In the latest blow, on Tuesday, an alternative virtual currency that is owned and operated by the same people as Bitfinex, known as Tether, announced that it had been hacked and lost around $30 million worth of digital tokens.
None of that has been enough to stop customers from pumping billions of dollars worth of virtual currency trades through Bitfinex in recent weeks on some days, the exchange claimed to be doing more trades, by dollar value, than some stock exchanges in the United States.
Even many people who believe in virtual currencies worry that the mixture of loose controls and booming trading at the worlds largest exchange is likely to cause trouble for all the investors piling into virtual currencies, even those who dont go near Bitfinex.
Im worried about the systemic risk that this centralized company poses, and Im worried that if they go down, they will take down the space with them, said Emin Gn Sirer, an associate professor of computer science at Cornell University, who has a track record of successfully predicting problems in the growing virtual currency industry.
The chief executive of Bitfinex and Tether, Jan Ludovicus van der Velde, said in an email on Tuesday that the financial position of the company has never been stronger.
Concerns over virtual currency exchanges are nothing new. The first and largest Bitcoin exchange, Mt. Gox, collapsed in 2014 after losing $500 million of customer money to hackers.
This year, law enforcement took down another large Bitcoin exchange, BTC-E, which was accused of being a way station for many of the Bitcoin flowing through online black markets and ransomware attacks.
Regulators in the United States and a few other countries have tried to tame the business, and the largest exchanges in the United States and Japan are now under official oversight.
Those regulated exchanges, though, are dwarfed by unregulated ones like Bitfinex and several that have popped up in South Korea, where regulators have been slow to act.
The liquid nature of the Bitcoin markets, flowing around national borders and laws, is a product of the virtual currencys unusual structure. Bitcoin is stored and moved through a decentralized network of computers that are not under the control of any single company or government.
This structure means that the virtual currency continues to be an easy target for people who want to manipulate its price or use it to launder money.
Unregulated, unregistered exchanges are a very big concern for the industry and the community broadly, said Kathryn Haun, a former federal prosecutor who is on the board of the American virtual currency company Coinbase.
The most frequent face of Bitfinex is its chief strategy officer, Phil Potter. Mr. Potter worked for Morgan Stanley in New York in the 1990s but lost his job after bragging at length in The New York Times about his $3,500 Rolex, his opulent lifestyle and his aggressive tactics for making money.
Mr. Potter, 45, runs Bitfinex alongside Mr. Van der Velde, a Dutch-speaking man living in Hong Kong, and Giancarlo Devasini, an Italian man who lives on the French Riviera, according to company filings in Hong Kong.
The company lost 1,500 Bitcoin, worth around $400,000, to a hacker in 2015. But the most damaging incident happened in August 2016 when a thief got almost 120,000 Bitcoin, worth around $75 million at the time.
The company spread out the losses to all customers even those who were not holding Bitcoin at the time of the hacking by forcing customers to take a 36 percent haircut or loss on any money at the exchange.
The lack of detail that Bitfinex provided about the hacking drove away some large customers like Arthur Hayes, the founder of Bitmex, a Hong Kong-based virtual currency exchange.
There are so many questions about them, Mr. Hayes said. All of this could be easily rectified by just showing all the figures.
Mr. van der Velde said the company had been as public and transparent as possible about the security incident in August 2016 given the ongoing criminal investigations.
Banks have also been put off by Bitfinexs operations. Wells Fargo said this year that it would no longer move money from Bitfinex accounts. Shortly after, Bitfinex said its main banks in Taiwan were shutting it off. Since then, it has moved between a series of banks in other countries, without telling customers where the exchanges money is stored.
But nothing has drawn more criticism than the operation of Tether, a virtual currency that is supposed to be tied or tethered to the value of a dollar.
Customers can buy Tether coins on Bitfinex and then transfer them to other virtual currency exchanges, providing a way to move dollars between countries without going through banks. Tether has also become a very popular way to buy Bitcoin. In recent weeks, a few hundred millions dollars worth of Tether has changed hands on a daily basis across several exchanges, according to data on CoinMarketCap.com.
Tether and Bitfinex have insisted that the two operations are separate. But leaked documents known as the Paradise Papers, which were made public this month, show that Appleby, an offshore law firm, helped Mr. Potter and Mr. Devasini, the Bitfinex operators, set up Tether in the British Virgin Islands in late 2014.
One persistent online critic, going by the screen name Bitfinexed, has written several very detailed essays on Medium arguing that Bitfinex appears to be creating Tether coins out of thin air and then using them to buy Bitcoin and push the price up.
Tether and Bitfinex have countered this criticism in statements on the companies websites and promised that every Tether is backed up by a dollar sitting in a bank account. In September, the companies provided an accounting document intended to prove that Tether is financed with real money.
