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These 2020 blockchain tech developments have set the stage for 2021

2020 has been a stellar year for blockchain technology, laying important foundations for the year ahead.
January will mark 12 years since the Bitcoin genesis block. In that time, blockchain technology has made many significant strides.

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2020 has been a stellar year for blockchain technology, laying important foundations for the year ahead.

January will mark 12 years since the Bitcoin genesis block. In that time, blockchain technology has made many significant strides forward. The launch of Ethereum in 2015 introduced smart contracts and token minting. Subsequent years saw developments in areas, such as transaction privacy with the launch of Zcash (ZEC), platforms such as EOS and Tezos attempting to compete with Ethereum on scalability, and dozens of use cases being explored.

In particular, 2018 and 2019 were difficult years. Following Bitcoin’s fall from its all-time high in December 2017, it’s fair to say that the general appetite for blockchain and cryptocurrencies waned significantly during the long crypto winter. However, there was still plenty of innovation happening, which has started to become evident and pay off in 2020.

This year, several key themes have emerged that are poised to shape the blockchain landscape for 2021 and beyond. Here, Cointelegraph tracks 2020’s most significant developments in blockchain.

Platform and infrastructure development

Scalability, interoperability and privacy have been core themes in infrastructure development during 2020. Of course, scalability has already become an age-old topic in blockchain conversations. However, in previous years, the focus was on new platforms claiming to be more scalable than Ethereum. In 2020, the scalability focus shifted to Ethereum itself — in part because the first phase of the Ethereum 2.0 upgrade finally launched at the end of the year, but also because 2020 saw several critical milestones for Ethereum’s second-layer platforms.

With the Eth2 project still at least two years away from full implementation, it seems likely that second-layer platforms are set to thrive well into 2021.

Several platforms have put interoperability at the front of their development efforts this year. Early in 2020, Syscoin and RSK were two of the first platforms to launch a bridge allowing developers to send tokens back and forth to the Ethereum blockchain. Others were quick to follow suit, with Solana, NEAR Protocol, and Ontology also launching their own interoperability solutions using bridge technologies.

In other interoperability news, Polkadot launched its mainnet in May after several years in development. Much like how Eth2 is aiming to be, Polkadot is a sharded network that enables high throughput. However, the project places particular emphasis on its “heterogeneous sharding” mechanism for interoperability.

Whereas Eth2 will only allow its own shards to connect to the central beacon chain, Polkadot’s heterogeneous sharding supports any kind of blockchain, allowing other platforms such as Bitcoin or Ethereum to connect using bridges. Polkadot is already making its mark, sitting comfortably in the top-10 ranked cryptocurrencies and attracting significant interest from the DeFi developer community.

At the infrastructural level, interoperability has been perhaps the most significant focus area across the board in 2020. Therefore, we can surely expect to see more applications taking advantage of this technology in 2021 and beyond.

Blockchain privacy gets a boost

The ability to transact in private via blockchains received a boost this year, with the launch of two privacy-protecting mechanisms. In January, Monero announced Triptych, a new ring signatures construction that offers a greater degree of privacy protection by making it more difficult to detect genuine transactions among decoys. Triptych went live in September.

Elsewhere, Aztec Protocol, a layer-two, privacy-preserving network for Ethereum, launched its mainnet in February. In its first iteration, Aztec was using Zcash technology to enable “confidential tokens” that hide transaction values. However, in October, Aztec launched its 2.0 version, which uses zero-knowledge rollups in private smart contracts that also boost Ethereum’s scalability.

The Electric Coin Company, the operator of Zcash, announced in September that it was working with the Ethereum Foundation to develop the open-source “Halo 2.” It uses a variation of advanced zero-knowledge proofs used by Aztec. The shared research among Ethereum, Aztec and Zcash is proving to accelerate developments in blockchain privacy for the benefit of users across all platforms.

Smoothing the user experience

Poor user experience has long plagued the cryptocurrency and blockchain industry. There were finally some signs in 2020 that showed promise for the benefit of crypto newcomers in retail and institutions.

