Stablecoin issuer Tether (USDT) has announced that it will be partnering with Bitcoin-friendly nation El Salvador to invest in a planned $1 billion dollar renewable energy initiative.
The Central American country continues efforts to drive Bitcoin adoption after becoming the first nation to make BTC legal tender some three years ago. The latest is a renewable power generation precinct in Metapán, which aims to harness solar and wind energy which will power and be monetized by Bitcoin mining operations.
Tether is among investors in a first round capital raise to develop Volcano Energy, a soon to be developed 241 MW renewable energy park. The site is located in Metapán and will comprise 169 MW of photovoltaic solar energy and 72 MW of wind.
The energy produced will power Bitcoin mining farms in El Salvador with Tether estimating the park’s computation power surpassing 1.3 EH/s. This output would put the cumulative Bitcoin mining hashrate from Volcano Energy in the top 20 pools operating globally.
Tether chief technology officer Paolo Ardoino said the investment marks the stablecoin issuers intent to drive investment in renewable energy production as well as mining infrastructure.
Volcano Energy CEO Josue Lopez said that the park envisions being a benchmark for Bitcoin mining powered by renewable resources, as the sector continues to innovate in a competitive and expansive environment:
“Currently, more than 52% of Bitcoin mining is being done sustainably. We believe this percentage will significantly increase in the coming years through important investments like ours.”
Tether did not disclose the amount of the investment in correspondence Cointelegraph.
Bitcoin proponent and broadcaster Max Keiser is keenly involved in El Salvador’s adoption efforts, acting as an advisor to president Nayib Bukele as well as the chairman of Volcano Energy.
Saifedean Ammous, economist and author of The Bitcoin Standard is another Bitcoin advocate who’s now involved in El Salvador’s governance, after joining as economic adviser to its National Bitcoin Office.
The proliferation of Bitcoin and the ability to use the preeminent cryptocurrency widely in El Salvador paints a more interesting picture, as Cointelegraph’s Joe Hall explored earlier in 2022 during a visit to the Central America country.
According to an official release from the court, an appeal against an earlier bail agreement by the State Prosecutor’s office was cast aside allowing Do Kwon and Terraform Labs’ chief financial officer Han Chang-Joon to await further legal proceedings under house arrest in the country.
The court readopted bail terms originally set out in a hearing on May 12, with the pair having to pay $436,000 (400,000 euro) each to be released from custody. Do Kwon and Chang-Joon are now under strict bail terms and are unable to leave the latter’s formal residence in Montenegro.
The pair are set to be closely monitored by local police. If either of the two Terraform Labs’ duo leave the residence or violate supervision measures, the bail will be forfeit.
Kwon and Chang-Joon provided personal and financial information to local authorities which included evidence of a sales contract and property registration for an apartment, parking space and basement owned by Chang-Joon.
Kwon reportedly supplied an invoice for a vehicle as well as bank accounts statements, with the bail terms set so that the defendants would be discouraged from attempting to flee the country.
Kwon and Chang-Joon were arrested in Montenegro in March 2023, after allegedly using false travel documents in an effort to leave the country. The two had their original passports confiscated in South Korea in October 2022.
The Podgorica High Court noted that verifying the authenticity of Belgium passports and identity cards held by the pair would require more time, while it highlighted its belief that the agreed upon bail amount “is a sufficient guarantee of securing the presence of the defendants.”
Terraform Labs co-founder Do Kwon has been granted bail in Montenegro after an appeals process by prosecutors was dismissed by the Podgorica district court on June 2.
One of Europe’s largest telecommunications companies uses its infrastructure to explore new revenue streams and boost network security as a validator for blockchain protocols.
Germany’s Deutsche Telekom is set to become a validator for Ethereum layer-2 scaling platform Polygon, becoming one of 100 validators providing staking and validation services for the network and Polygon’s Supernets solution.
Polygon has become an important layer 2 within the Ethereum (ETH) ecosystem, offering developers a range of scaling solutions, including zero-knowledge rollups, sidechains and data availability protocols.
Deutsche Telekom MMS, which provides consulting and software development services, will operate as a Polygon validator for its parent company. This is expected to secure Polygon’s proof-of-stake sidechain and Supernets chain, improving security, governance, and decentralization of the protocols.
The firm will run a full node, produce blocks, validate and participate in consensus of the network as well as commit checkpoints to the Ethereum mainnet.
Dirk Röde, Deutsche Telekom’s Blockchain Solutions Center head, told Cointelegraph supporting the Polygon network as a validator is a big milestone in its aim to be an important player in Web3 infrastructure:
“Deutsche Telekom is not only a renowned infrastructure provider for mobile and internet services but is also making significant commitments to expand its presence and reliability as an infrastructure provider in the web3 domain.”
Deutsche Telekom is also a validator for Q, Flow, Celo, Chainlink, and Ethereum blockchains and Röde said the company aims to serve institutional clients as a reliable enterprise-grade staking provider.
Röde added that leveraging the company’s infrastructure as a validator while monetizing the native token of the underlying blockchain network provides Deutsche Telekom with a ‘dependable, novel and scalable source of income.’
The potential for more mainstream telecommunications companies moving into Web3 could also serve as a catalyst for greater decentralization of various proof-of-stake blockchains that are operated by validators:
“Other telecommunications companies are also exploring opportunities in this domain. In a decentralized ecosystem it should be the goal to have a diverse and reliable validator set.
A statement from Polygon Labs CEO Michael Blank reiterated this point, highlighting his belief that the partnership could pave the way for more mainstream businesses to embrace blockchain technology.
Polygon recently announced a multi-year partnership with Google Cloud to drive the development of the Ethereum scaling protocol’s zkEVM, zero-knowledge proof scaling solution.
AB de Villiers is a household name in the world of cricket, renowned for his swashbuckling batting style and records in the shorter formats of the game. Perhaps less well known is his involvement in the Web3 and cryptocurrency space as he moves on from an illustrious sports career.
The 39-year-old South African sat down for a wide-ranging interview with Cointelegraph as he shifts his attention to the world of Web3. From his love affair with nonfungible tokens (NFTs) to an ambassadorship with a Web3 investment platform, De Villiers has familiarized himself with the ins and outs of the wider cryptocurrency ecosystem.
As the South African explained in the first episode of Crypto and Sport, his personal experience navigating the crypto ecosystem has tossed up some testing deliveries to bat away. It has also led him to become an ambassador for a new Ethereum-based Web3 investment platform looking to open up retail investor access to opportunities in promising new start-ups.
Hands off my Mutant Ape!
De Villiers admits that he kept the crypto space at an arms’ length for a number of years despite the best efforts of Web3 savvy friends and family to compel him to explore the industry as early as 2017.
While his brothers pressed him to invest in Ripple’s native XRP in those early days, De Villiers remained skeptical of the crypto ecosystem and kept his distance, until he started exploring trading more seriously after downloading Trading View:
“I started to follow some of my favorite stuff. Obviously the markets as well, gold, commodities, the Nasdaq and S&P 500. I just found a bit of interest, started reading a little bit about the markets around the world and then obviously also crypto, Bitcoin, Ethereum, XRP were my first interests.”
Getting to grips with Metamask and its various wallet and network connections, token swaps and blockchain bridges, De Villiers quickly became enamored with collecting NFTs. Describing his experience as being littered with highs and lows, the former Proteas captain was particularly proud of being a Mutant Ape owner which also happened to be his first NFT trade.
