Technology reporter Matt Twomey with Business Insider covered the Bitcoin research of SMU cybersecurity expert Tyler W. Moore, an assistant professor of computer science in the Lyle School of Engineering.

Moore’s research found that online exchanges that trade hard currency for the rapidly emerging cyber money known as Bitcoin have a 45 percent chance of failing — often taking their customers’ money with them.

The finding is from a new computer science study that applied survival analysis to examine the factors that prompt Bitcoin currency exchanges to close.

Moore carried out the research with Nicolas Christin, with the Information Networking Institute and Carnegie Mellon CyLab at Carnegie Mellon University.

Twomey’s coverage, “Bitcoin Is Sacrificing Its Soul To Survive,” was published online June 2.

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Matt Twomey
Business Insider

It’s been a wild couple months for digital currencies. This past week saw the bust of Liberty Reserve for its alleged role in billions of dollars of illicit transactions, and two days later the largest bitcoin exchange said it would now require all accounts to be verified.

For the digital currency to survive, must it sacrifice its soul? Can it thrive if it does?

To be sure, there are important differences between bitcoin and Liberty Reserve. Where Liberty was effectively a black box for transactions, controlled by a single entity, bitcoins are traded on a peer-to-peer network independent of any central authority. (Bitcoin did have its own law-enforcement episode on May 17, when the Department of Homeland Security froze the accounts of two U.S.-based bitcoin processors. The alleged misdeed: failing to properly register.)

In the Liberty Reserve case, the illegalities were brash, according to U.S. officials. One million users across the world—one-fifth of them Americans—made 55 million transactions over seven years to the tune of $6 billion, with few questions asked while Costa Rica-based Liberty collected 1 percent, investigators said. The network is thought to have been employed in the $45 million ATM heist for which eight people were arrested in May.

Chicago-based investment fraud attorney Andrew Stoltmann said bitcoin holders should be spooked, because the digital exchanges have been used by criminals for money laundering as well.

But Peter Vessenes, chairman and executive director of the Bitcoin Foundation, was unfazed by the Liberty Reserve crackdown.

“The U.S. put out guidance recently through the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, and we’ve been following up on that guidance and crushing bad actors,” he said in an interview with CNBC Asia. “We’re seeing a bit of a sweep right now,” he said.

“There’s nothing to indicate that good players who are working hard to stay regulated have anything to worry about.”

And there’s the rub: The techno-libertarian fantasy of an unfettered digital currency is losing its veil of anonymity and is dependent upon ensuring the appeasement of government regulators. It’s enough to make a cryptotarian anarchist blanch.

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