decentralized exchange

Binance just revealed a sneak peek of its new decentralized exchange (DEX). It’s slick, powerful, and will look familiar to current Binance users.

But why use a decentralized exchange instead of a normal cryptocurrency exchange like Coinbase or Kraken? Why is DEX the next generation?

In this article, we’ll run down some of the most important benefits. First, what exactly is a DEX?

What’s a DEX?

A decentralized exchange is a crypto exchange with no central authority.

Think about Coinbase for a minute. It is perhaps the most well-known exchange in crypto, but it’s highly centralized.

There is one company at the heart of it. Coinbase handles the exchange of money directly and stores all information on its servers. Most importantly, they control all funds on the platform. In other words, they technically own your crypto.

Centralized exchanges also require full identification, so your data is stored on their central servers.

A decentralized exchange aims to remove each of those elements. It’s a truly peer-to-peer exchange with no central authority and you keep full control and ownership of your funds.

Why Should I use a DEX?

1. Control your own funds

One thing you might not realize when you trade on Coinbase or Binance is that you don’t technically own your funds. The crypto is stored in wallets that belong to Coinbase or Binance. You are trusting them to look after it for you.

While that’s convenient, it’s not safe. It also goes against the grain of cryptocurrencies, which are designed to exist outside a third-party or banking system. With a DEX, you are in full control of your own private key and your own crypto funds.

2. Security

Because a centralized exchange like Coinbase holds your crypto in their wallets, it’s much more vulnerable to hacking. All data and funds are stored on the company’s server, so there’s one point-of-failure.

Crypto exchanges are regularly targeted by hackers because they hold vast sums of crypto in one place. Nearly $1 billion has been stolen from exchanges this year alone, and you probably remember the infamous $450 million hack at the Mt. Gox exchange.

A DEX removes that vulnerability by operating on a decentralized blockchain. Instead of one point of failure, the exchange operates on many servers all at once. That makes it extremely difficult to hack.

3. No government can shut it down

Since there is no central authority governing the DEX, it can’t be shut down.

For example, the Chinese government has a blanket ban on crypto exchanges. Binance was forced to move to Malta to get around the restrictions. In the US, exchanges like Coinbase must stick to strict regulations in order to operate.

You can’t close down or govern a DEX if there’s no central point of authority.

4. Permissionless

A founding tenet of cryptocurrencies is that they are “permissionless.” In other words, you don’t need someone’s permission (like a bank or a government) to use them.

When you use a central exchange like Coinbase, Coinbase is giving you permission to trade cryptocurrencies by asking for certain data and assigning you an account.

A DEX should be truly permissionless. Anyone can use it, with no restrictions.

5. Privacy

If you’ve used a mainstream exchange, then you’ve probably been asked to verify your identity. Coinbase, for instance, asks for ID verification to satisfy Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti Money Laundering (AML) laws.

Your data is then stored on a central database. With a DEX, there should be no personal data stored on any central exchange. However, it remains to be seen whether the Binance DEX will require identification.

6. Faster and cheaper

By cutting out a central middleman, decentralized exchanges should operate with lower fees and faster transaction times.

The Downsides of DEX

Of course, decentralized exchanges are not perfect. They are still in their early stages and suffer from a number of problems:

Low liquidity – Not a lot of people use DEX platforms yet, so liquidity and trading volume is significantly lower than mainstream exchanges. That means it could be difficult to buy or sell certain assets.

Poor user experience – The benefit of using a mainstream exchange like Coinbase is that it’s slick and easy to use. DEXs are more primitive. They can seem overwhelming to beginners.

Lack of functionality – Again, because they’re in their infancy, DEXs have pretty basic functionality. If you’re looking for margin trading or stop-loss functionality, you may be disappointed.

No fiat conversions – You can’t load up your DEX account with dollars or euros because that would require KYC and AML procedures (ID verification). So you’ll have to make transfers in cryptocurrency only. Not a problem for intermediate users, but a big problem for beginners.

First Look at Binance DEX

If you’re excited by the concept of DEX trading, take a look at the new Binance platform:

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binance CEO

October was the worst month of the year for cryptocurrency volume. Now deep into a bear market, the amount of crypto changing hands on a daily basis has slumped.

However, CEO of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, Binance, says the real volume is at least twice as big as reported.

Speaking to CNBC’s Ran Neuner, Changpeng Zhao pointed to the enormous over-the-counter (OTC) market for hidden volume:

“What I’ve heard is the OTC market is at least as large as the live recorded volumes. So that is at least 50 percent of volume that is not being reported on CoinMarketCap.”

Crypto volume, explained: “Volume” is the amount of cryptocurrency changing hands on a daily basis. It is typically measured on CoinMarketCap by combining data from cryptocurrency exchanges like Binance, Coinbase, Bitfinex, etc. 