The most significant development in UX for retail crypto newcomers was undoubtedly the news that PayPal is integrating cryptocurrency. The payments giant opened its crypto buy-and-sell services to U.S. users in November. The next big development will be a merchant integration in early 2021, allowing users to spend their crypto holdings on goods and services, with 26 million merchants on the PayPal network. PayPal says it will handle all the fiat conversions on behalf of the customers, meaning merchants can avoid cryptocurrency’s volatility if they wish.

However, because poor UX has been an ongoing issue for blockchain-based applications and crypto wallets for many years now, the good news is that we’re seeing developments among more decentralized solutions, too. Argent, a new type of wallet that reached significant popularity in 2020, uses smart contracts to enable non-custodial wallets without requiring private keys. In addition to its security features, the wallet also features direct integrations with decentralized finance, including an integration with flagship DeFi yield app Yearn.finance.

Another example is Authereum, a wallet that builds on the first layer of non-custodial wallets such as MetaMask. Authereum offers all the security benefits of a decentralized wallet while providing users with an easy and familiar onboarding experience, using a simple username and password access, backed up by apps such as Google Authenticator. It also eliminates gas payments.

Expect to see further developments in UX in 2021 as developers seek to remove barriers to entry for new users in the face of competition from giants such as PayPal.

DeFi leads the way on application development

DeFi was the undisputed leader of the application pack in 2020, achieving meteoric growth from $675 million to over $15 billion in total value locked.

The growth was fueled by several developments. Early in the year, several platforms, such as Aave and Uniswap, joined dYdX in offering flash loans, enabling limitless uncollateralized lending in DeFi for the first time. A user can borrow funds, stake them in other protocols to earn a profit, and repay the loan, all in a single Ethereum transaction. If they fail to repay, the entire transaction becomes null and void. Despite several high-profile attacks, flash loans have remained extremely popular among arbitrageurs seeking to make a profit from variations in price among decentralized exchanges.

The launch of Uniswap V2 was also a landmark event, with improvements to its oracle functionality, the introduction of flash swaps, and subsequently, an $11-million investment from Andreessen Horowitz. By August, volumes on Uniswap had exceeded those on Coinbase Pro.

While Uniswap’s automated market makers, or AMMs, have been around several years now, 2020 also saw a slew of newer entrants, including Balancer and Curve Finance. Both launched with the aim of iterating on the AMM concept. For instance, Curve offers multi-token stable pools, while Balancer further iterated on the concept by allowing custom token ratios — as opposed to Uniswap’s rigid 50-50 liquidity pools. Others, such as 1inch and Bancor, made strides in dealing with issues like impermanent loss, the phenomenon where liquidity providers make fewer gains than a comparable portfolio.

Composability — DeFi’s secret sauce

The true driver of DeFi’s value in 2020 emerged from the fact that, combined, DeFi decentralized applications are greater than the sum of their individual parts. DeFi applications developed on Ethereum are composable, meaning that users are finding new ways to stack up these “money Legos” to offer new possibilities. Even on the simplest level, users can stake their ETH into Maker to take out a loan in Dai, which can earn them interest by lending on Compound. However, if users have the appetite for riskier strategies, such as margin trading, the possible configurations are endless.

DeFi developer Andre Cronje was one of the first to identify the need to make this feature more accessible, so he created Yearn.finance as the “gateway to DeFi.” Thanks to his efforts, Yearn has proven to be one of the most popular DeFi projects this year due to its features, which make DeFi’s composability both automated and accessible.

Decentralized governance also emerged as a key trend in 2020, after Compound unleashed its COMP token on the market in June. It immediately flew to the top of DeFi rankings.

While governance tokens are seeing a fair bit of speculation, it seems likely that decentralized governance will continue to rise in prominence over the next year. Nonetheless, some technological and economical issues need to be resolved in 2021, including the concentration of wealth, scalability and the proper way to implement governance proposals.

