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China’s Crypto Crackdown Continues — Alipay Bans Bitcoin OTC Accounts

The most recent round of China’s crypto crackdown has continued, with the Alipay mobile payment processing service banning accounts that are affiliated with over-the-counter (OTC) Bitcoin trading. This news comes via a report from Beijing News, who broke this news in the early morning on August 24th.

The payment processing service in question is the Hangzhou-based (China) Alipay, which is owned by the multi-national conglomerate that is the similarly-named Alibaba, one of the most influential and valuable companies in the world. According to the aforementioned news report, Alipay will now be putting restrictions, or even outright banning accounts that propagate OTC cryptocurrency trading.

Additionally, to prevent future occurrences of OTC trading on the payment platform, Alipay will reportedly keep a close eye on suspicious accounts, while also installing an inspection system for “key websites and accounts” as CoinTelegraph puts it.

While Alipay may seem like a cumbersome method of cryptocurrency trading, after the Chinese government banned crypto exchanges from providing service to Chinese citizens, committed traders had to get creative, hailing in a short era of back-alley transactions and the like.

Red Li, the co-founder of 8Btc, a popular China-based community of crypto and blockchain enthusiasts, confirmed this restriction, relaying the news on his Twitter account.

Ant Financial, which runs Alipay, see “virtual currency trading” as a large risk to its users, hence why the firm hasn’t made a foray into offering crypto exchange services. Additionally, the report added that the firm has planes to “resolutely” strike down accounts that are suspected for virtual currency-related transactions or business operations.

Along with restricting such accounts, Ant Financial added that it will create a “risk prevention education” module for its users, in a bid to “remind users not to be deceived by various false propaganda, to recognize the risks of virtual currency transactions, and to avoid the possible losses suffered.”

China’s Relentless Crypto Aversion

It has become apparent that this move is just another one of the Chinese government’s attempts to stave off the propagation of cryptocurrencies, which they evidently see as a threat to China’s traditional systems. As reported by Ethereum World News, China’s National Fintech Risk office recently identified 124 cryptocurrency exchange platforms that were still available for Chinese citizens.

As China has banned overseas cryptocurrency exchanges time and time again, the country’s firewall quickly swallowed up access to these sites. Along with banning the aforementioned platforms, the governmental organization also noted that it plans to introduce monitoring systems to ensure no foreign exchanges sneak under China’s ‘great firewall’.

In related news, Chinese technology giant Tencent banned over eight crypto-centric news outlets on its WeChat mobile platform, which has become a primary mode of communication in the Asian region. Citing new governmental regulations, Tencent noted that it banned these accounts due to suspicions of “publishing information related to initial coin offerings (ICOs),” along with spreading crypto-related hype.  Last but not least, Beijing’s Chaoyang district has also revealed that it has banned local hotels, shopping malls and office buildings from hosting crypto-related events.

While one of the world’s largest economies still seems to have an aversion towards cryptocurrencies, governmental organizations have still openly endorsed and financially supported blockchain startups that intend to overhaul China’s legacy systems.

Photo by Jennifer Chen on Unsplash

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Chinese Government Cracks Down On Crypto-Related WeChat Accounts

WeChat Users Bid Farewell To Crypto News Outlets

While China has been a ‘crypto hub’ for the better part of a decade, a recent set of announcements seems to show that the local government has changed its stance to be aversive to any operations related to crypto.

The South China Morning Post (SCMP), a Hong Kong-based news outlet, recently reported that China has cracked down on an array of blockchain and cryptocurrency-related news accounts on WeChat, one of Asia’s most popular mobile applications. According to local media, at least eight crypto-centric news outlets were banned in this move, with some accounts even raising millions of capital for their services.

Although this crackdown has been widely attributed to recently-established regulations from the Cyberspace Administration of China, Tencent, the technology giant behind the WeChat app, issued a statement on the matter. Tencent wrote that the primary reason for the ban was the government’s suspicions of “publishing information related to initial coin offerings (ICOs).” The firm, which is also one of the most valuable companies in the world, also noted that content providers on the platform are adherent to “national interests” and “public orders.”