“I think I started off with an amazing bang. I bought an M2 mutant ape. Amazing as a first investment. I went straight for the big one. Obviously it’s not overboard, but still an M2 is a biggie.”
His dose of NFT dabbling went on for some time, with De Villiers estimating that his NFT trophy cabinet held over 300 digital collectibles before an unfortunate incident left him scrambling. Enticed by a malicious NFT masquerading as a new Pudgy Penguin drop, De Villiers inadvertently gave a hacker access to his wallet by signing a malicious contract more than a year ago:
“I tapped on it, it looked very legit. There was a $1 gas fee. The minute I hit that gas fee, it stalled. I hit it about five times, which ultimately meant that I gave this guy access to my whole wallet.”
De Villiers ended up losing a portion of his collection before sending the remainder of his NFTs to another wallet for safe-keeping and admitted that the experience had made him recognize some of the challenges navigating Web3 for newcomers:
“I made a couple of mistakes and it cost me dearly, but that is something I really want to talk about. For anyone who wants to invest in NFTs, blockchain or Web3, it’s all new and it’s complicated, or it can be unless you simplify it as much as possible.”
Leveling the investment playing field
The experience also led him to get involved with Common Wealth as an ambassador. The Ethereum-powered Web3 investment platform aims to give retail investors early access to start-ups that are traditionally stonewalled for conventional venture capital investors. It ‘levels the playing field’ for retail investors to invest in high-potential early-stage Web3 projects, as De Villiers tells Cointelegraph.
The platform allows the average investor access to early stage projects and companies at seed and private sale rounds. Users are able to invest in a variety of funds with crypto to access tokenized shares issued as genesis NFTs .
Community investors decide which projects to back through different funds, with voting power proportionate to their investment in a respective fund. Fund NFTs can be sold, traded or fractionalized on the platform or other marketplaces, which affords access to capital that is typically locked up for long time frames in conventional seed investment rounds.
For De Villiers, giving the everyday investor access to an easy to use platform with a low financial barrier to entry to traditionally exclusive early fundraising rounds resonated with his views on financial inclusivity.
He draws parallels to the socio economic landscape in South Africa, with its multitude of cultures and a regrettably large disparity of wealth, and the potential for projects like Common Wealth to tackle inequality:
“I love the fact that the common person, that’s why it’s called Common Wealth, can get an opportunity alongside the most wealthy person out there, the guy who has been involved with this space for ten years, who knows all the tricks, the ins and outs, this just gives you a level playing field.”
With some 9.5 million followers on Twitter and more than double that on Instagram, De Villiers added that his alignment with the project was assured by the pedigree of individuals behind Common Wealth. Prominent team members include alumni from Google, Activision Blizzard, Intel, Cardano and Facebook that have built the Ethereum-powered mobile optimized platform.
De Villiers continues to adjust to life after an illustrious cricket career that saw him named ICC One Day International player of the year three times. Broadcast work is on the cards for the 39-year-old, while he admits that he’d like to continue exploring the Web3 industry in various capacities, whether it is apportioning investments into BTC, ETH, NFTs and other promising Web3 projects.
That comes with the usual caveat of caution when investing in the cryptocurrency space, given a long history of market volatility and other criticisms of the nascent sector.
Swiss nonprofit Anoma Foundation has secured a significant funding boost to continue the development and research of its third-generation blockchain architecture.
A third fundraising round secured $25 million for the organization, which is building what it describes as a generalized intent-centric blockchain architecture. The technology is touted to enable the development of completely decentralized applications (DApps) and services, ranging from decentralized exchanges (DEXs) to blockchain rollup protocols.
Anoma co-founder Adrian Brink told Cointelegraph that its third-generation architecture offers more composability and ease of use than existing smart contract protocols like Ethereum and its Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM).
Brink highlighted the evolution of blockchain systems, with Bitcoin (BTC) being the first generation of scriptable settlement architectures. Ethereum became the second generation with programmable settlement architecture, while Anoma looks to further the decentralization of existing blockchain-based applications and platforms:
“Anoma is the first architecture that is intent-centric, marking the third generation of architectures that contrast with the current transaction and blockchain-centric architectures.”
Its latest fundraising round is earmarked to support ongoing development and research initiatives for Anoma’s architecture as well as developer tools for its ecosystem.
Brink highlighted Anoma’s primary design principle of intent-centricity, which enables fully decentralized versions of existing DApps, such as rollups; nonfungible token (NFT) marketplaces like OpenSea and Flashbots; and decentralized exchanges that possess centralized components and limited on-chain settlement functions:
“It enables applications that are impossible to build on existing smart contract protocols, such as fully decentralized Gitcoin, Plural Money, Collaborative Finance, Multidimensional DAOs, runtime rollups, or multiparty multivariate bartering.”
Brink describes Anoma’s intent-centric design as a radically new take on how the industry architects decentralized systems, in contrast with transaction or blockchain-centric approaches like Bitcoin, Ethereum and other blockchains.
A July 2022 report from Chainalysis highlighted the landscape, with Algorand, BNB Chain and Avalanche emerging as competing layer-1 competitor chains to Ethereum looking to provide greater scalability or security.
Multitudes of layer-1 blockchains have been designed in the mold of Bitcoin and Ethereum, powering transaction and smart contract functionality.
Layer-1 blockchain Tenet is set to see its liquid staking derivatives platfrom plug into a cross-chain decentralized finance (DeFi) ecosystem through a partnership with omnichain messaging protocol LayerZero.
Tenet has plugged into LayerZero’s cross-chain protocol to access the wider DeFi ecosystem across a number of different blockchains. The Cosmos-based blockchain is a DeFi-focused ecosystem which provides liquidity and yield products for liquid staking derivatives (LSDs).
Tenet’s network allows users to create projects and tokens which will now be integrated with LayerZero technology. The interoperability opens up users to the broader DeFi ecosystem across a variety of smart contract blockchains.
Tenet’s DeFi blockchain operates using its own diversified proof of stake consensus framework, with its native stablecoin backed by a basket of interest-bearing LSDs from various blockchains.
Staking a basket of blockchain-based assets is touted to remove the risk of network attacks by major token holders. Tenet’s genesis stake of its network security was allocated to ETH, ATOM, BNB, MATIC, ADA, and DOT.
Tenet CEO Gregory Goodman told Cointelegraph that LSDs remain a popular DeFi solution that extends the ability to profit from staked assets:
“They allow you to maximize opportunities, by leveraging on the liquidity of staked assets. LSDs will essentially allow PoS native tokens to maximize their earnings potential.”
Goodman also highlighted the importance of LayerZero’s infrastructure in becoming a key component to the future of DeFi.
“The technology they’ve built is a generation ahead of bridging and avoids some of the key exploits we’ve seen bridges succumb to.”
Coinbase Cloud will lend its infrastructure as a new node operator to blockchain oracle network Chainlink in a partnership that is set to improve decentralization and smart contract reliability.
The American cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase’s cloud service will leverage its global infrastructure and experience managing blockchain data to bolster the security and reliability of the Chainlink network.
Coinbase Cloud’s infrastructure already services a number of leading blockchains, including Ethereum, Solana, Algorand and Aptos. Chainlink node operators are integral to the network, and responsible for connecting smart contracts on different blockchains to data and systems.
