One of the largest heists in bitcoin history is happening right now. 96,000 bitcoins - that’s roughly £60m as of the time of writing - was taken from the accounts of customers, vendors and administrators of the Sheep Marketplace over the weekend.
Sheep was one of the main sites that came to replace the Silk Road when it closed in October, but it too has now closed as a result of this theft. It’s a little hard to work out exactly what’s happened, but Sheep customers have been piecing it together on reddit’s r/sheepmarketplace.
Here’s what happened: someone (or some group) managed to fake the balances in peoples’ accounts on the site, showing that they had their bitcoins in their wallets when they’d actually been transferred out. Over the course of a week the whole site was drained, until the weekend when the site’s administrators realised what was happening and shut everything down.
Originally it was thought that only 5,200BTC - or £3m - was taken, with a message posted on Sheep’s homepage blaming a vendor called “EBOOK101” for finding and exploiting a bug. However, over the weekend it became clear that the amount stolen was much, much larger.
In a normal robbery that money would be gone by now, but it isn’t. Bitcoin is pseudonymous, not anonymous, and bitcoins can’t just disappear. It works because each and every transaction is public and visible to each and every other person using the Bitcoin network, and a person is only as anonymous as their link to their wallet.
A couple of reddit users realised that the sheer size of the heist makes “tumbling” the coins - the normal method of laundering bitcoins - impossible, as long as they kept on their toes. Someone with bitcoin can send some to a tumbler like bitcoinfog, where it will be split into smaller subdivisions and mixed with other bitcoins from other places, recombining and splitting again several times over until the whole amount eventually comes out the other end, theoretically in such a way that it’s impossible to track. Silk Road’s in-built tumbler successfully foiled the FBI, allegedly.
However, reddit user TheNodManOut managed to track where the first bunch of transfers out of Sheep went, and from there andsilkroadreloaded2 worked out which tumbler that the thief was using. Here’s how silkroadreloaded2 describes what’s happened since (“Tomas” is the alleged owner of Sheep, and one of the suspects for many users):
Or, in other words:
A major problem with tumblers is that they only work with lots of bitcoins coming and going from a lot of different sources - if a tumbler is taking in 96,000 bitcoins, those will massively outnumber all other bitcoins being tumbled and it’ll be easy to spot them coming out the other end. Mix in a little of your own with all those other ones and you’ll find out the wallet addresses that the tumbler uses, and it should be easy to spot large transactions splitting off from there.
The fascinating consequence of this is that you can see the stolen bitcoins on the public blockchain, and as long as there are people keeping tabs on it there’s going to be no way for the thief to cash in on their haul. Considering how people rely on tumblers to maintain anonymity when buying illegal stuff online, this unusual loophole is something of a revelation.
Right now, as you’re reading this, you can watch as the the thief starts trying to move their bitcoins on again - it’s currently down to 92,000 bitcoins and dropping as smaller chunks begin going out. Selling those bitcoins and turning them into cash is going to be extremely difficult, as the major Bitcoin exchanges all demand proof of identity (specifically to avoid charges that they’re involved in money laundering), and if they’re broken down into smaller quantities to sell via a site like localbitcoins.com a paper trail will still be generated. As soon as it’s possible to link one real-life bank account or identity to any bitcoins from that stash, it will be possible to work out their real-life identity.
This counts as one of the largest robberies in history at Bitcoin’s current market value, ranking in the same company as real-life thefts like the $108m diamond theft at the Harry Winston store in Paris in 2008. 96,000 bitcoins also places the thief as one of the wealthiest Bitcoin millionaires on the current rich list (but bear in mind that few serious Bitcoin players keep their currency in just one wallet) - and all without having to go to the trouble of wearing balaclavas or threatening someone with a gun.
Let’s watch and see what happens next.
A team of scientists are getting closer to the holy grail of brain-powered prosthetics by developing the first advanced-movement prosthetic leg that communicates with the wearer’s mind.
Zac Vawter, 31, lost his leg just above the knee in a 2009 motorcycle accident. But today he’s the “test pilot” for the first bionic leg that can complete tasks like going up stairs or down slopes, all controlled by Vawter’s mind. A study announcing the progress of the limb is published today in The New England Journal of Medicine.
The leg is the brainchild of a collaborative group of engineers, neuroscientists, surgeons, and prosthetists at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, funded with a $8-million grant from the Army. Similar technology has been used in the past for arm prosthetics, but this is the first prosthetic leg to communicate with the wearer’s mind. All Vawter has to do is imagine his toes curling or the gait of walking down the stairs, and the leg puts his thoughts into motion.
The prosthetic limb uses sensors that rely on what are called reinnervated nerves, which are nerves that were formerly used to control Vawter’s leg muscles, but are surgically rewired to control his limb. The prosthetic reads the contractions from the muscles and nerves and makes the necessary movements in the knee and ankle joints that are part of the leg.