As WeChat is widely regarded as a ‘one-stop shop’ app for Chinese citizens, such as a ban is a blow to China’s cryptosphere, which has already been in a tumultuous state since China’s apparent ban of exchanges. Such news outlets will now be unable to provide local investors with up-to-date prices, news, and information regarding the nascent industry. The SCMP noted that the blocked WeChat accounts included Huobi News and Jinse Caijing, which are both prominent sources of crypto information in the Asian country.

The Beijing-based Huobi acknowledged the shutdown of its news account, issuing a statement noting that this action is a part of WeChat’s “broad action targeting industrial media.” While the multi-faceted Huobi may be slightly irked by the ban at most, some firms behind the other banned WeChat accounts may not be too lucky. Jingse Caijing, which was founded in 2016 and is now home to 350,000 active visitors, raised more than $1.2 million in a funding round one year ago.

With this crackdown, Jingse Caijing has lost its ability to charge over 12 Ether ($3,500+) for featured articles, with featured posts being the firm’s primary source of revenue, as WeChat access has ground to a halt.

However, some noted that this move was a long time coming, as the government-backed People’s Daily news outlet released a statement in March, that called out cryptocurrency news outlets for allegedly manipulating prices and falsely promoting ICO projects. People’s Daily reporters wrote:

These ‘media’ outlets have made huge fortune in the speculative waves of cryptocurrencies, but due to their nature, it’s doubtful how long their barbaric growth can keep on going.

Along with the social media crackdown, the Chinese government’s Beijing-Chaoyang branch also noted that it has banned local hotels, shopping malls and office buildings from hosting crypto-related events, like conferences and meetings. According to authorities from the Chaoyang district, this move was apparently triggered after a local event that was organized by a banned overseas crypto exchange occurred.

While one of the world’s largest economies still seems to have an aversion towards cryptocurrencies, governmental organizations have openly endorsed and financially supported blockchain startups that intend to overhaul China’s legacy systems.

Photo by Jimmy Chang on Unsplash

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One Million Computers Fall Victim To Chinese Cryptojacking Scheme

China – Legal Daily, a Chinese media news source, recently reported that twenty Chinese suspects have been arrested for apparent ties to an immense cryptojacking campaign. Nine of the suspects are currently under the watchful eye of local authorities, while eleven are on bail.

The news source reported that over one million computers were infected with mining ‘bugs’ in this twenty-person operation.

These computers had reportedly mined over 15 million yuan ($2.25 Million U.S.) worth of cryptocurrencies over the course of this “two-year” illegal operation. According to Legal Daily, the $2.25 million in cryptocurrencies included Decred, Siacoin, and Digibyte, which are all computer minable through easy-to-use software.

An investigation into this group was triggered by a January cybersecurity report from Tencent’s security arm, noting that a ‘Trojan horse’ virus had been found in a video game cheat software. 

Upon further inspection the Tencent security team noticed that the virus had a mining function built-in, allowing for the attacker to take control of an affected machine’s computational power.

The report further noted that the implanted mining software would only operate when CPU utilization of an affected computer is less than 50%, ensuring users don’t notice any substantial performance degradation.

After a police investigation, authorities concluded that the scheme had ties to Dalian Shengping Network Technology, who may have been responsible for developing the cryptojacking software.

In a related swindle, Yang Moubao, who worked at the aforementioned firm, reportedly cloned a Baidu-owned premier video streaming platform and sold fraudulent subscriptions at internet cafes, gaining over 200,000 yuan ($30,000 U.S).

Yang confessed that he was also responsible for distributing free downloadable plug-ins that he distributed online to take control of other computers

This information was exposed after he was arrested at his home on March the 8th.

In all, Yang and his accomplices at Dailan Shengping Network Technology are rumored to have advertised free downloads for up to 3.89 million individual computers but only used one million for mining cryptocurrencies.

It is unclear what awaits the twenty suspects, but authorities made it clear that they have the situation under control.