Digital Identity — A foundational challenge

Digital identity has long been identified as a strong potential use case for blockchain to rein in some of the excesses of personal data usage today. It is also becoming an ever more pressing issue for validating blockchain use cases. As member of Congress Bill Foster pointed out in October, cryptographic guarantees are worthless in the real world if the person behind them is a fraud.

Digital identity is already taking center stage as a test use case in the EU-sponsored European Blockchain Services Infrastructure. In Japan, Layer X is working on a blockchain-based voting system underpinned by digital identities.

This year, enterprise-focused Concordium burst onto the market, promising a platform that manages the trade-off between transaction privacy and the need for an identity solution. It uses off-chain identity verification combined with on-chain zero-knowledge proofs and an “anonymity revocation” process. The latter kicks in whenever there’s a legitimate legal order to identify a party to a transaction.

Other digital identity projects are also making significant headway. Oasis Labs announced in December that it was collaborating with BMW on a project focused on the privacy of user data. It allows internal and external parties to query user data without compromising privacy.

Decentralized identity platform Ontology has also focused on the motoring use case. In September, the team at Ontology showcased how its “ONT-ID” could be used to access vehicles and securely record driver data. However, Ontology’s ID also has applications in other areas, including a partnership with Waves on an e-voting solution.

Central Bank Digital Currencies gaining rapid traction post-Libra

With seeds sown in 2019, this year saw the popularity of CBDCs among central bankers worldwide explode perhaps in response to the 2019 events surrounding Facebook’s controversial plans for a proposed stablecoin initially called Libra but that has since been rebranded to Diem.

China has been trailblazing, although it’s still far from a blockchain-based solution. The People’s Bank of China launched a pilot version of the digital yuan in April and, by November, had processed over 4 million transactions totaling close to $300 million.

Despite European Central Bank head Christina Lagarde stating that the European Union won’t be “racing to be first” to issue a digital euro, the bloc seems likely to move ahead with its own CBDC following the outcome of a consultation in January 2021. However, based on an ECB executive’s comments, it could be a very long implementation period. Elsewhere, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Canada and Switzerland have all recently issued powerful indicators that they will move toward their own version of a central bank digital currency over the coming months and years.

Using blockchain tech against COVID-19

The global COVID-19 pandemic has cast a dark shadow over 2020. The emergence of several vaccines toward the end of the year has offered a glimmer of hope that “the new normal” may not be as permanent as it first seemed. However, blockchain technology seems set to play a role in managing the ongoing fight against COVID-19 and any other global pandemic that may arise in the near or distant future.

For instance, the aforementioned digital identity solutions could extend to “health passports” that convey a citizen’s immunity status, allowing a faster transition back to the pre-pandemic society. Privacy campaigners have understandably expressed concerns, but countries such as China and Singapore are already using blockchain technology to help generate verifiable health records.

The World Economic Forum has pointed to the effectiveness of using a blockchain in the global supply chain to distribute COVID-19 vaccines. IBM is also lending a helping hand and has expressed a similar viewpoint.

This year has seen a resurgence in blockchain development, along with the general appetite for cryptocurrencies and the advantages that the technology can bring. Whereas the last big boom of 2017 resulted in a bust phase and the long crypto winter of 2018 and 2019, there’s no reason to believe that this will happen again in 2021. Blockchain technology has progressed significantly since the last bull market, and the upcoming year is poised to continue delivering usable solutions for scalability, privacy and identity that may power the next major cycle of cryptocurrency adoption.

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Spread & Containment

What does good cybersecurity look like in 2022?

The pharma industry is becoming an increasingly hot commodity for cybercriminals. In recent years, digital adoption has accelerated
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The pharma industry is becoming an increasingly hot commodity for cybercriminals. In recent years, digital adoption has accelerated at a rapid pace, with companies racing to integrate cloud-based platforms and telehealth services to expand the delivery of modern healthcare. Combined with the sudden arrival of COVID-19, this perfect storm of events handed cybercriminals an opportunity to exploit weaknesses in fledging systems and processes.