Chainlink essentially creates a bridge between Web2 and Web3 by sourcing, formatting and transmitting data to smart contracts. A prime example is Chainlink’s provision of decentralized price feeds which secures an estimated $22 billion in value locked in decentralized finance (DeFi) protocols, including Synthetix, Aave, Compound and dYdX.
Coinbase Cloud group product manager Kai Zhao highlighted the importance of node operators across the cryptocurrency ecosystem, ensuring security and reliability of smart contracts:
“By building decentralized Oracles, we are helping to create a more decentralized and trustworthy future for blockchain technology. We believe onchain is the next online, and we look forward to working with Chainlink to further this future.”
Chainlink Labs global head of CeFi, Sales & Strategy William Reilly added that the latest node operator would add experience and robust infrastructure to the oracle network, which will benefit a broad array of Web3 products, service and applications:
“Their involvement will undoubtedly contribute to the advancement of decentralized applications, further propelling the blockchain industry to new heights.”
Coinbase signaled its intent to become a central pillar in the wider Web3 ecosystem in 2021, with Coinbase chief product officer Surojit Chatterjee highlighting the company’s ambition to become the Amazon Web Services (AWS) of the cryptocurrency space.
Coinbase Cloud is central to this gambit and its suite of products is powering a number of services across the ecosystem. The service was born of Coinbase’s acquisition of Bison Trails, which offered blockchain infrastructure provider in early 2021.
Software developer Jameson Lopp believes improving usability and user experience of Bitcoin (BTC) self-custody solutions and making more avenues to acquire BTC will be key in further adoption of the preeminent cryptocurrency.
The co-founder of Casahodl, who’s a prominent figure in the Bitcoin and wider cryptocurrency space, spoke of the challenges in building self-custody solutions in an exclusive interview with Cointelegraph journalist Joseph Hall ahead of Miami Bitcoin Week.
Lopp has a wealth of experience as a developer building a range of services and products in the cryptocurrency space, but has largely been focused on self-custody of digital assets in recent years. Casahodl offers a range BTC self-custody solutions and is set to provide Ethereum support in 2023:
“The default path for most people to get into Bitcoin is through centralized exchanges that are surveilling their customers generally because they are legally required to do so.”
Lopp speculated that users typically buy an entry level amount of Bitcoin on an exchange and leave their holdings in the respective wallet. He questioned whether some users are even aware that they can actually manage their own BTC holdings in a self-custodial wallet:
“Even those who do understand that self-custody is a thing are afraid to take on the responsibility that is associated with that.”
Nevertheless Lopp added that cryptocurrency custodian service providers like exchanges offer a level of convenience and usability through web applications that is more user-friendly to industry newcomers. There is a relatively low barrier to entry, with the only friction point being AML and KYC requirements that many web users are becoming accustomed to.
“We simultaneously need to make self-custody both easier and make it so that people are comfortable and confident that they can do it without screwing up.”
Lopp added that creating more on-ramps for people to acquire Bitcoin and driving economic activity with the cryptocurrency. He used decentralized social media platform Nostr as an example of an ecosystem that has integrated Bitcoin layer-2 Lightning protocol as a means to drive the use of BTC:
“People can basically sign up there just by generating a public key and by creating a lightning wallet and they can just start receiving and sending with no AML orKYC required.”
In countries like the United Kingdom, Bitcoin proponents and a range of industry-leaders established a policy group to foster education, investment, business and job creation for the ecosystem in April 2023.
Meanwhile layer-2 infrastructure providers like Lightning have seen organic growth over the last year, with a steady increase in the amount of BTC locked up in Lightning channels.
Messaging application Telegram has played down the severity of an discovered exploit that allowed researchers to gain access to camera systems of Apple macOS users.
Software engineer Dan Revah flagged the exploit in a blog post on May 15, outlining the method which allowed him to gain local privilege escalation to access a macOS user’s camera through permissions previously granted to an installed Telegram application.
By injecting a Dynamic Library into a user’s system, the exploit would allow recording from the device’s camera and the ability to save the file. Revah also claims that the exploit allows an attacker to bypass the Sandbox of the terminal using LaunchAgent. An attacker would also be able to gain more privileges to the system by accessing privacy-restricted areas.
Cointelegraph reached out to Telegram to ascertain whether its team had addressed concerns raised by Revah and the severity of the identified exploit. Telegram spokesperson Remi Vaughn said that Telegram users are not at risk by default, with the exploit requiring malware to be installed on their systems:
“This situation has more to do with Apple’s permission security than it does with Telegram and can potentially affect any macOS app as a result. The real issue is that it seems to be possible to bypass Apple’s sandbox restrictions that were created specifically to prevent such abuse of third-party apps.”
Vaughn said that Telegram had executed changes that are now awaiting approval from the App Store. He also added that users that downloaded the Telegram app directly from the messaging application’s website were not at risk.
Cointelegraph has reached out to Apple for official comment regarding the exploit.
Telegram released an update in December 2022 which enables users to create accounts using blockchain-based anonymous numbers in a move to increase privacy and security.
The feature requires users to purchase blockchain-powered anonymous numbers from decentralized auction platform Fragment. User names and anonymous numbers sold on the platform are only compatible with Telegram and are bought and sold using the app’s native The Open Network (TON) tokens.
Telegram founder Pavel Durov indicated that the platform would be building a host of decentralized tools and services in November 2022, following the collapse of Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX cryptocurrency exchange.
European Union Council members have given the final green light on the highly-anticipated Markets in Crypto-Assets (MiCA) legislation following a voting process on May 16.
27 Finance ministers representing the EU’s member states voted in favor of passing the MiCA bill as well as amendments to a number of regulations and directives relating to the new legislation.
Two more pieces of legislation, including regulation on information accompanying transfers of funds and certain crypto-assets, were also adopted by the EU parliament in conjunction with MiCA’s adoption.
The legislation sets down clear regulatory guidelines and requirements for the use of cryptocurrencies and related services and activities across the European Union. The scope of the legislation covers a range of cryptocurrencies, digital assets, utility tokens and stablecoins.
This is a developing story, and further information will be added as it becomes available.
Cointelegraph spoke exclusively to Eli Ben-Sasson, the co-founder of StarkWare and the pioneer of zk-STARKs (zero-knowledge Scalable Transparent Argument of Knowledge), to explore whether the technology could be the answer to Bitcoin’s latest challenge.
Zk-proofs are cryptographic protocols that allow a party to prove a statement or data is true without revealing any information. The technology assures privacy and security while adding capacity to blockchains in particular, by reducing the computational load needed to verify transactions and other data and information stored on chain.
The renowned mathematician and cryptographer credits Bitcoin for starting his journey of exploration around the promise of validity, cryptographic and zero-knowledge proofs to improve blockchain technology. Highlighting the “deeply entwined” nature of the scaling solutions and blockchains, Ben-Sasson summed up the potential for zk-proofs to benefit the Bitcoin network:
“Validity proofs and STARKs allow you in a very efficient way to use the integrity of math to extend the orbit of integrity that a blockchain covers to invite anyone to participate and add more capacity to the network.”
