gets referred to as “Big Brother”, and for good reason!).  They do this by tracking your Google account, connected to your Youtube, Gmail, and Google Plus accounts.  If you don’t use those three sites, just delete your Google account.  But if you do use them, you can either go into your account or click the arrow displayed on a Google Adsense ad.  You can then access your options and turn off many of the tracking features (this takes a bit of poking around, but if you’ve read this far, I trust you’re more than capable of getting there on your own).  In addition, you may want to delete what has been tracked up to the present.


So there you have it.  If you do everything described above, you will be taking some serious action toward making your activity online more secure and private.  The more business you conduct online, and the more wealth you store within the digital realm, the more vital cybersecurity becomes. 

We should all feel a personal obligation to take this matter into our own hands.  We must not allow spy agencies to do as they see fit with our data, violating our rights in the process.  And we must remain vigilant against the ever-growing threat of hackers and cybercriminals.  One can work toward accomplishing this by utilizing encrypted emails, VPNs or the Tor network, SSL certificates, and encrypted passwords combined with two-factor authentication.

As a disclaimer, keep in mind that the author of this article has no formal education in matters of cybersecurity or computer science.  What has been described results from little more than self-education and is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

There’s more to cybersecurity than one article can hope to describe, as one might imagine.  Protecting your data from all manner of digital predators grows more vital with each passing day.

I encourage you to educate yourself on the elementary aspects of cybersecurity.  It will be worth it.