Pharma companies hold masses of vital data sets, from classified intellectual property to proprietary information about drugs and clinical trial developments. The value of such data is not lost on cybercriminals. This was illustrated in 2021, amid growing awareness of the pharma industries’ efforts to develop and distribute COVID-19 vaccines. According to cybersecurity firm Critical Insights, the number of cybersecurity breaches in healthcare reached an all-time high in 2021, exposing an unprecedented amount of protected health information.

Cyber attacks can be highly damaging, both financially and to a company’s reputation. Therefore, it is essential that necessary steps are taken, both at a company and individual level, to understand and prevent the risk of cyber threats. But what does good cybersecurity actually look like? To help navigate the complex world of digital crime, Adarma’s threat consultant Mike Varley, KnowBe4 lead security awareness advocate Javvad Malik, CEO and founder of CyberSmart Jamie Akhtar, and senior engineer at Trend Micro Simon Walsh offer their insights into key trends and best practises for pharma companies.

Why is the healthcare industry a particular target for cyberattacks?

Javvad Malik (JM): Historically cybercriminals were after money, so they often ignored healthcare providers. However, with increasing sophistication within the criminal economies and the ability to monetise data through ransomware, other means of extortion, or resale, healthcare providers have become an almost ideal target for criminals.

Simon Walsh (SW): Despite statements from would-be attackers to the contrary, the healthcare and pharma industries became prime targets during the COVID pandemic, particularly for ransomware operators, as we saw during the breach of the Irish Healthcare Service Executive in May 2021.

There are several reasons for this: they’re seen as easy targets because of their relative lack of security maturity; the COVID pandemic-induced strain they’re already under makes them more likely to pay the ransom; and the fact that the data they hold – patient records – is extremely valuable and opens additional paths to extortion.

Jamie Akhtar (JA): Many healthcare providers have weak or limited defences. These range from poor staff awareness of threats to creaking, outdated operating systems and tech, but whatever the reason, cybercriminals are aware that many healthcare providers make for easy pickings.

Mike Varley (MV): We can expect to see a rising number of ransomware attacks on the healthcare sector. Healthcare is recognised as national critical infrastructure, which makes it an attractive target to malicious foreign entities looking to create chaos and harm. Similarly, when human life is put at risk by an attack, organisations are more likely to pay up, so attackers often view these structures as a quick pay-day.

Where do you see the most mistakes being made in healthcare when it comes to addressing cyber threats?

JM: Perhaps the biggest mistakes or challenges healthcare faces when addressing cyber threats are having outdated or unpatched software running, being too quick to purchase or adopt internet-connected devices without demanding rigorous security testing, and, finally, the lack of security awareness and training amongst IT staff.

SW: Security maturity and the ability to successfully detect and withstand attacks comes from understanding cyber risk and building and developing a cyber security strategy around that understanding. This of course needs to be adopted and driven by the board and C-level executives and too often this is not the case, with a lack of understanding and investment resulting in a weakened security posture.

Over-reliance on security technology without adequate human oversight further weakens this posture. The Irish hospitals who successfully prevented the attack in May 2021 were those who not just detected stages of the attack but also understood what those detections meant and acted as a result.

Developing a human oversight function – for example a Security Operations Centre – in house is costly, difficult, and takes time. So, for many in the healthcare/pharma industry, the quickest route to success on this front is working with the correct partner who will provide that function.

JA: There are two areas in which most organisations, not just healthcare providers, could be doing better. Many aren’t doing the simple things that can thwart most cyber-attacks. For example, regularly updating software and operating systems, using strong passwords and MFA, developing clear policies for staff to follow, and ensuring security tools are configured properly.

On top of this, employee awareness of cyber threats just isn’t widespread enough. An organisation can have the best cybersecurity software around but, if an employee doesn’t know what a phishing email looks like and clicks a malicious link, it’ll be hacked just the same. The way to counter this is basic cybersecurity training. It doesn’t have to be comprehensive, just enough to help your people make informed choices.

“Perhaps the biggest mistakes or challenges healthcare faces when addressing cyber threats are having outdated or unpatched software running, being too quick to purchase or adopt internet-connected devices without demanding rigorous security testing, and, finally, the lack of security awareness and training amongst IT staff.”