OTC Markets: Where the Whales Trade

Traditionally, over the counter markets are those in which trades are made in secret, and not recorded on an order book.

In the case of bitcoin, investors are buying and selling millions of dollars of cryptocurrency directly between one another, avoiding an exchange like Binance completely.

They may also operate through crypto brokers (such as BitStocks or Circle) which require high trading minimums. It allows “whale” investors to move their cryptocurrency without shaking the markets.

bitcoin whales

As Large as the Exchange Market?

As mentioned above, Changpeng Zhao believes this crypto OTC market is at least as large as the recorded volumes across the major exchanges. 

This chimes with a report released earlier this year by research firm TABB. They concluded that the crypto OTC market is at least two to three times larger than reported.

CoinMarketCap is currently reporting a 24-hour volume of $12.5 billion. If Changpeng Zhao’s analysis is correct, the real trading volume across the crypto market is closer to $25 billion.

Why Do “Whales” Trade OTC?

The first reason is liquidity. Crypto whales and institutional investors often trade multi-million figures in bitcoin and altcoins on a daily basis. 

Even the largest exchanges don’t often have millions of dollars in liquidity to facilitate such trades. Only by making private trades can they access the necessary buyers.

Furthermore, if a whale suddenly offloaded tens of million in bitcoin on a crypto exchange, it would very likely crash the market.

“We Are Still a Very Healthy Business”

Elsewhere in the interview, Changpeng Zhao reaffirmed that Binance was a healthy business, despite a 90% drop in volume since January’s boom.

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bitcoin hack how to avoid

A small Canadian bitcoin exchange, MapleChange, was reportedly hacked in the early hours of Sunday morning, which they blamed on a “bug.” 

The little-known exchange says it is in “the process of a thorough investigation,” but “they cannot refund anything.”

In other words, if you trusted your money to MapleChange, you may not get that money back.

Maplechange hack

Hack or Exit Scam?

The suspicious nature of the announcement didn’t go unnoticed by commentators. Joseph Young, a contributor to Forbes and CoinTelegraph, called it an “exit scam.” 

Exit scam defined: An exit-scam is a shady technique in the crypto universe whereby a small, unregulated company lures money from people (usually through an exchange or an initial coin offering, ICO) before stealing it and removing all trace of the company.

The red flag came when MapleChange deleted all its social media accounts, an unnecessary move when depositors were desperate for more information.

While the speculation continues over the hack, we thought it best to put together three ways to make sure you never lose your money in an exchange hack or scam.

1. Don’t Keep Your Cryptocurrency on an Exchange, Period

All the biggest bitcoin hacks in recent history have taken place on an exchange. The Mt. Gox hack in 2014 was, of course, the most high-profile. $450 million was stolen by hackers before the exchange went bankrupt. At least four exchanges have been hacked this year alone.

Crypto exchanges are a prominent target for attackers, simply because they hold so much cryptocurrency. Many have security weaknesses that can be easily exploited. Many others are not regulated or protected by the governing authorities.

But most importantly, if you trust your crypto to an exchange, you have no control over those cryptocurrencies. It is entirely at the risk of the exchange and the safety precautions they have taken.

Instead, you should move your bitcoin or crypto off the exchange and into your own, personal cold storage.

Cold storage means keeping your cryptocurrencies offline, so they can’t be hacked. The best option is a specialized hardware device (Ledger or Trezor) are the best-known options.

ledger nano cold storage bitcoin wallet plugged into a laptop

Further reading: What is Cold Storage for Bitcoin?

2. Criteria for Choosing an Exchange: Reputation, Regulation, Insurance

Of course, we can’t stay clear of exchanges entirely. We need them to buy and sell cryptocurrency. But before you transfer any money, do your due diligence and research.

The first step is looking at reputation. Some quick research on MapleChange, for example, would have turned up very little information – a warning sign for investors.

On the other hand, trusting a major, high-profile exchange such as Coinbase or Gemini, while not 100% safe, is a more sensible solution. These giant exchanges are better regulated and have superior security features.

The likes of Coinbase and Gemini also go to great lengths to verify its users, which vastly reduces the likelihood of fraud or security breach.

Some exchanges are now fully insured, too. Gemini recently announced insurance coverage for its exchange and custody services. If you keep your money at Gemini, it is protected should the worst happen. 

Further reading: Cryptocurrency Insurance: What is it? (And Do You Need It?)

3. Holding Money on an Exchange? Choose One with Cold Storage

Sometimes, of course, holding money on an exchange can’t be avoided. If you are trading regularly, you may need quick, instant access to your money on an exchange.

If that’s the case, be sure the exchange keeps 95% or more of funds in cold storage. Cold storage keeps crypto offline and significantly more secure from hackers.

