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Binance DEX Will Geoblock Users From 29 Countries, Including the US

The decentralized exchange developed by Binance warns that it will block access from 29 countries.

The decentralized exchange (DEX) developed by major cryptocurrency exchange Binance will block access to users based in 29 countries. The DEX informs potential users of the restriction via a message that appears when accessing the platform from one of the regions.

The message appearing on the platform states:

“It seems you are accessing www.binance.org from an IP address belonging to one of the following countries:

USA, Albania, Belarus, Bosnia, Burma, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Cote D’Ivoire, the Crimea region of Ukraine, Croatia, Cuba, Herzegovina, Iran, Iraq, Kosovo, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Macedonia, Moldova, Serbia, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen, or Zimbabwe.”

Pop-up when accessing the platform from within the U.S.

Pop-up when accessing the platform from within the U.S. | Source: binance.org

The pop-up also warns about how trading and accessing the wallet interface through the website will be blocked for users with IP addresses from the aforementioned countries.

Lastly, the message also links to a list of wallets supporting the Binance Chain (BNB) mainnet, suggesting them as alternatives for holding and managing the assets.

Binance has not replied to Cointelegraph’s request for comment on the move at press time.

Many in the crypto community characterized the finding as an indication that the DEX is in fact not decentralized. A Twitter user well known among crypto enthusiasts, Whale Panda, commented:

“Reminder that it was never a DEX so stop calling it a DEX. It’s just a word they used to pump $BNB, it was never meant to be decentralized.”

A Steemit post dedicated to the topic links to a list of suggested crypto asset trading platforms that do not require users to go through Know Your Customer procedures.

As Cointelegraph reported at the time, Binance launched its decentralized trading platform earlier than planned, in the second half of April.

Yesterday, June 1, Cointelegraph reported that the largest portion of traffic directed at crypto exchanges globally comes from the U.S., followed by Japan.

At the end of last year, Time reported that bitcoin (BTC) has a substantial liberating potential thanks, among other things, to the inability of authorities to control access to it.

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Murder, Censorship and Syria: Crypto and the Future of Uprisings

One technologist’s imprisonment and execution in Syria exemplifies the parallel use of technology for both liberation and repression – and why bitcoin and other censorship resistant tech is needed in such areas. Meet Bassel Khartabil.

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Banks and Cryptocurrencies Global Evaluation: The Middle East

Arab markets were flooded with new investors in April after an Islamic scholar announced cryptocurrency is halal under Sharia law. The announcement settled contradicting statements issued by several other Islamic experts, but there are still conflicting interpretations of Sharia’s allowance of virtual currencies among Muslim leaders.  

The mufti’s announcement opened crypto markets to potentially 1.6 billion new customers, but it is certain that Middle Eastern governments will play a central role in the development of the crypto industry in order to ensure individuals and institutions adhere to Sharia law.

Sharia law places strict guidelines on economic activity whereby value must be attributed to real, physical assets. The highly contested religious law that governs the Islamic finance sector also prohibits market speculation and collection of interest on loans.

Muslim entrepreneurs, investors, and governments are intent on being leaders in the competitive global marketplace. As many advocate to replace the U.S. dollar as the global reserve currency, Bitcoin and nationalized cryptocurrencies may finally offer Muslim countries economic stability and leeway in Western politics.

It’s an unlikely coincidence that the Islamic Council on Sharia Finance broadly legalized gold ownership for investments around the same time that OPEC and Middle Eastern countries began moving away from the U.S. PetroDollar system in 2016.

Iran, which no longer recognizes or uses the U.S. dollar, and Turkey both announced plans to release government issued digital currencies following the pre-sale of Venezuela’s national, oil-backed currency Petro, earlier this year.

In fact, President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela called on all 14 OPEC nations to develop a platform for trading oil-backed cryptocurrencies. Just as Venezuela launched its own cryptocurrency to circumvent U.S. sanctions, other oil-producing countries have hinted at abandoning the PetroDollar system that has been operating in the Middle East for over 40 years — threatening the global supremacy of the U.S. dollar.

The following assessment of cryptocurrency regulation in the Middle East is a part of a larger series of pieces evaluating regulation of the flourishing global fintech industry. Part one of the series looks at activity in Asian hotspots like Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan, and how governments are facilitating or hindering growth. Part two examines crypto regulation and the critical attitudes held by many European leaders. Part three analyzes the varying attitudes of Western leaders on the disruptive new technology, and how regulatory agencies in the Americas are preparing for mainstream adoption of cryptocurrency. Part four assess how African countries are embracing the economically- and politically-liberating force of cryptocurrency and Blockchain.