Bitcoin’s blockchain will continue to act as an inner circle of integrity, while zk-proofs extend the origin of integrity and bring in more capacity, creating what Ben-Sasson described as a “positive flywheel” effect:
“The more capacity you bring, the more social functions can be used, even if it’s money, you can do micro payments, or you can add new things if you allow smart contracts. And then there’s more trust in the system and it adds more value.”
Ben-Sasson reiterated his belief that the Bitcoin network could see greater integrity and efficiency from the mathematical benefits afforded by validity proofs. He added that the likes of Bitcoin developers Greg Maxwell, Gavin Andresen and Mike Hearn had been early proponents of STARK transparent proofs of validity and privacy, which do not require trusted setup and remain quantum secure.
The potential for Bitcoin, which first and foremost acts as decentralized hard money, to allow more general forms of computation and social functions remains a discussion point for its community. For Ben-Sasson, the potential of incorporating zk-proofs is clearly being driven by the demand in the market for extra functionality on top of Bitcoin that is being powered by BRC-20 tokens:
“For it (BRC-20) to really have the level of integrity that is offered by Bitcoin, there must be a hard fork that allows these things to be verified and validated and have the integrity of Bitcoin. And that’s a huge decision and a huge debate point.”
As previously reported by Cointelegraph, ZeroSync Association is a newly formed startup that is developing zk-proof powered tools allowing users to validate the state of the Bitcoin network without having to download the blockchain or trust a third party for verification.
ZeroSync’s validity proof allows users to verify Bitcoin’s chain state instantly, removing the need to download over 500GB of blockchain data currently required to sync a Bitcoin node.
ZeroSync co-founder Robin Linus told Cointelegraph that its chain state proof does not solve network congestion directly, but would remove the need for users to download inscriptions that have been clogging up the Bitcoin blockchain.
However zk-proofs still hold promise in helping remedy current network congestion. Linus said ZeroSync has also developed a Bitcoin client-side validation protocol dubbed zkCoins, which allows processing up to 100 token transactions per second:
“It uses inscriptions, but the on-chain footprint is much lower than BRC-20, and it does not bloat the UTXO set.”
Linus added that a SNARK (Zero-Knowledge Succinct Non-Interactive Argument of Knowledge) verifier on Bitcoin’s main layer could enable an entire spectrum of scaling solutions including zk-rollups, trustless bridges to sidechains as well as the potential to peg BTC onto zkCoins to enhance privacy and increase throughput:
“It’s fantastic to see that validity proofs are gaining more traction in the Bitcoin community now. People have already started discussing a new opcode on the bitcoin-dev mailing list.”
Linus also noted that other Bitcoin layer-2 scaling solutions such as the Lightning Network, Fedimint and Chashu, which are privacy-preserving custodians based on Chaumian eCash, have seen increased interest following network congestion driven by Ordinals and BRC-20 minting.
Blockchain analysis has been key in helping the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) seize an estimated $10 billion worth of cryptocurrency since it began investigating a broad body of crimes involving digital assets.
This was a key point raised by IRS Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI) Chief Jim Lee in a wide-ranging, exclusive interview with Cointelegraph in Amsterdam. Lee was among a variety of delegates from public and private institutions sharing knowledge and insights at blockchain analytics firm Chainalysis’ Links conference held in the Netherlands.
Lee, alongwith with a cohort from the IRS-CI, gave an inside look at how the enforcement agency has tackled the use of cryptocurrency and digital assets in a wide variety of financial crimes that fall under its purview.
Chief Lee has served as a special agent with the IRS for 28 years and has been at the helm of the unit since 2020. In the years leading up to his tenure, the IRS-CI has found an increasing amount of criminal investigations involving digital assets in varying degrees land on the desks of its agents.
The IRS’ relationship with the cryptocurrency space began in earnest in the early 2010s as Bitcoin (BTC) began to proliferate its way into the monetary system as an alternative, decentralized means of holding and transferring value.
As Lee explained, the IRS’ efforts to build infrastructure to combat identity theft around 2011 preempted its effort to begin investigating crimes involving digital money:
“When cryptocurrency came into the picture, we were already thinking about digital crimes and money trails using Web2.”
However, the organization’s ability to understand, investigate and eventually prosecute and seize cryptocurrencies and digital assets became dependent on tools developed by private institutions.
The IRS-CI is one of hundreds of law enforcement and government agencies that make use of a specific suite of blockchain analysis tools that have been developed by Chainalysis. The company was established in 2014 and has become a lynchpin for blockchain-based investigations around the world over the past decade.
For the IRS, the partnership with Chainalysis has become invaluable, with Lee stressing that his unit’s efforts to investigate crypto-related crimes would be near ‘impossible’ without the infrastructure and tools it now has access to. The public-private partnership with Chainalysis hinges on investing in technology that can help trace crypto and manipulate data from public blockchains to darknet marketplaces.
“Think about all the data that I have working for the IRS. It may not be the most, but it’s the richest. Now I can take all this other data we have and then match it up against the records that I have. I mean, it’s just incredibly powerful, but it takes time, energy and money.”
Even with the tools at its disposal, Lee admits that investigating crimes involving digital assets is a difficult undertaking. Investing in people, data and technology has been key in its efforts to combat crypto-related crime:
“When we’re talking about the crypto space, the way I look at it is data and technology combined. It takes significant investment because you can’t just get those results. You can’t just seize $10 billion in value.”
While the market value of seized cryptocurrency in the IRS’ vaults has dropped in value from an estimated $10 billion at seizure, the institution still has to figure out how to safely hold billions of dollars of digital assets.
It’s a complex issue for the IRS-CI Chief, who highlights simple considerations for cryptocurrency custody which becomes increasingly stressful when dealing with huge sums of digitized value:
“Where do I store it? On chain or off chain? Do I keep it in my office? Do I lock up the seed phrases elsewhere? We’re talking about a lot of money.”
The IRS-CI investigations have been fruitful, with the department frequently becoming the largest contributor to the U.S. Treasury asset forfeiture fund in recent years. The seizure of $3.6 billion involved in the 2016 Bitfinex hack is a prime example of the efforts of Lee’s unit to track down stolen funds.
Another key part of the IRS CI’s mandate is sharing knowledge and skills to use tools like Chainalysis Reactor with local and international crime enforcement, which is chiefly aimed at powering financial crime investigations.
Part of Lee’s visit to Europe in May 2023 was to facilitate the training of over 60 different Ukrainian officials from a variety of law enforcement agencies. IRS-CI also donated Chainalysis Reactor licenses to Ukrainian law enforcement, which will help facilitate blockchain and cryptocurrency tracing amid the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian conflict.
A provocative new advertising campaign from cryptocurrency exchange OKX is challenging messages from traditional finance and Web3 competitors by calling for a rewrite of current financial and digital systems.
The company released its latest production-quality advert, which subtly takes aim at the American exchange Coinbase and the wider traditional finance space. In an in-depth interview with Cointelegraph, OKX CMO Haider Rafique outlined the exchange’s belief that blockchain-enabled technology is imperative in rebuilding financial infrastructure and empowering digital ownership.
Under Rafique’s tenure as CMO, OKX has embarked on high-profile partnerships and bold advertising campaigns with the likes of Manchester City and Formula1 team McLaren that have exposed cryptocurrencies and Web3 offerings to massive audiences around the world.