This advice was echoed by Binance founder, Changpeng Zhao, on Twitter in the wake of the MapleChange attack.

CZ binance cold storage advice

Coinbase, for example, holds 98% of all funds in cold storage. The remaining 2% are insured, so the risk of losing your money is much lower.

Conclusion

You’ll probably hear a lot about bitcoin’s safety and security in the wake of this hack. But it’s important to remember that bitcoin and its underlying system, blockchain, has never been hacked.

Hacking and theft only occurs through weak exchanges and poorly maintained wallets. In other words, storing your bitcoin safely is the most important decision you can make.

To sum up, always keep your cryptocurrencies offline, in cold storage, ideally on a hardware device you own, not an exchange. If you do use an exchange, ensure it is reputable, regulated, insured, and offers cold storage options.

Stay safe out there.

Note: this article was edited on 29th October. A previous version claimed that $6 million was stolen in the hack before the exchange in question re-opened communications and confirmed otherwise.

Further reading: 8 Cryptocurrency Best Practices (Keep Your Crypto Safe!)

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blockchain island Malta

When the market-leading cryptocurrency exchange Binance announced in March it was moving its operations to the Mediterranean island of Malta, it made the industry sit up and take notice. The move raised a multitude of questions and a few proverbial eyebrows.

What makes Malta an attractive hub for cryptocurrency companies?

Why would a major exchange such as Binance go through the arduous process of setting up shop in such a seemingly isolated place at the other side of the world?

Does Malta make special exemptions and concessions for crypto-based firms operating on the island?

What’s the deal?

Binance Moves its Operations to Malta

binance malta blockchain island

Malta was once primarily known more for its stunning natural features such as its dominating cliff faces, its crystal blue waters and its world-class dive spots. These days it is becoming known as Blockchain Island and the home of major crypto exchanges, investment firms, and blockchain tech startups, with Binance leading the exodus from Asia and beyond.

Chased Out of China

Although originally founded in China, Binance has since become locked in legal disputes across not only its homeland but also in Japan and Hong Kong.

As crypto regulations tighten across Southeast Asia for exchanges as well as ICO projects, Binance was one of seven crypto-based firms that received a warning letter from the Securities and Futures Commission in Hong Kong not to trade digital assets.

Regulatory crypto crackdowns across Asia fueled Binance’s decision to seek pastures new. The crypto exchange decided to move their whole operation to Malta. And they also suggested that others should follow suit, which they did. When first announcing their move, Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao made a statement on his Twitter feed that said:

“Malta is very progressive when it comes to crypto and fintech. We think it is a good place for other crypto businesses to look into as well.”

 

Binance CEO cz tweet about Malta

The following message from the Maltese prime Minister Joseph Muscat on his Twitter account welcoming Binance gives a fascinating insight into the difference in attitude between Blockchain Island and the current restrictive crypto climate across Asia.

Malta prime minister tweet Binance

Other Crypto Companies Now Operating in Malta

When a company as large and integral to the crypto industry such as Binance moves its operations to Malta and encourages others to do the same, that’s exactly what happens.

Other massive crypto exchanges such as Bittrex and OKEx are also running some or all of their operations out of Malta. The list of blockchain-related companies continues to rise as crypto investment firms such as Neufund and Coinvest have also made the move.

From blockchain startups to ICO platforms Malta is now a melting pot of crypto-related businesses such as Decentralized Ventures, STASIS, Loci Nexus, the non-profit organization Bitmalta, nChain and the Maltese crypto startup Learning Machine, just to name a handful.

Malta - blockchain island

Why Does Malta Appeal to Crypto Companies?

The obvious reason why so many crypto companies are making Malta their home is largely due to the favorable digital currency regulations on the island. On June 4, 2018, Malta became the first nation to create official regulations for crypto operators.

The Maltese parliament passed three bills that established clear and concise regulatory framework for cryptocurrencies, blockchain technology and distributed ledger technology (DLT). The three Maltese crypto regulatory bills are as follows:

Malta Digital Innovation Authority Act (MDIA Act)

This act was created to establish the Malta Digital Innovation Authority and can certify DLT platforms. This law is in place to focus largely on internal governance and to outline the Authority’s responsibilities to certify distributed ledger platforms to ensure authenticity and the legal compliance of those wishing to make use of a DLT.

Innovative Technology Arrangement and Services Act (ITAS Act)

This bill is used to set up crypto exchanges and other crypto companies. It’s called the Innovative Arrangement and Services Act (ITAS Act) and is also primarily created to deal with DLT certification and platforms.

Virtual Financial Assets Act (VFA Act)

The third and final bill of this three-pronged attack focuses on regulating ICO projects, wallet providers and exchanges. The Virtual Financial Assets Act (VFA Act) was created to establish a regulatory regime that can keep the crypto industry in Malta in check.

