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Crypto 101: What is Cryptocurrency and is it safe to buy?

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Cryptocurrency has entered the mainstream and if you feel like you’re way behind, you’re not alone.

TAMPA, Fla. — At Florida’s Bitcoin and Blockchain Summit earlier this month (which was held here in Tampa) Mayor Jane Castor announced she was going to take her next paycheck in bitcoin.

Miami and New York’s mayors recently did the same.

Over in Los Angeles, the Staples Center, one of the world’s most famous arenas, will get its name changed to “Crypto.com Arena” come Christmas Day, for a reported $700 million.

Apologies for coming late to the conversation – we’ve been busy preparing for today’s cryptocurrency conference here in the @CityofTampa. 🪙😏 But I’m certainly up for the challenge! #ForbesTopEmergingTechnologyCity #FloridasTechCapitol #TechTown

— Jane Castor (@JaneCastor) November 5, 2021

Cryptocurrency has entered the mainstream and if you feel like you’re way behind, you’re not alone. But, all of this Bitcoin and crypto talk can be a heck of a lot for us newbies to the coin game, even if it has been around for more than a decade.

So, let’s learn together. It’s a journey I like to call: Crypto 101.

To make this easier, we’ll break it down into four parts:

  • What is cryptocurrency?
  • How can I buy it?
  • How safe is it? 
  • Am I too late to the game to get in?

What is cryptocurrency?

Bitcoin, Blockchain, Coinbase, Etherium, To the Moon – it’s all a part of the crypto vernacular, but let’s get down to the basics.

In simplistic terms, it’s essentially a peer-to-peer digital cash system that’s decentralized, so it doesn’t go through any bank, government or third party, like how we’d traditionally use cash or a credit card.

“Cryptocurrency, very simply, is just a digital or virtual currency that’s secured by code, which makes it nearly impossible to counterfeit,” said Nick Agar, the founder of AXIA, an ecosystem and non-profit for hyper deflationary virtual currency. 

“These currencies run on something called a blockchain, which is a distributed ledger where these transactions are being tracked. What makes them that much more secure is they have to go through a proper validation process.”

And that process is called mining, which verifies the transaction via sophisticated computers solving very complex math problems.

“In bitcoin, all of these miners are processing the transaction, which is ultimately securing the network and making sure all the transactions are secure,” said Mark Palomba, the founder and chief investment officer at Deltacore Capital, a hedge fund for digital assets based here in Tampa. 

“In return, they get newly minted bitcoin.”

Najah Roberts, the chief visionary officer of a crypto services company called Crypto Blockchain Plug, likened it to what we’re already doing with digital payments, like Apple Pay or Venmo.

“Money is changing,” Roberts said. “We’re already in the digital space…this is just one step further, which is a digital currency, such as bitcoin. I tell people to get knowledgeable about Bitcoin first.” 

So let’s do that because there are thousands of cryptocurrencies, but Bitcoin is the most popular and the most lucrative. It’s like the McDonald’s of crypto. 

Satoshi Nakamoto created bitcoin in 2009. He wanted an independent way for users to send money to each other – fast and with little to no transaction fee.

“There will only be 21 million bitcoins ever in existence,” Palomba said. “They are slowly trickled into the flow of the system by miners, decreasing every four years until 2141.”

So, they’re limited and clearly in demand, with Bitcoin exploding over the last decade. CaseBitcoin says its 10-year compounded growth rate is unmatched in financial history, nearly tripling your money every year for a decade.

How can I buy it?

Okay, so now I’ve got your interest, but how do you buy, trade or sell crypto, like Bitcoin?

“Always make sure you’re using a trusted exchange with a lot of security,” Palomba said. “In the U.S., the biggest exchange is Coinbase, which is the quickest and easiest way for beginners to get into the market.”

“Similar to when you open a bank account,” Agar said. “You go through a registration process at one of these exchanges and then you receive one of these cryptocurrency wallets to go into the market and purchase whatever crypto you want at that time.”

How safe is it?

So, now that you know how to buy some, how safe is it?

The Federal Trade Commission says consumers lost north of $80 million on crypto scams during the back end of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021, but experts say that has more to do with a lack of research and knowledge than it does with the crypto process itself.

Blockchain technology is known for its unparalleled security. The user has their identity protected, but all transactions are public, making it nearly impossible to hack or cheat the system. With thousands of miners keeping track of the transactions and showing proof of their work to get paid, it increases the security.

“We should actually be looking to crypto as a far, far more secure way to make our payments,” Agar said. “Because of the immutable nature of blockchain transactions and because they’re so transparent on that ledger at all times.”

“Anybody that’s talking about massive gains, immediately you have to put up your red flags,” Roberts said. “I meet so many people who are scammed in this space and they don’t know better. The moment you begin to get greedy, that’s the time you begin to get scammed.”