The Rewrite the System campaign features strong imagery highlighting inflation, data breaches, and censorship as indicators of a broken system. As Rafique explained, talks of updates to existing financial and digital infrastructure do not resolve long-standing issues which formed the basis of the campaign:
“The current system is not really designed to be updated and then updated into a system that can really solve some of the problems that the entire system has created.”
Multiple industry-impacting events have played out over the past year that have put a stark highlight on the shortcomings of existing financial systems and failings of significant TradFi and DeFi players.
The infamous collapse of FTX under the reign of Sam Bankman-Fried damaged the image of the cryptocurrency space. Meanwhile traditional financial institutions faced their own crises in high-inflation economic environments as the likes of Silicon Valley Bank, Silvergate and Silvergate all folded.
“I think there will be continuous failures in this current system because it’s being stressed. It’s being stressed from a financial ecosystem standpoint.”
Rafique believes that the current situation will serve as a means to show how blockchain-based software allows people greater control of both their economic and digital sovereignty:
“Our hope is that we can give the tooling to people that Web3 starts with, ultimately downloading software on your machine or your phone that enables you to be your own bank.”
Interoperability is another core component of a compelling argument for blockchain-based, Web3 tools to reinvent financial systems and platforms. Rafique used Google and Apple App store’s siloed nature and lack of compatibility as an example where blockchain-based applications or networks’ interoperability could come to the fore:
“Crypto and blockchain-based apps are actually designed to connect with each other and drive their interoperability.”
Providing a wallet service that connects public chains to streamline digital assets management is part of the exchange’s efforts to provide a Web3 experience that showcases the interoperability inherent in blockchain technology:
“We want to connect all crypto ecosystems together so you can hop from one place to another place or another place very easily, but also at a very low transaction costs.”
As for its advertising efforts, Rafique is clear in his belief that entertaining audiences with fresh partnerships in diverse markets and spaces has created a certain image for the exchange.
Cointelegraph was on hand for OKX’s livery takeover of McLaren’s F1 car at the Singapore grand prix in 2022 and spoke to Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo, a figure who featured prominently in its prominent advertising campaign late last year. Humorous TV ads featuring Man City manager Jose Mourinho and his players and metaverse campaigns with Jack Grealish further highlight the company’s efforts to promote Web3 to potential new users:
“You either want to articulate a problem that’s immediate in their life, or go back to entertaining people, and they might just give us a chance.”
The release of the Rewrite the System campaign also coincided with a partnership announcement with the Tribeca film festival. The exchange’s Web3 focus on NFTs through its marketplace provides the backbone of augmented mixed reality experiences at the popular New York film festival.
Decentralized liquidity protocol Aave has deployed on Ethereum (ETH) layer-2 scaling platform Metis, bringing a host of decentralized finance (DeFi) features and products to its ecosystem.
Aave’s community recently voted in favor of a proposal deploying on zero-knowledge (zk) proof EVM zkSync, paving the way for the DeFi protocol to tap into powerful performance improvements delivered by the scaling infrastructure.
A number of different zk-proof-powered layer-2 protocols are being developed by Ethereum ecosystem participants, providing the wider space with a choice of infrastructure to scale their respective platforms.
While Aave has yet to deploy on zkSync Era, it has announced its deployment of V3 of its protocol on Optimistic rollup scaling protocol Metis. The latest version of Aave’s protocol is touted to benefit users across both protocols, with Metis users set to benefit from the provision of DeFi borrowing and lending services.
Ethereum.org highlights the main difference between optimistic rollups and zk-rollups. The former processes transactions off-chain before publishing data on-chain, with a time frame for network participants to challenge the validity of transaction data
Zk-rollups meanwhile executes transactions off-chain and submits large batches on-chain using a single proof of validity, with no need for the network to validate the data.
The team from Metis highlighted a number of ways in which users of its ecosystem can benefit from Aave’s deployment. This includes borrowing assets with less collateral with Aave High-Efficiency mode, improved risk management with supply and borrow caps as well as siloed borrowing to reduce exposure to potential market contagion.
Aave’s Isolation mode also increases the pool of collateral assets, its Cross-Chain Portals provide access to wider DeFi solutions and its Gas Optimization also reduces transaction fees.
Aave is renowned in the DeFi space, with over $5.5 billion in total value locked in the protocol. V3 of the DeFi liquidity protocol was deployed on Ethereum’s mainnet in Jan. 2023, following its launch on a number of Ethereum layer-2 protocols, including Avalanche, Arbitrum, Optimism and Polygon.
1inch Network, another prominent DeFi player, also opted for zkSync to deploy its aggregation and limit order protocols, while Uniswap token holders voted in favor of deploying on Polygon’s zkEVM roll-up solution in April 2023.
Memecoins have been part and parcel of the cryptocurrency space since the inception of Dogecoin back in 2013, with fortunes made and ruined in equal measure. But a new token on the block caused a stir in recent weeks, as Pepecoin (PEPE) grabs a chunk of the memecoin market share from plucky investors.
As previously reported by Cointelegraph, Pepecoin saw a 2.000% boom in value following its launch in late April 2023. The reason for the token’s rally is primarily attributed to zealous memecoin hype, with the project widely shared on Twitter over the past month.
The Pepecoin website itself is brandished with a closing disclaimer, labeling $PEPE as “a meme coin with no intrinsic value or expectation of financial return.” The project also stipulates that it has no formal team or roadmap and that the token is “completely useless and for entertainment purposes only.
Data analytics firm Nansen provided insightful data and key takeaways following the rise of PEPE’s market capitalization. Research analyst Xin Yi estimated that the total memecoin market value is around $20 billion, with the top five tokens, DOGE, SHIB, PEPE, BABYDOGE and FLOKI, accounting for over $18 billion of the value.
Data provided from Nansen Query shows the massive spike in token value and market capitalization of PEPE in relation to the other top five memecoins. Yi also notes that the infographic does not paint a complete picture, given that the data for PEPE reflects its listing on Coingecko, which came a couple of weeks after its inception.
Yi told Cointelegraph that the social aspect of memecoins remains a major driver of investor sentiment and action, highlighting the likes of Elon Musk’s infamous Dogecoin touts and rampant Twitter bots driving memecoin hashtags to relevance on Twitter:
“Since memecoins have no intrinsic value, it relies on catalysts such as social relevance and also events like 4/20 which is known as DOGE day can affect the prices of the token as well.”
As previously explored, Nansen provides data analytics and insights into ‘smart money’ cryptocurrency traders and holders by labeling wallets and tracking trades. The rise of PEPE has also attracted a significant number of ‘smart money’ holders as per onchain data highlighted by Yi. She added that a few thousand traders might benefit from the surge in value of memecoins, which is a gamble given that many other memecoins are pump and dump or ‘rugpull’ operations:
“Nonetheless, gains on one good coin can easily surpass the cost of the other ‘failed’ coins, which is probably why these memecoins remain attractive for most traders to ape into. Hence, it really depends on the investor’s risk appetite.”
Nevertheless, Yi also pointed out the inherent risks of memecoins which often lead to liquidity crunches, where major token holders dump their holdings which leaves smaller investors reeling from losses.
Layer-1 Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) blockchain platform Flare has integrated its API portal on Google Cloud Marketplace, on-boarding a number of significant blockchain APIs to the ecosystem.