 

What trends are you seeing in cybersecurity at the moment?

JA: The most worrying trend is the rise in supply chain attacks. Cybercriminals have worked out that the best way to target large enterprises with solid defences, is to attack a smaller, less well-defended supplier who can give them a backdoor in. As a result, we’re seeing more major attacks originate in this way.

Alongside this, phishing continues to be the single most common form of attack. Due to the general lack of awareness in the working population, many organisations are still struggling to contain the threat.

MV: Increasingly I think we will see healthcare sector organisations turning to managed security service providers who have the expertise, capability, and technology to deal with an increasingly complex and harmful cyber landscape.

The healthcare sector is expected to provide an elevated level of cyber protection and with a shortage of cyber talent and the prohibitive cost of establishing a Security Operations Centre internally, organisations will need a trusted security partner that can provide that level of proactive protection.

What advice would you give to companies looking to improve their cybersecurity policies, both on a company-wide scale and individual basis?

JA: Above all, make them clear and easy to follow. Avoid technical jargon, where possible, as this will only disengage people. And, explain why the company has adopted the policies it has; your staff will find it much easier to follow them if they know why. Also, store them somewhere that’s easy to access from anywhere. There’s little use in a policy if it’s buried deep in a shared drive where nobody reads it.

MV: Cybersecurity policies should be informed by a threat-led approach. Regular threat modelling will highlight what threats you are facing and how adversaries are likely to target your organisation. With this information on areas of commonality, your security teams can focus on implementing layered security and monitoring.

Your policy should consider asset awareness. As basic as it sounds, it can be easy for a small handful of assets to fall under the radar within vast enterprises, which leads to out-of-date operating systems and software.

JM: Organisations should look to take a data-driven approach. That means, that in addition to following what is occurring externally in terms of attacks, they should look through a year or two worth of internal security logs to see what was the root cause of the incidents during this time period.

Once the root causes have been identified, they should be prioritised, and then controls be put in place to address those specific root causes. Those should inform the cybersecurity policies and tailor them to the specific risks the organisation is facing.

SW: For companies, start at the top and ensure that the board and C-level executives are capable of understanding and assessing risk. This will drive investment in cyber strategy and improve your chances of mitigating that risk. Human oversight of security-related activity in the organisation is also fundamental.

For individuals, heightened awareness and ongoing education are key. We all have a role to play in cyber-security as 100% reliance on technology is unfortunately never enough.

The post What does good cybersecurity look like in 2022? appeared first on .

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Crypto

WEF 2022, May 24: Latest updates from the Cointelegraph Davos team

The third day of WEF 2022 will see the OECD secretary-general share his thoughts on a reimagined global tax system and industry experts discussing DeFi…

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The third day of WEF 2022 will see the OECD secretary-general share his thoughts on a reimagined global tax system and industry experts discussing DeFi as the future of decentralized governance.

Disclaimer: This article is being updated all day long. All timestamps are in the UTC time zone, with updates in reverse order (the latest update is placed at the top).

WEF 2022, the first in-person World Economic Forum event since the pandemic started, continues to bridge traditional finance with the future of money on its third day.

The Cointelegraph ground team, including editor-in-chief Kristina L. Corner, head of video Jackson DuMont and news reporter Joseph Hall, is deployed in Davos, where the event is held, to get the most recent developments from WEF 2022.

Check out all the important details from May 23 in one easy-to-read page!

The third day of WEF 2022 will see the OECD secretary-general Mathias Cormann share his thoughts on a reimagined global tax system and industry experts discussing decentralized finance (DeFi) as the future of decentralized governance.

Crypto’s Carbon Footprint, one of the most anticipated sessions of the event, will see chief executives from FTX, Stellar Development Foundation, SkyBridge Capital, DataKing and Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance talk about the environmental sustainability goals of crypto mining operations.

Don’t forget to check this article regularly to get notified about the most recent announcements from the event.