The most interesting factor in regards to the three bills is they can be applied to a wide range of industries and technologies and are not necessarily anchored directly to the crypto or financial sector in Malta.

“We Understood Early on That the Serious Operators Wanted Legal Certainty”

When talking about new regulations, the Junior Minister of Financial Services, Digital Economy and Innovation, Silvio Schembri said:

Malta representative“When we started looking into what was needed for the blockchain industry to flourish, we understood early on that the serious operators wanted legal certainty. As of now, operators are functioning in jurisdictions of legal uncertainty. Operators fear that one day a government in that particular legislation will tell them they aren’t within the law – even though there are currently very few laws in place. This is creating legal uncertainty and we wanted to change this

 

Clear, concise, common sense and straightforward thinking are the foundations of Malta’s cryptocurrency regulations and the main reason why this picture-perfect Mediterranean island is now the most desirable destination in the world for all manner of crypto-related businesses.

A “Calculated Risk”

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat admits that its new laws are a “calculated risk” by fast-tracking blockchain companies and removing bureaucracy. For the moment, however, it appears to be paying off.

Is Malta the Future Epicenter for Cryptocurrency in Europe?

A recent report by a blockchain investment company called Fabric Ventures has shown a massive shift in worldwide ICO token sales. Europe is now leading the world in crypto-asset token sales with $4.1 billion in 2018, which vastly dwarfs Asia with $2.6 billion and the USA with a total of $2.3 billion.

As Europe leads the way for crypto and blockchain technology adoption, could Malta become the future epicenter for blockchain and cryptocurrency in Europe, which ultimately means the world?

Malta might be one of the tiniest nations in Europe, but small things can sometimes cast a big shadow. With a growing reputation as the world’s first blockchain island, easy-to-follow regulations and a welcoming attitude that doesn’t just accept blockchain and crypto, but actually encourages them, it’s no wonder that megalodon crypto exchanges Binance has made Malta its home.

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one bitcoin on blue and pink background

Welcome to your daily crypto roundup on Block Explorer. Here’s everything you need to know on the markets on Tuesday:

Bitcoin struggles on in “purgatory” mode – a term coined by Wall Street for this seemingly endless $6,000 – $7,500 range. Most of the top 20 coins are treading water today or making small losses.

1. Bitcoin – $6,451 (+ 0.1%)
2. Ethereum – $284 (- 2.8%)
3. XRP – $0.33 (+ 0.6%)

Bitcoin is still rejecting any attempts to pass $6,500, while ethereum battles against the $300 mark. Keep your eye on these numbers because a move higher could trigger a stronger recovery.

(Prices correct at time of publishing: 6.45am ET).

Biggest winner and loser in the top 20

vechain logo

Biggest winner – Vechain (+ 5%)
Biggest loser – Tezos (- 14%)

Vechain is among the few tokens in the green today as it thrives on its new mainnet, Vechain Thor. Vechain has gained more than 50% in a week.

XRP also finds some strength today compared to the rest of the market. Ripple (the company linked to XRP) revealed that xRapid – its pioneering money transfer platform – is finally ready. xRapid, which actively uses the XRP token for liquidity, will now enter production mode after a year of pilots.

Coinbase volume down 83% since January

coinbase logo

Today’s market weakness was triggered by news from Coinbase. Trading volume at the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the US is down 83% since bitcoin-mania peaked in January.

Here’s where it gets interesting, though. While Coinbase, which executes trades between USD and crypto, has seen a decline in volume, rival exchange Binance reported an increase in the last month.

Binance only executes crypto-to-crypto trades. In other words, even though investors aren’t rushing to the market with USD, trading among the core crypto community remains relatively stable.

The best blockchain? EOS, according to China

EOS logo

China has released its official blockchain ranking for August. The blockchain projects are ranked according to their technology, innovation, and application.

Bitcoin finds itself in tenth position, while Ethereum comes in second place. At the top of the charts is EOS, likely due to its transaction speed and ability to host decentralized apps (dApps).

Venezuela pegs its hyper-inflated currency to crypto

Venezuela’s national currency, the Bolivar, is fighting against 1 million percent inflation. People in the country are fleeing to neighboring Ecuador or turning to bitcoin to protect their money.

But the government thinks it has a solution. As of today, the Bolivar will be pegged to a cryptocurrency called petro. Petro was created by the Venezuelan government, and its value is derived from oil reserves in the country.

Yet again, we see people (and now governments) turning to crypto when economies fail.

That’s all for today, folks. We’ll see you tomorrow for another blockchain roundup.

Today’s long read: What is EOS? The world’s best blockchain, according to China