The integration of Google Cloud Marketplace will provide high-integrity blockchain data from Flares nodes and Connected Chain Nodes to a large pool of developers and users of the software products and services platform. This includes blockchain APIs for Algorand, BNB Smart Chain, Bitcoin, Dogecoin, Ethereum, Flare, Litecoin, Songbird, XRP and future supported blockchain APIs.
Blockchain APIs are touted to free developers from having to run their own nodes for respective blockchains they are interacting with. The data supplied powers applications that execute transactions and query the latest state of a blockchain by calling up on-chain data.
Flare highlights blockchain APIs as valuable for building cross-chain applications that query a variety of data sources, including major cryptocurrency exchanges and wallets which make use of its API portal.
A statement from Flare’s VP of Engineering Josh Edwards noted that the provision of blockchain APIs to platforms like Google Cloud Marketplace will play a role in increased Web3 participation:
“It makes it easier for developers to experiment with blockchain technology and its many use cases without being burdened by onerous hardware costs and ongoing maintenance.”
Edwards also suggested that larger organizations and partners making use of Google Cloud Marketplace would potentially experiment with the secure and approved Web3 APIs.
The EVM-based layer 1 aims to extend the utility of blockchain technology by providing data from a variety of chains and Web2 sources, which could climb to over 100 chains that form Flare’s oracle.
Flare’s integration comes just days after Polygon Labs and Google Cloud announced a multi-year partnership for the cloud computing service provider to boost the development of the Ethereum scaling protocol’s tools and infrastructure.
The deal sees Google Cloud’s framework and developer tools provided to Polygon’s core protocols, aimed at fostering the development of Web3 products and decentralized applications (DApps) on Polygon.
Google Cloud’s infrastructure could play an important role in the advancement of Polygon’s zero-knowledge proofs development, given
Google Cloud’s partnership with the ecosystem is expected to advance Polygon’s zero-knowledge development. Testing of Polygon zkEVM’s zero-knowledge proofs on Google Cloud reportedly resulted in faster and cheaper transactions compared to the existing infrastructure available.
Cryptocurrency exchange ByBit is the latest major platform to roll out an in-house cryptocurrency lending service for users.
The Dubai-based exchange announced the launch of the service on May 2, delivering interest payouts to users that deposit cryptocurrency through the platform’s new offering. The service is touted to payout hourly interest payments from lending pools, while lenders can deposit and redeem loaned cryptocurrency tokens without lock-up periods.
Meanwhile, borrowers on ByBit’s exchange can take out loans to tap into funds for a variety of trading options on the platform. Borrowers must post an equal or greater amount of collateral assets in relation to the loaned amount to safeguard lenders’ investments.
A statement from ByBit CEO and co-founder Ben Zhou outlined the crypto exchange’s intent to offer users a means to generate returns while advanced traders can access capital from lenders for more advanced trading options on the exchange.
ByBit is the latest major cryptocurrency exchange to offer a cryptocurrency lending service. Binance offers a handful of services that allow users to earn interest on deposited cryptocurrency assets.
KuCoin is another top five cryptocurrency exchange by trading volume that offers a lending service on a wide variety of tokens. OKX offers users a loan facility which enables users to borrow funds on deposited tokens, but it does not facilitate user lending on its exchange platform.
American cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase abandoned plans to launch its own Lend service in Sept. 2021, following a stern warning from the United States Securities and Exchange Commission. The U.S. regulator had deemed the offering a security, with Lend promising returns of 4% per annum on USD Coin (USDC) deposits.
Kraken fell foul of overstepping regulatory boundaries in the U.S., which eventually led to a $30 million settlement with the SEC over the operation of its crypto asset staking-as-a-service program in Feb. 2023.
While just a handful of major cryptocurrency exchanges offer bespoke lending services, the decentralized finance (DeFi) space presents a myriad of avenues for cryptocurrency users to earn interest on loaned digital assets.
Layer-2 blockchain protocols have been in the spotlight in 2023, bringing major performance improvements to a variety of platforms and services operating in the Ethereum (ETH) ecosystem.
Zero-knowledge proofs have been key in the roll-out of a variety of layer 2s, with the technology pioneered by the decentralized scaling network Starknet. StarkWare, the technology firm behind the scaling platform, has outlined plans to further improve its layer-2 network to meet an expected increase in users and developers through the rest of the year.
Cointelegraph caught up with Eli Ben-Sasson, president and co-founder of StarkWare, to unpack key points set out in a 2023 roadmap for Starknet. Chief among a list of to-dos is performance improvements that are centered around higher throughput and reduced latency of Starknet’s network.
Ben-Sasson highlighted the focus on performance upgrades that are expected to deliver significantly higher transactions per second (TPS) than on Ethereum’s mainnet at lower gas costs:
“The most important thing is for builders and developers to have high throughput so that they can really build. Starknet is about increasing the computational abilities of Ethereum and we just want to provide this raw power to the hands of developers.”
Starknet v0.12.0 is expected to be released in the next month and is the culmination of a six-month sprint that involves transitioning Starknet’s development stack to a Rust-based Sequencer as well as an open-source project that has built a Rust-Cairo VM (virtual-machine).
StarkWare open-sourced its programming language compiler Cairo early in 2023, with the language aimed at driving the development of zk-rollup and validity proof-powered decentralized applications (DApps).
Ben-Sasson added that Starknet continues to chase an ambitious target of processing at least 10 times the throughput of Ethereum at a tenth of the cost. He highlighted StarkEx’s ability to deliver significant TPS on decentralized exchange dYdX. StarkEx is another layer-2 scaling engine developed by StarkWare.
At times, dYdX processes up to 54 transactions per second, while the average TPS of Ethereum is around 10 to 12. Ben-Sasson also noted that these dYdX transactions are roughly four to five times larger than those on Ethereum, which bodes well for the improved scaling capabilities of Starknet in the near future:
“We’re often experiencing practical TPS or gas usage that is orders of magnitude greater than what Ethereum can deal with. I’m very confident that this will also be replicated on Starknet.”
Performance improvements have been prioritized as a result of developer and user feedback highlighting delays in transaction processing on Starknet. The next port of call is the reduction of transaction costs which will be addressed by targeting the cost of storing data on Ethereum’s mainnet.
“We’re going to roll out Volition, which allows users to opt as to whether they want their data on or off-chain and this will be part of the base layer of the Starknet system.”
Ben-Sasson said the release of off-chain data availability will complement Ethereum’s in-development improvement proposal ‘Proto-Danksharding’ EIP-4844, which will introduce a new type of transaction that carries binary large objects or ‘blobs’. The EIP fundamentally aims to provide cheaper transactions.
Starknet is also aiming to deliver faster finality further down the 2023 roadmap, which will produce shorter and fixed interval block times on the network. This will be carried out with the introduction of a fee market to prioritize Starknet’s network resources on users’ willingness to pay for transactions, inspired by conventional market systems:
“Market mechanisms are a very good way to solve this. Blockchain didn’t invent this, blockchains adopted this from just the conventional world. That’s how you prioritize resources and allow users to signal this.”
A number of Ethereum layer-2 protocols have begun rolling out zk-rollups to further improve efforts to provide faster and cheaper transactions to the smart contract blockchain network. This includes the likes of Polygon and ConsenSys.
Polygon Labs and Google Cloud announced a multi-year partnership at Consensus 2023 that will see the cloud computing service provider help boost the development of the Ethereum (ETH) scaling protocol’s tools and infrastructure.