Vawter told Bloomberg in an interview, “In my mind, it’s still the same thing in terms of moving my ankle down or up, or extending my leg forward or back. It’s just walk like I would normally walk. It’s not special training or buttons or tricks. That’s a big piece of what I think is groundbreaking and phenomenal about this work.”
Innovation in prosthetics is growing. Prosthetic limbs are no longer simply walking sticks that provide balance. There are more and more robotic limbs that move in ways that feel and look natural to wearers. For instance, Dr. Hugh Herr, Director of Biomechatronics at MIT and Founder and Chief Technology Officer of the prosthetic brand iWalk, has perfected the robotics in his company’s prosthetic limbs to replicate the calf muscles and Achilles tendon, which provide a push-off that helps propel the user and normalize their gait.
But don’t expect this new leg to be efore the new limb can be made available for people who need it, researchers say it still needs to be refined. Currently, Vawter only wears the leg for one week every couple of months when he visits the researchers in Chicago. California company Freedom Innovations LLC is also working to make the machine quieter and smaller.
WTTW Broadcast Pirating Incident 11/22/1987
INSIDE FORT MEADE, Maryland, a top-secret city bustles. Tens of thousands of people move through more than 50 buildings—the city has its own post office, fire department, and police force. But as if designed by Kafka, it sits among a forest of trees, surrounded by electrified fences and heavily armed guards, protected by antitank barriers, monitored by sensitive motion detectors, and watched by rotating cameras. To block any telltale electromagnetic signals from escaping, the inner walls of the buildings are wrapped in protective copper shielding and the one-way windows are embedded with a fine copper mesh.
This is the undisputed domain of General Keith Alexander, a man few even in Washington would likely recognize. Never before has anyone in America’s intelligence sphere come close to his degree of power, the number of people under his command, the expanse of his rule, the length of his reign, or the depth of his secrecy. A four-star Army general, his authority extends across three domains: He is director of the world’s largest intelligence service, the National Security Agency; chief of the Central Security Service; and commander of the US Cyber Command. As such, he has his own secret military, presiding over the Navy’s 10th Fleet, the 24th Air Force, and the Second Army.
Alexander runs the nation’s cyberwar efforts, an empire he has built over the past eight years by insisting that the US’s inherent vulnerability to digital attacks requires him to amass more and more authority over the data zipping around the globe. In his telling, the threat is so mind-bogglingly huge that the nation has little option but to eventually put the entire civilian Internet under his protection, requiring tweets and emails to pass through his filters, and putting the kill switch under the government’s forefinger. “What we see is an increasing level of activity on the networks,” he said at a recent security conference in Canada. “I am concerned that this is going to break a threshold where the private sector can no longer handle it and the government is going to have to step in.”
In its tightly controlled public relations, the NSA has focused attention on the threat of cyberattack against the US—the vulnerability of critical infrastructure like power plants and water systems, the susceptibility of the military’s command and control structure, the dependence of the economy on the Internet’s smooth functioning. Defense against these threats was the paramount mission trumpeted by NSA brass at congressional hearings and hashed over at security conferences.
But there is a flip side to this equation that is rarely mentioned: The military has for years been developing offensive capabilities, giving it the power not just to defend the US but to assail its foes. Using so-called cyber-kinetic attacks, Alexander and his forces now have the capability to physically destroy an adversary’s equipment and infrastructure, and potentially even to kill. Alexander—who declined to be interviewed for this article—has concluded that such cyberweapons are as crucial to 21st-century warfare as nuclear arms were in the 20th.
And he and his cyberwarriors have already launched their first attack. The cyberweapon that came to be known as Stuxnet was created and built by the NSA in partnership with the CIA and Israeli intelligence in the mid-2000s. The first known piece of malware designed to destroy physical equipment, Stuxnet was aimed at Iran’s nuclear facility in Natanz. By surreptitiously taking control of an industrial control link known as a Scada (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) system, the sophisticated worm was able to damage about a thousand centrifuges used to enrich nuclear material.
The success of this sabotage came to light only in June 2010, when the malware spread to outside computers. It was spotted by independent security researchers, who identified telltale signs that the worm was the work of thousands of hours of professional development. Despite headlines around the globe, officials in Washington have never openly acknowledged that the US was behind the attack. It wasn’t until 2012 that anonymous sources within the Obama administration took credit for it in interviews with The New York Times.
But Stuxnet is only the beginning. Alexander’s agency has recruited thousands of computer experts, hackers, and engineering PhDs to expand US offensive capabilities in the digital realm. The Pentagon has requested $4.7 billion for “cyberspace operations,” even as the budget of the CIA and other intelligence agencies could fall by $4.4 billion. It is pouring millions into cyberdefense contractors. And more attacks may be planned.