Is it too late to get in?

We’re a decade in, so is it too late to get into the crypto game, or are we just getting started?

“This is a marketplace that’s in its infancy,” Agar said. “We’re almost at an inflection point in our economic system in terms of what is possible.”

“The sky is the limit,” Palomba said. “We’re only scratching the surface on the technology and the tools and the solutions that this can really offer. In 5-10 years, I don’t think we’ll recognize a lot of the difference that it’ll make in how we transact and do things on the internet.”

TECHNOLOGY

On email security in the era of hybrid working

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With remote working the future for so many global workforces – or at least some kind of hybrid arrangement – is there an impact on email security we are all missing? Oliver Paterson, director of product management at VIPRE Security, believes so.

“The timeframe that people expect now for you to reply to things is shortened massively,” says Paterson. “This puts additional stress and pressure on individuals, which can then also lead to further mistakes. [Employees] are not as aware if they get an email with a link coming in – and they’re actually more susceptible to clicking on it.”

The cybercriminal’s greatest friend is human error, and distraction makes for a perfect bedfellow. The remote working calendar means that meetings are now held in virtual rooms, instead of face-to-face. A great opportunity for a quick catch up on a few emails during a spot of downtime, perhaps? It’s also a great opportunity for an attacker to make you fall for a phishing attack.

“It’s really about putting in the forefront there that email is the major first factor when we talk about data breaches, and anything around cyberattacks and ransomware being deployed on people’s machines,” Paterson says around education. “We just need to be very aware that even though we think these things are changing, [you] need to add a lot more security, methods and the tactics that people are using to get into your business is still very similar.

“The attacks may be more sophisticated, but the actual attack vector is the same as it was 10-15 years ago.”

This bears true in the statistics. The Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG) found in its Phishing Activity Trends Report (pdf) in February that attacks hit an all-time high in 2021. Attacks had tripled since early 2020 – in other words, since the pandemic began. 

VIPRE has many solutions to this age-old problem, and the email security product side of the business comes primarily under Paterson’s remit. One such product is VIPRE SafeSend, which focuses on misaddressed emails and prevents data leakage. “Everyone’s sent an email to the wrong person at some point in their life,” says Paterson. “It just depends how serious that’s been.”

Paterson notes one large FMCG brand, where a very senior C-level executive had the same name as someone else in the business much lower down. Naturally, plenty of emails went to the wrong place. “You try and get people to be uber-careful, but we’ve got technology solutions to help with those elements as well now,” says Paterson. “It’s making sure that businesses are aware of that, then also having it in one place.”

Another part of the product portfolio is with EDR (endpoint detection and response). The goal for VIPRE is to ‘take the complexities out of EDR management for small to medium-sized businesses and IT teams.’ Part of this is understanding what organisations really want. 

The basic knowledge is there, as many organisational surveys will show. Take a study from the Enterprise Security Group (ESG) released in October in terms of ransomware preparedness. Respondents cited network security (43%), backup infrastructure security (40%), endpoint (39%), email (36%) and data encryption (36%) as key prevention areas. Many security vendors offer this and much more – but how difficult is it to filter out the noise?

“People understand they need an endpoint solution, and an email security solution. There’s a lot of competitors out there and they’re all shouting about different things,” says Paterson. “So it’s really getting down to the nitty gritty of what they actually need as a business. That’s where we at VIPRE try to make it as easy as possible for clients. 

“A lot of companies do EDR at the moment, but what we’ve tried to do is get it down to the raw elements that every business will need, and maybe not all the bells and whistles that probably 99% of organisations aren’t going to need,” Paterson adds.

“We’re very much a company that puts a lot of emphasis on our clients and partners, where we treat everyone as an individual business. We get a lot of comments [from customers] that some of the biggest vendors in there just treat them as a number.”

Paterson is speaking at the Cyber Security & Cloud Expo Global, in London on December 1-2 around the rising threat of ransomware, and how the security industry evolves alongside this threat. Having a multi-layered approach will be a cornerstone of Paterson’s message, and his advice to businesses is sound.

“Take a closer look at those areas, those threat vectors, the way that they are coming into the business, and make sure that you are putting those industry-level systems in place,” he says. “A lot of businesses can get complacent and just continue renewing the same thing over and over again, without realising there are new features and additions. Misdelivery of email is a massive one – I would say the majority of businesses don’t have anything in place for it.

“Ask ‘where are the risk areas for your business?’ and understand those more, and then make sure to put those protection layers in place to help with things like ransomware attacks and other elements.”

(Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash)

Want to learn more about cybersecurity and the cloud from industry leaders? Check out Cyber Security & Cloud Expo taking place in Amsterdam, California, and London.

Explore other upcoming enterprise technology events and webinars powered by TechForge here.



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