Polygon’s core protocols, including Polygon PoS (proof-of-stake), Polygon zkEVM and Polygon Supernets, are set to benefit from the provision of Google Cloud’s framework and developer tools. The partnership is aimed at simplifying developer integration to build, launch and grow Web3 products and decentralized applications (DApp) on Polygon.
Google Cloud’s partnership with the ecosystem is expected to advance Polygon’s zero-knowledge development. Testing of Polygon zkEVM’s zero-knowledge proofs (zk-proofs) on Google Cloud reportedly resulted in faster and cheaper transactions compared to the existing infrastructure available.
The Polygon zkEVM beta, an Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) scaling solution, was launched to mainnet in March 2023, powering reduced transaction costs and increased throughput of smart contract deployments.
Google Cloud’s Blockchain Node Engine will be used by the Polygon ecosystem to assist with time-intensive processes and costly overheads of acquiring, maintaining and operating dedicated blockchain nodes. This specific integration intends to remove the need for Polygon developers to configure and run Polygon PoS nodes.
Polygon Labs president Ryan Wyatt highlighted the wide variety of benefits to the protocol’s ecosystem through the partnership in a statement coinciding with the roll out of the collaboration:
“Today’s announcement with Google Cloud aims to increase transaction throughput enabling use cases in gaming, supply chain management, and DeFi.”
Google Cloud’s APAC managing director of engineering and Web3 go-to-market Mitesh Agarwal said its services are improving data availability, resilience and performance of scaling protocols like zk-proofs.
The partnership will also provide capital resources to Polygon ecosystem developers and companies building Web3 products and DApps. Certain early-stage Polygon Ventures-backed startups will also be able to receive newly-launched Web3-specific benefits from the Google for Startups Cloud Program.
As cryptocurrencies increasingly fall under the purview of global tax authorities, digital bank Revolut has integrated an automated tax reporting service for its users.
The digital financial services provider has partnered with cryptocurrency tax solution Koinly to allow users to generate cryptocurrency tax reports to work out gains and losses. Revolut users will be able to synchronize their cryptocurrency transaction history with Koinly to expedite tax calculations.
A discount on the service is being offered to new Koinly customers, with the onboarding process facilitated through the Revolut mobile app.
Revolut serves over 18 million users across a number of different jurisdictions around the world following the acquisition of a banking license in Lithuania in late 2018. The digital bank has been offering cryptocurrency custody services since Dec. 2017.
The fintech firm has since expanded its services around the world in conjunction with regulatory compliance processes in various countries. This includes receiving a greenlight from the United Kingdom’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in Sep. 2022 to offer cryptocurrency products and services in the country.
Data from Google Ads coupled with blockchain analytics reveals that over $4 million has been stolen from users that have fallen for malicious phishing websites promoted on Google.
According to Web3 anti-scam service provider ScamSniffer, malicious adverts for phishing websites have been prevalent on Google ads searches in recent weeks. The URLs lead to fraudulent websites that prompt wallet login signature requests that compromise users’ addresses.
A number of decentralized finance (DeFi) protocols, websites and brands, including Zapper.fi, Lido, Stargate, Defillama, Orbiter Finance and Radiant, have been targeted by scammers. Slight changes to official URLs make it difficult for users to identify that they’ve clicked on malicious links.
Analysis of metadata from a number of the phishing websites in question has been linked to advertisers located in Ukraine and Canada. The users responsible for placing the malicious adverts make use of a number of methods to bypass Google’s ad review process. This includes manipulating the Google Click ID parameter, which allows the attackers to show a normal webpage during Google’s ad review.
Other malicious adverts use anti-debugging methods to redirect users with developer tools enabled to a normal website, while a direct click takes users to the malicious website. This also allows scammers to bypass some of Google ads’ machine reviews.
On-chain data analysis from addresses linked to malicious websites advertised on Google from ScamSniffer’s database suggests that $4.16 million has been stolen from over 3,000 users over the past month.
The anti-scam service followed on-chain flows of funds to various exchange and mixing services, including SimpleSwap, Tornado Cash, KuCoin and Binance.
Making use of advertising analysis platforms, ScamSniffer suggests that the cost of promoting crypto-related phishing websites is lucrative. The average cost per click for associated keywords is between $1 to $2.
Estimating a conversion rate of 40% from 7,500 users clicking on malicious adverts, scammers have spent around $15,000 on advertising which has provided a return on their malevolent investments of 276%, given the $4 million stolen to date.
A report from Russian cybersecurity and anti-virus provider Kaspersky highlighted an increase in crypto-related phishing attacks through 2022, up 40% year on year with over 5 million phishing attacks identified last year.
Binance.US users will soon be able to set up decentralized domains that will serve as digital identities across the Web3 ecosystem through a new partnership with Unstoppable Domains.
The new offering will allow users to mint “.BinanceUS” domains, providing users with easily understandable names for cryptocurrency wallets to buy, sell and transfer cryptocurrency in the Binance.US app. These unique domains also serve as a digital identity across compatible Web3 services, applications and platforms.
Binance.US and Unstoppable Domains announced the launch of the service on April 26 and it will go live in May. Binance.US domains are minted on the Polygon blockchain, which allows the generation of decentralized domains without gas fees or renewal costs.
The partnership will also allow Unstoppable Domains users to use Binance.US to withdraw cryptocurrencies to various Unstoppable Domains addresses, which include .crypto, .nft and .x domains.
A statement from Binance.US Business Development Vice President Nandini Maheshwari, shared with Cointelegraph, highlighted the provision of digital identity ownership as a key factor in the partnership with Unstoppable and Polygon:
“Increasing accessibility to Web3 while maintaining a safe and secure ecosystem for customers is at the core of Binance.US’s mission.”
Unstoppable Domains will be responsible for custodying all .BinanceUS domains, which can only be created through the Binance.US app.
The decentralized domain service provider has partnered with a number of Web3, blockchain and cryptocurrency companies over the past year. This includes a partnership with Polygon to provide the ability to mint “.polygon” Web3 domains. Unstoppable also provided an avenue for 1inch Network decentralized finance (DeFi) users to send cryptocurrencies to Web3 domain addresses in November.
Romania’s National Institute for Research and Development in Informatics (ICI Bucharest) aims to drive Web3 adoption in the country with the launch of an in-house nonfungible token (NFT) trading platform.
The institutional NFT platform, dubbed ICI D|Services, will go live on April 26 and aims to create a link between private and public sector institutions and users. The platform is primarily an NFT marketplace, allowing public and institutional users to mint, manage and trade NFTs.
Cointelegraph spoke to ICI Bucharest blockchain laboratory coordinator Dr. Paul Niculescu-Mizil Gheorghe to unpack the impetus behind the country’s efforts to adopt Web3-powered technologies.
ICI Bucharest has been primarily focused on research and development over the past five years, but shifted its attention to exploring blockchain, Web3 and nonfungible tokens (NFTs) as the space gains traction around the world.
Gheorghe says that NFTs have gained significant popularity in recent years due to their capability of creating unique and scarce digital assets that can be applied across numerous use cases. This in turn has made them valuable assets for institutions, which led to the proposal of the NFT platform within ICI Bucharest in late 2021.