Growing Cryptojacking Issue 

Cryptojacking, the act of stealing computer resources to mine cryptocurrencies, has become an increasingly apparent problem in the cryptocurrency community.

According to a report from cybersecurity firm McAfee, 2018 Q1 saw cryptojacking cases skyrocket, rising by over 629% alone in just 3 months.

In March, Troy Mursch identified nearly 50,000 websites that had been injected with cryptojacking software. Many of these websites had backdoors that could be utilized to falsely inject scripts into the site, making website visitors susceptible to background mining processes.

However, this has not been only limited to desktops and laptops, as mobile devices have experienced cryptojacking cases as well. Both Google and Apple have had to remove infected applications from their respective app stores after suspicious applications racked up thousands of dollars worth of cryptocurrencies.

Jerome Segura, a security researcher with Malwarebytes gave a comment comparing two prominent cryptocurrency issues, stating:

Ransomware is basically like pointing a gun at you and saying, ‘Hey, pay up or you’re not getting your files back,’ versus cryptojacking you might not even know about it, it’s just going to silently steal your electricity.

He later added that cryptojacking is going to continue to be the preferred activity that cybercriminals will want to enlist, as long of the price of cryptocurrencies stays high.

Title Image Courtesy of Christoph Scholz

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Report: China’s Cryptocurrency Ban Sees Successful Results

China – Late last year as Bitcoin ran up to all-time highs, China’s government imposed a controversial ban on cryptocurrencies. This move caught many off-guard, as China has historically been a country of cryptocurrency development and interest.

Recent data from the People’s Bank of China (PBC) indicate that the unwelcome crackdown was met with widespread success, with the PBC noting that cryptocurrency trading in China has all but gone away.

The Asia Times, a popular Hong Kong-based media source, recently reported that the Chinese yuan (RMB) is now utilized in less than 1% of all Bitcoin exchange trades. This 1% figure is a far cry from just one year ago, where the BTC/RMB pair accounted for over 90% of all global trades before the ban fell into place.

Guo Dazhi, research director at Zhongguancun Internet Finance, discussed his thoughts on the ban with news source GlobalTimes, saying:

This indicates that the policy has been very successful. It is within expectations that the yuan’s share in global Bitcoin transactions would drop after China announced the ban.

The report further notes that Chinese regulators have not thought about lifting the ban on cryptocurrency trading within the near future, citing large financial risks for Chinese investors. 

Chinese media also claims that regulators have shut down 88 cryptocurrency exchange establishments, and 85 ICO projects since the ban occurred. However, some exchanges have escaped the heat, with Binance, OKEx, and Huobi recently establishing operations in more crypto-friendly nations. 

However, these regulatory actions were not enough for Chinese authorities, as regulators utilized the “Great Firewall of China” to block exchanges, cryptocurrency services, and ICO sites that are based overseas. As of the end of May, Chinese authorities had blocked over 110 websites which hold relations to the cryptocurrency industry, including Binance and Huobi.

Zhang Yifeng, a blockchain analyst at Zhongchao Credit Card Industry Development gave insight about the regulatory move, stating:

The timely moves by regulators have effectively fended off the impact of sharp ups and downs in virtual currency prices and led the global regulatory trend.

Blockchain, But No Cryptocurrencies? 

Despite holding negative sentiment towards cryptocurrencies, the Chinese government seems to be in love with the concept of blockchain technologies. In a recent speech, Chinese President Xi Jingping, expressed his admiration for blockchain technology, adamantly stating:

A new generation of technology represented by artificial intelligence, quantum information, mobile communications, internet of things and blockchain is accelerating breakthrough applications.

In May, Huobi announced the creation of a “Creative Blockchain Lab” in China’s Hainan Province. According to the Huobi press release, this $1 billion move was sponsored and planned in collaboration with Xi Jingping, along with Chinese regulators. Huobi noted:

It is a national-level strategy that President Xi Jiping, personally planned, personally deployed, and personally promoted.

This is just one of the many moves that indicate that China is moving towards utilizing blockchain technologies in their traditional systems, but maybe not cryptocurrencies, or at least for now anyway.

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