Lewis Cohen, a lawyer at the law firm Hogan Lovells who advises many virtual currency projects, said the document, because of the careful way it was phrased, did not prove that the Tether coins are backed by dollars.
Even if they are, he said, Tether and Bitfinex appear to be violating laws in the United States and Europe that govern investments like Tether, which has qualities very similar to a money market mutual fund.
There are a long list of reasons that you dont want to deal with them, Mr. Cohen said of Tether.
On Tuesday, Tether announced that an external attacker had taken $30 million worth of Tether from the companys online wallets. The company said it was working to recover the coins.
Read more from the original source:
Warning Signs About Another Giant Bitcoin Exchange
- Digital Currencies and Financial Inclusion: Revisited | CGAP - May 19th, 2018
- Bitcoin vs. Electronic Money: Digital But Different | CGAP - May 19th, 2018
- Must I pay tax this year if I transfer bitcoin from ... - April 4th, 2018
- Will a 1099-B form work best for reporting bitcoin ... - April 4th, 2018
- Bitcoin (BTC) price: News & Live Chart - Trading Analysis ... - March 29th, 2018
- Bitcoin USD - BTCUSD Overview - MarketWatch - February 28th, 2018
- Buy Bitcoin IRA | Bitcoin IRA Investment & Retirement Account ... - February 28th, 2018
- Bitcoin Fees Have Become Infeasible - Bitcoin News - December 23rd, 2017
- Bitcoin's incredible surge takes it above $9,500 - Nov. 27 ... - November 27th, 2017
- What Is Bitcoin, and How Does It Work? - The New York Times - October 6th, 2017
- Why Beanie Babies make for a better investment than bitcoin - MarketWatch - September 5th, 2017
- Bitcoin's price hit $5000 last week. It's still a dumb investment - Los Angeles Times - September 5th, 2017
- Bitcoin dips another $300 after China's cryptocurrency crackdown - CNBC - September 5th, 2017
- IRS Eyes Profits From Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash Investments - Investopedia - September 5th, 2017
- Sequoia, IDG to Invest in China Bitcoin Mining Giant - Bloomberg - September 4th, 2017
- Bitcoin Price Drops By Over $250 as Crypto Markets Lose Billions - CoinDesk - September 4th, 2017
- Bitcoin $5,000: Currency Hits New Record High | Fortune.com - Fortune - September 2nd, 2017
- Bitcoin Drops Below $5000 as Crypto Markets See $13 Billion Sell-Off - CoinDesk - September 2nd, 2017
- Searching for the future of currency, major companies try Bitcoin technology - PBS NewsHour - September 2nd, 2017
- Bitcoin Mempool is Empty and High Transaction Fees are no Longer Required - newsBTC - September 2nd, 2017
- Literally just one huge chart showing bitcoin's incredible rise to $4800 - MarketWatch - September 2nd, 2017
- Bitcoin's nearly five-fold climb in 2017 looks very similar to tech ... - CNBC - September 2nd, 2017
- BTC-e's Big Claim: Bitcoin Withdrawals to Begin Tomorrow - CoinDesk - CoinDesk - September 2nd, 2017
- As bitcoin surges in price and popularity, so do the complaints - CNBC - August 31st, 2017
- Here is how Indians are minting a fortune in bitcoins - Economic Times - August 31st, 2017
- Why Miners Are Mining Bitcoin Cash and Losing Money Doing It - CoinDesk - August 30th, 2017
- Bitcoin jumps nearly 70% for August to record high, offshoot 'bitcoin cash' falls to more than one-week low - CNBC - August 30th, 2017
- Bitcoin Foundation seeks legal protection from US currency regulation - The Independent - August 30th, 2017
- Bitcoin's epic rise leaves late-1990s tech bubble in the dust - Economic Times - August 30th, 2017
- 99Bitcoins | Buy Bitcoin, Bitcoin Guides & Reviews for ... - August 29th, 2017
- Dark web finds bitcoin increasingly more of a problem than a help, tries other digital currencies - CNBC - August 29th, 2017
- Bitcoin Meets Zcash: Developers Test Tool for Trustless Trades - CoinDesk - August 29th, 2017
- Russian Regulator: Bitcoin Should Be Limited to 'Qualified Investors' - CoinDesk - August 29th, 2017
- As bitcoin and rivals surge, so too have complaints to the CFPB - MarketWatch - August 29th, 2017
- Is Bitcoin the New Gold? - TheStreet.com - August 28th, 2017
- This Swedish guy bet all his life savings on bitcoin and it made him 100 times richer - Business Insider Nordic - August 28th, 2017