The institution began developing and implementing the marketplace system’s architecture in partnership with MultiversX midway through 2022, which is first strategic project using the blockchain infrastructure provider.
The partnership also includes the development of a decentralized Domain Name System (DNS) and Top-Level Domain (TLD) ecosystem, as MultiversX CEO Beniamin Mincu explained in correspondence with Cointelegraph.
Gheorghe, who holds a PhD in Blockchain Technology and Industrial Engineering, says the project has been backed by the Romanian Government through the Secretariat–General as well as the Romanian Ministry of Research, Innovation and Digitalization:
“Our institute wants to create a bridge between the young generations and the public institutions values, initiating a comfort zone for the interactions with the digital space.”
The launch of the platform will feature five unique NFT collections developed in collaboration with a handful of prominent Romanian sportspeople, organizations and institutions.
This includes the Romanian Olympic and Sports Committee, 18-year-old 100-metre long course free-style world record holder David Popovici, Romanian news agency Agerpres, national philately organization Romfilatelia and Bucharest’s Central University Library.
Gheorghe believes Romanian government support of innovative projects like ICI D|Services enhance the country’s economic potential by generating new revenue streams and fostering economic growth as well as a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship:
“Blockchain technology increases the efficiency of the institutions, to approach solid use cases based on digital asset management, transparency, security in various institutional operations, such as in education, health, transport, land registration, supply chain management.”
Mincu echoed these sentiments, highlighting the Romanian government’s commitment to embracing technology, fostering new opportunities for user interaction between citizens, businesses and institutions.
Decentralized finance (DeFi) protocol 1inch has deployed its aggregation and limit order protocols on Ethereum layer-2 scaling solution zkSync Era to tap into faster and cheaper transactions.
1inch Network is the latest of a host of Ethereum-based platforms and services to deploy on the zero-knowledge proof (zk-proof) based scaling platform. Uniswap, SushiSwap, Maker and Curve Finance have also launched on the zk-proof roll-up zkSync Era.
1inch Network co-founder Sergej Kunz highlighted the promise of the layer-2 solution as his platform joins a handful of first-movers to integrate with the zk-proof powered protocol:
“As zkSync Era gains steam, 1inch users will benefit from faster and cheaper transactions.”
A statement from Matter Labs CEO Alex Gluchowski, who heads up the zkSync development firm, notes that DeFi protocols have been a major factor in the uptake of zkSync era:
“DeFi has been a driving force behind zkSync Era’s explosive growth that has seen over $200 million in TVL driven to the protocol in just three short weeks, and we expect the deployment of 1inch to contribute to even greater adoption and usage of zkSync Era.”
Gluchowski said that 1inch Network’s position as the largest decentralized exchange aggregator by on-chain volume would provide deeper liquidity to zkSync Era. The deployment is also touted to offer faster trades, better rates and lower transaction slippage.
zkSync is among a number of layer-2 solutions that have pioneered the use of zk-rollups to increase Ethereum’s throughput and scalability. The technology enables layer-2 protocols to move computation and blockchain state storage offchain, allowing these platforms to process thousands of transactions before providing summary data proofs to Ethereum’s mainnet.
Matter Labs secured $200 million during a series-c investment round in November 2022, taking its total fundraising to over $450 million to continue the development of its Ethereum scaling platform.
Other major Ethereum development firms, including Polygon and ConsenSys, have also developed their own zk-proof powered scaling protocols. ConsenSys released its zkEVM rollup to its public testnet on March 28.
Meanwhile, Polygon co-founder Sandeep Nailwal described zk-rollups as “the holy grail of Ethereum scaling” upon the release of its open-source zkEVM Ethereum scaling technology to the mainnet on March 27.
Web3 users can now register decentralized .eth domains on the Ethereum Name Service (ENS) protocol using a host of fiat payment options, including Apple Pay, and Google Pay, as well as debit and credit cards,
ENS announced the launch of a new fiat on-ramp for domain registrations through Web3 fiat payment gateway MoonPay on April 20. Registrations of .eth domains previously had to be paid for using Ether (ETH) via cryptocurrency wallets, which was cited as a barrier to entry for prospective Web3 users.
MoonPay’s service has been integrated into the ENS website, while the platform also launched version 3 of its user interface to streamline sign-ups. This is aimed at eliminating the need for multiple transaction approvals previously required with cryptocurrency wallets.
A statement from ENS founder Nick Johnson highlighted the service’s focus on making Web3 “human-readable” to simplify the process of obtaining decentralized digital identities. ENS allows users to map human-readable names like “cointelegraph.eth” to machine-readable information like cryptocurrency addresses and URLs:
“This allows us to reach those who are either just entering the space or who are not yet comfortable with transacting and would prefer to use the currency and payment form they understand best.”
The upgrade of ENS’s platform is also touted to expand its usability beyond a primary use-case of creating human-readable names for wallets to replace numerical addresses typically generated by wallet service providers, platforms and blockchain protocols.
ENS users can use names to host censorship-resistant websites, which can be linked to conventional domain name service (DNS) addresses already in use.
MoonPay’s vice president of partnerships, Bree Blazak, highlighted the integration with ENS as a means to create a simple payment experience for new users looking to obtain digital identities or decentralized domains:
“Our partnership with ENS delivers that by making it possible to buy a .eth name with some of the most familiar payment methods available.”
Ethereum Name Service hasseen over 2.3 million names created from more than 550,000 unique addresses. As Cointelegraph previously explored, decentralized domain name registrations have been on the rise over the past two years.
Both ENS and Unstoppable Domains have become leading platforms onboarding new users to the world of Web3 and decentralized identities. The latter also partnered with MoonPay to incorporate nonfungible token domains in transactions on the platform in July 2022.
Cryptocurrency trading platform BitGet has officially registered as a service provider in Lithuania, allowing the Seychelles-based firm to operate in the European country.
An announcement from the exchange notes that it has met compliance standards with regional laws and regulations in the Baltic state. The country is identified as an emerging digital asset market in Europe and a haven for cryptocurrency and blockchain projects.
A recent report from Bloomberg notes that the country saw a fivefold increase in cryptocurrency company registrations through 2022 as companies looked to secure registrations in the Baltic nation after Estonia revoked hundreds of operating licenses as part of a crackdown in the country in late 2021.
BitGet noted that Lithuania remains a favorable hotspot for cryptocurrency users as well as companies looking to register legal entities to offer cryptocurrency-related services.
As a result, the cryptocurrency derivatives exchange has looked to bolster its compliance efforts according managing director Gracy Chen:
“The global regulation of digital assets is advancing on a daily basis, and we actively observe the regulatory changes around the globe. We have a whole dedicated compliance team in place to focus on various regulatory compliance matters.”
BitGet has been operating since 2018 and serves some 8 million users from over 100 countries.
Lithuania also looked to tighten rules for cryptocurrency-related businesses registering in the Baltic state in June 2022. Legal amendments to Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and counter-terrorism financing were proposed to enforce tighter requirements for user identification and exchange operators.
Exchanges and crypto-service providers must register as a corporate body with a minimal threshold for startup capital investments of 125,000 euros.
As reported by Bloomberg, Lithuania is also home to Bifinitey UAB, which is the payments provider for Binance Holdings Ltd. Data from Lithuania’s tax authority shows that the firm was the second biggest contributor of corporate tax in 2022.