*At the time this article was written, Bitcoin was at $8,000. Today, June 24, it is over $10,000
Since the last major bull-run in December of 2017, the relative stagnation of the market, with Bitcoin prices falling as low as $3000 last year, had many believing they were seeing the end of the cryptocurrency fad.
The slow and steady recovery we’ve seen since then has not been enough to encourage an influx of more daily active users, the number of which has remained relatively constant since the price bottom.
Then, at the beginning of April, a slough of investors (most likely tax-dodgers) logged on; in the first week of April, there was an increase of daily activity of over 50%, and in the following days the price quickly reached $5000.
This fact alone says nothing about the health of the underlying Bitcoin market, and most crypto analysts agreed that the price would come back down again soon, once these tax-dodgers sold back their coins.
However, in the middle of the month, a rumor began to spread about updates to the Bitcoin mining software. The tax-dodgers sold their coins and signed off, as expected, but the price refused to fall; the community seemed to be on edge, expecting an announcement.
Then, at the beginning of May, it happened: Miners unanimously approved a new-and-improved software, version 0.18.0 (previously 0.17.1, released last December) full of long-awaited bug fixes and features. Suddenly, app developers hoping to incorporate Bitcoin-related payment features in their apps had a whole new host of toys and tools to play with.
In the days and weeks following the rollout, the Bitcoin price surged, climbing from $5,300 to $6,000 in under a week; as of the time of this writing, the price is $7,159.
The move happened so quickly and fiercely, in fact, that the market barely noticed when Binance, the largest crypto exchange in existence by far and arguably the controlling force in the market since 2017, was hacked for over $70 million worth of BTC.
Less than a month ago, news of Binance being hacked would’ve more than likely caused panic.
Binance has been a household name in the crypto trading community for years. Originally based in China, the exchange relocated to Malta after strict anti-crypto regulations in their home country forced them out; since then, they’ve become the dominant exchange for international crypto-to-crypto trading, boasting more than 90% of the trade volume for most (if not all) of the alt-coins listed on their website. Their proprietary cryptocurrency, the Binance Coin (BNB), has grown at perhaps the most steady and consistent rate year-over-year compared to any other crypto investment, and is currently at a nearly $3 Billion market cap.
The increased frequency of derivatives trading on other marketplaces, however, has driven away much of the Bitcoin and Ethereum traffic from the site, as traders hunger for higher and higher multiples on their winnings (and losses). Binance was rumored to be working on integrating a derivatives market earlier this year, before the hack.
The hack itself differed from other exchange hacks in the past, in that the exchange’s central “hot wallet” was not directly compromised—as was the case in the hacking of Coincheck and Bitgrail last year, which contributed to much of the year’s stagnant prices, or Mt. Gox in 2014, which singlehandedly ended Bitcoin’s first major bull run and sent the price into a tailspin for the next four years.
Instead, hackers painstakingly gathered passwords and authenticator codes from hundreds of thousands of the site’s regular users, and simultaneously withdrew from as many accounts as they could before Binance’s administrators caught on—$70 million later.
Exchanges are, of course, unsafe for this reason. The biggest exchange today is all but guaranteed to be hacked tomorrow, and Binance was never an exception to the rule. Cryptocurrency is all about private ownership; entrusting any third party, even an exchange, with custody of your crypto assets will always come with risk.
Still, the news that the largest exchange in all of crypto may no longer be safe has sent many into a panic. Binance’s twitter account, @cz_binance, has publicly floated the idea of getting a majority of miners to agree to a “rollback” consensus—that is, to unanimously re-write the last few iterations of Bitcoin’s history so that the hack never happened, thereby returning users’ funds.
This is not a new idea. It was Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin’s response when hackers exploited a vulnerability in Ethereum’s blockchain in 2016. Buterin failed to get unanimous support for his rollback from the mining community, and as a result, two competing transaction histories of Ethereum still exist to this day, with Buterin’s chain containing the rollback, and the dissenting miners rebranding themselves as “Ethereum Classic”. It’s widely believed that Buterin’s attitude towards the dissenting miners (and, by extension, the notion of decentralization) has severely limited Ethereum’s potential value.
And this is why, in response to Binance’s idea of rolling back Bitcoin—even if only for their users’ benefit—was instantly met with a barrage of criticism from Bitcoin miners and users alike.
Bitcoin was invented, after all, out of disgust for the bailout of US banks in 2008. As far as the users are concerned, no exchange, no matter how big is “too big to fail”.
Bitcoin is in the middle of its first major price run since the end of 2017, when it reached $20,000. Since that time, despite over a year of stagnation, many of the most bullish voices in crypto have repeatedly predicted the price would reach $100,000 by some time this year.
By any metric, the Binance hack should’ve been a catastrophe that killed this bull-run in its infancy; instead, the run is accelerating. Why?
Joe Lubin, cofounder of Ethereum, cries that it’s price manipulation; a quick glance at a price chart comparison between Bitcoin and Ethereum reveals that, while the two are usually correlated, for whatever reason, this time they’re not: In the last two weeks, Bitcoin has surged while Ethereum has climbed only slightly.
Price manipulation would also explain why news of Binance being hacked has had such a small impact on the market, and how it’s possible that the price can climb so quickly even as the number of daily active users has remained relatively constant over the last month.
In 2017, when Jamie Dimon called Bitcoin a fraud, its price tanked; then, he bought it. Years later, insider trading laws still don’t apply in the crypto trading sphere, so traders should be extremely cautious when things don’t add up. Large trade volumes that appear suddenly from one or two mega-sized wallets can have as much of an impact on the price as a million ordinary trades.
If, on the other hand, the price run is in fact a sincere reaction of the market to the new-and-improved mining software, then what we’re seeing is akin to hype: A few weeks of feverish price-pushing as the many possibilities enabled by these new features are gradually explored, followed by a price stabilization at a new, higher level, reflective of Bitcoin’s newer, bigger, and better promises for the future.
Finally, as the miners go back to work on the next updates, the price will more than likely appear to stagnate at this new level yet again, and like a fattened bear in winter, Bitcoin will hibernate, until the world has had time to catch up.