Inside the government, the general is regarded with a mixture of respect and fear, not unlike J. Edgar Hoover, another security figure whose tenure spanned multiple presidencies. “We jokingly referred to him as Emperor Alexander—with good cause, because whatever Keith wants, Keith gets,” says one former senior CIA official who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity. “We would sit back literally in awe of what he was able to get from Congress, from the White House, and at the expense of everybody else.”
Now 61, Alexander has said he plans to retire in 2014; when he does step down he will leave behind an enduring legacy—a position of far-reaching authority and potentially Strangelovian powers at a time when the distinction between cyberwarfare and conventional warfare is beginning to blur. A recent Pentagon report made that point in dramatic terms. It recommended possible deterrents to a cyberattack on the US. Among the options: launching nuclear weapons.
SIGGRAPH 2013 | Technical Papers Preview
Vitalic - Poison Lips (Captain Flash Remix)
3-D printed organs. Brain chips providing superhuman abilities. Megacities, built from scratch. The U.S. intelligence community is taking a look at the world of 2030. And it is very, very sci-fi.
Every four or five years, the futurists at the National Intelligence Council take a stab at forecasting what the globe will be like two decades hence; the idea is to give some long-term, strategic guidance to the folks shaping America’s security and economic policies. (Full disclosure: I was once brought in as a consultant to evaluate one of the NIC’s interim reports.) On Monday, the Council released its newest findings, Global Trends 2030. Many of the prognostications are rather unsurprising: rising tides, a bigger data cloud, an aging population, and, of course, more drones. But tucked into the predictable predictions are some rather eye-opening assertions. Especially in the medical realm.
We’ve seen experimental prosthetics in recent years that are connected to the human neurological system. The Council says the link between man and machine is about to get way more cyborg-like. “As replacement limb technology advances, people may choose to enhance their physical selves as they do with cosmetic surgery today. Future retinal eye implants could enable night vision, and neuro-enhancements could provide superior memory recall or speed of thought,” the Council writes. “Brain-machine interfaces could provide ‘superhuman’ abilities, enhancing strength and speed, as well as providing functions not previously available.”
And if the machines can’t be embedded into the person, the person may embed himself in the robot. “Augmented reality systems can provide enhanced experiences of real-world situations. Combined with advances in robotics, avatars could provide feedback in the form of sensors providing touch and smell as well as aural and visual information to the operator,” the report adds. There’s no word about whether you’ll have to paint yourself blue to enjoy the benefits of this tech.
The Council’s futurists are less definitive about 3-D printing and other direct digital manufacturing processes. On one hand, they say that any changes brought about by these new ways of making things could be “relatively slow.” On the other, they rip a page out of Wired, comparing the emerging era of digital manufacturing to the “early days of personal computers and the internet.” Today, the machines may only be able to make simple objects. Tomorrow, that won’t be the case. And that shift will change not only manufacturing and electronics — but people, as well.
“By 2030, manufacturers may be able to combine some electrical components (such as electrical circuits, antennae, batteries, and memory) with structural components in one build, but integration with printed electronics manufacturing equipment will be necessary,” the Council writes. “Though printing of arteries or simple organs may be possible by 2030, bioprinting of complex organs will require significant technological breakthroughs.”
But not all of these biological developments will be good things, the Council notes. “Advances insynthetic biology also have the potential to be a double-edged sword and become a source of lethal weaponry accessible to do-it-yourself biologists or biohackers,” according to the report. Biology is becoming more and more like the open source software community, with “open-access repository of standardized and interchangeable building block or ‘biobrick’ biological parts that researchers can use” — for good or for bad. ”This will be particularly true as technology becomes more accessible on a global basis and, as a result, makes it harder to track, regulate, or mitigate bioterror if not ‘bioerror.’”
Some of the Council’s predictions may give a few of Washington’s more sensitive politicians a rash. Although the Council does allow for the possibility of a “decisive re-assertion of U.S. power,” the futurists seem pretty well convinced that America is, relatively speaking, on the decline and that China is on the ascent. In fact, the Council believes nation-states in general are losing their oomph, in favor of “megacities [that will] flourish and take the lead in confronting global challenges.” And we’re not necessarily talking New York or Beijing here; some of these megacities could be somehow “built from scratch.”
Unlike some Congressmen, the Council takes climate change as a given. Unlike many in the environmental movement, the futurists believe that the discovery of cheap ways to harvest natural gas are going to relegate renewables to bit-player status in the energy game.
But most of the findings are apolitical bets on which tech will leap out the furthest over the next 17 years. People can check back in 2030 to see if the intelligence agencies are right — that is, if you still call the biomodded cyborgs roaming the planet people.