  • 08.30 am UTC

The ‘Strategic Outlook on the Digital Economy’ panel discussed building socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable economic growth. The panel included the likes of Nicholas Thompson, publisher and CEO of The Atlantic, Arvind Krishna, chairman and CEO of IBM Corporation, and Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture.

The primary discussion revolved around the evolution of metaverse and its potential at the industrial level. Accenture CEO talked about numerous use cases of the virtual reality world and their future plans of integrating employees into the Accenture metaverse.

“Metaverse has a ton of potential and it could prove to be beneficial in many domains. 100,000 Accenture employees would be integrated into the Accenture metaverse over time.”

She went on to cite the example of the pandemic and how metaverse helped them connect and complete meetings in three dimensions.

IBM CEO Arvind Krishna talked about the role of artificial intelligence and augmented reality (metaverse) in handling tasks that are dangerous for the humans, citing the example of nuclear powerplants, which could be inaccessible in case of a tragedy, and this is where metaverse and AI could be of great help.

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Bitcoin Back Below $30,000 After A Record 8 Weeks In The Red

Bitcoin decoupled from equity markets to the downside on Monday after ending last week as the eighth consecutive weekly loss.

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Bitcoin decoupled from equity markets to the downside on Monday after ending last week as the eighth consecutive weekly loss.

Bitcoin has failed to hold the $30,000 level on Monday after scoring its eighth consecutive week in the red for the first time ever.

During these eight weeks, which began in late March and ended on Sunday, bitcoin has lost over 35% of its U.S. dollar value according to TradingView data. Before the beginning of the losing streak, BTC was trading at around $46,800.

Bitcoin has scored losses for eight consecutive weeks for the first time in its history and it is starting the ninth with yet another red candle. Image source: TradingView.

Bitcoin is changing hands slightly below $30,000 at the time of writing. The peer-to-peer currency climbed as high as $30,600 earlier on Monday to trade at around $29,400 as the trading in equity markets nears its end in New York.

While bitcoin turns south, major U.S. stock indices have been in the green. The Nasdaq, which is said to be highly correlated with bitcoin, decoupled from the digital money along with the S&P 500 to denote modest gains near market close on Monday, per TradingView data.

While bitcoin, Nasdaq and S&P 500 were trading in tandem for some time on Monday, the P2P currency saw a sharp sell-off decouple it from the two indices and take it to a more than 3% loss for the day. Image source: TradingView.

A Tough Year For Bitcoin

Despite making two new all-time highs in 2021, bitcoin already erased nearly all of those gains in 2022.

Bitcoin’s choppy trading year so far can be partly attributed to a broader sentiment of economic uncertainty as the Federal Reserve tightens the U.S. economy, withdrawing liquidity from the market after almost two years of quantitative easing.

The central bank has already raised its basic interest rates two times this year, the last of which was double the magnitude of the previous one and represented the largest hike in two decades: While the Fed increased interest rates by 0.25% in March, it raised them by 0.50% earlier this month.

Image source: Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED).

When the Fed raises or lowers interest rates through its Federal Open Markets Committee (FOMC), what it is actually doing is setting a target range. The graph above depicts the lower and upper bounds of that target range in red and blue, respectively.

While the U.S. central bank system sets the target, it cannot mandate that commercial banks use it — rather, it serves as a recommendation. Therefore, what banks end up using for lending and borrowing excess cash between them overnight is called the effective rate. This is shown by the green line in the graph above.

The Fed previously hiked interest rates consistently from 2016 to 2019, until plunging it near zero in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, as noted in the graph.

Bitcoin’s higher sensitivity to liquidity and therefore interest rates can be explained by a greater participation of institutional investors in the market, whose allocations are based on the availability of capital and broader economic conditions, Morgan Stanley reportedly said.

Therefore, while Bitcoin was able to sustain a bull market in the midst of the Fed increasing interest rates in 2017, raising nearly 2,000% from January to December that year, the odds aren’t on the side of the bulls this year.

For two weeks, bitcoin has now closed below a level of weekly support it formed over a year ago and had respected since, indicating it might be turning into a zone of resistance. Image source: TradingView.

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