- How To Gain Bitcoin Exposure Inside Of Your Traditional Brokerage Account - Seeking Alpha - August 28th, 2017
- Value of all digital currencies hits record around $160 billion as ... - MarketWatch - August 28th, 2017
- Why Motherboard Is Capitalizing 'Bitcoin' Again - Motherboard - August 28th, 2017
- New Bitcoin.com Charts: The Bitcoin Ecosystem at a Glance - Bitcoin News (press release) - August 27th, 2017
- Expert Predicts Bitcoin Will be Worth up to $20000 in the Next Three Years - Futurism - August 27th, 2017
- Does Bitcoin Have a Mining Monopoly Problem? - Fortune - August 27th, 2017
- Bitcoin poised to challenge record after recovering from correction - MarketWatch - August 26th, 2017
- Bitcoin Prices Rise But Fall Short of All-Time High - CoinDesk - CoinDesk - August 26th, 2017
- Bitcoin and Artificial Intelligence Can Help Fight Sex Trafficking ... - Fortune - August 26th, 2017
- Bitcoin Investors, Beware: The IRS Is Coming for Your Vast Riches - TheStreet.com - August 26th, 2017
- Bitcoin's Lightning Network Moves Closer to Compatibility - CoinDesk - CoinDesk - August 26th, 2017
- A sketchy Satoshi has popped up to promote his new blockchain - The Verge - August 26th, 2017
- Bitcoin And Why You Think You're Right (Even When You're Wrong) - Seeking Alpha - August 26th, 2017
- Bitcoin and Ether rise, helping take crypto space above $150 billion market cap - MarketWatch - August 23rd, 2017
- Bitcoin Prices Are Up Over $100 Already Today - CoinDesk - August 23rd, 2017
- MGT Capital Raises $2.4 Million to Expand Bitcoin Mining Operation - CoinDesk - August 23rd, 2017
- Hackers Swipe Bitcoin by Stealing Your Cell Phone Number First - Inc.com - August 23rd, 2017
- Bitcoin rebounds after briefly entering correction territory - MarketWatch - August 22nd, 2017
- Here's Why Bitcoin Rose More than $1000 in Two Months - Futurism - August 22nd, 2017
- The IRS Has Special Software to Find Bitcoin Tax Cheats - Fortune - August 22nd, 2017
- Bitcoin Prices Dip Below $4000 to Hit 7-Day Low - CoinDesk - August 22nd, 2017
- China's two biggest bitcoin exchanges helped themselves to $150 million in idle client funds - Quartz - August 22nd, 2017
- Bitcoin Analysts Compete for the Highest Price Forecast - Bloomberg - August 21st, 2017
- A Bitcoin Law for Every State? Interest and Animosity Greet Model US Regulation - CoinDesk - August 21st, 2017
- Take Two: Bitcoin Miner BTCS Announces New Merger Deal - CoinDesk - August 21st, 2017
- Bitcoin About To Burst - Seeking Alpha - August 21st, 2017
- 10 Bitcoin Wallet Apps You Should Consider Using Today - HuffPost - August 20th, 2017
- Bitcoin-accepting shops leave cookie trail that crumbles anonymity - The Register - August 20th, 2017
- Bitcoin Trades Sideways as Bitcoin Cash Price Drops to $800 - CoinDesk - August 20th, 2017
- 'Bitcoin cash' surges 40% in single day as investors bet on its faster processing speeds - CNBC - August 19th, 2017
- 'Bitcoin cash' soars to record high above $900 as 'mining' profits jump - CNBC - August 19th, 2017
- Photos: Inside one of the world's largest bitcoin mines - Quartz - August 18th, 2017
- Bitcoin Surged to a New High Adding $17 Billion in Just Over a Week - Fortune - August 18th, 2017
- Another major country joins China and Japan in cracking down on bitcoin exchanges - CNBC - August 18th, 2017
- Bitcoin Cash Breaks Price Doldrums to Push Past $400 - CoinDesk - August 18th, 2017
- Poloniex and Breadwallet Will Support Bitcoin Cash Transfers - The Merkle - August 14th, 2017
- Bitcoin Price Flies To More Than $4100 Over Weekend - PYMNTS.com - August 14th, 2017
- Why is Bitcoin worth more than gold? - Independent Online - August 14th, 2017
- Bitcoin breaks $4000 - BetaNews - August 13th, 2017
- Bitcoin just passed $4000 - TechCrunch - August 13th, 2017
- Bitcoin vaults to new record above $4K, boosted by Japan and multiplying its value fourfold - CNBC - August 13th, 2017
- What is bitcoin? - CoinDesk - August 12th, 2017
- Bitcoin surges to fresh record above $3500, beats gold amid the global market sell-off - CNBC - August 12th, 2017
- 'Blockchain technology will change the world': Fidelity Labs SVP - CNBC - August 12th, 2017