The list below is based on thorough news research, but should in no way be considered complete. If you have more detailed information on banks and the crypto relationship in your country, we encourage you to share it in the comment section.

The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Cointelegraph.com. Every investment and trading move involves risk, and you should conduct your own research when making a decision.

LEGEND

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia, a key player in the U.S. PetroDollar system, has continuously sold off its foreign exchange reserves ever since the price of oil plummeted in 2014. Saudi regulators are taking a close look at cryptocurrencies, but have yet to propose regulations. Many say an outright ban is unlikely.

The Saudi Ministry of Communications and Information Technology announced the agency completed a three-day “Blockchain bootcamp” in May as part of its plan to create a “digital environment” to leverage the kingdom’s untapped Information and Communications Technology (ICT) potential. The ministry partnered with Blockchain technology company ConsenSys for the event, and focused on Ethereum smart contracts and building decentralized applications.

The Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority also partnered with Ripple in February and launched a

pilot program that will provide cross-border payment technology to banks in the kingdom. The program is the first of its kind to be coordinated by a central bank, and will be accompanied by a regulatory sandbox, program management and training.

Oman

The Omani Blockchain Symposium, held at the end of last year, was the country’s largest business gathering, with nearly every government cabinet member in attendance, as well as 700 attendees from the private sector.

The Central Bank of Oman, as well as the Central Monetary authority, promoted the successful event and indicated that the government will aid in providing the technological infrastructure to promote the implementation of blockchain technology in Oman.

The Blockchain Solutions and Services Company (BSS), a government entity and initiative of the Blockchain Symposium, is reportedly collaborating with the Oman Banks Association, other government agencies and local businesses to develop regulations for the country’s digital transformation.

BankDhofar is the country’s first bank to join BankChain, an international banking community dedicated to the research and development of blockchain solutions. The initiative is part of BankDhofar’s plans to digitize a range of banking services to ensure accuracy, efficiency, and security to customers.

Iran

In January 2017, the governor of Iran’s central bank announced the U.S. dollar would no longer be used in the country in response to President Trump’s temporary travel ban. The country’s first crypto exchange, BTXCapital, stated that Iran had the potential to become a major market in the future due to the exit of the American dollar — although purchasing Bitcoin in the country remained notably difficult at the time.

The Iranian government seemingly held positive views toward Bitcoin when the Iranian cyberspace authority — the High Council of Cyberspace — first announced plans last year to collaborate with the Central Bank of Iran to publish a report on cryptocurrencies. But the central bank has since issued a statement claiming it never recognized Bitcoin as a legal tender, and banned domestic banks and other financial institutions from dealing with cryptocurrencies in April.

However, the Iranian Information and Communications Technology minister stated the ban on cryptocurrencies does not preclude the central bank from developing a domestic cryptocurrency, and that an experimental model of a state-issued digital currency was ready.

The ban on cryptocurrencies preceded U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran in May, and is seen as an attempt to protect the country’s struggling financial institutions and depreciating national currency. Iran’s state-issued digital currency parallels Venezuela’s Petro, which is used to circumvent international sanctions.

Turkey

Turkish authorities have sent mixed signals to the cryptocurrency industry in the past, but are following the lead of other Middle Eastern countries with plans to release a national cryptocurrency.

The Turkish government took a harsh stance on Bitcoin last November, when lawmakers of the Directorate of Religious Affairs stated cryptocurrencies were “not compatible” with Islam because of the speculative nature of the market and lack of government control. 

But in February, a report by the deputy chair of Turkey’s Nationalist Movement Party not only proposed regulations for the market, but also mentioned the possibility of a national Bitcoin, called the TurkCoin.

The Turkish Bitcoin exchange BTCTurk, which opened in 2013, terminated operations in 2016 after local banks abruptly discontinued services and closed accounts associated with the exchange. BTCTurk has since reopened, along with the Turkish exchange Paribu.com.

However, domestic exchanges are limited to Bitcoin and Ether, and customers are forced to use English exchanges to access altcoins. BTCTurk’s history is exemplary of the varying responses and divisions between financial institutions and the government’s acceptance of Bitcoin. Although cryptocurrencies are far from mainstream adoption, a number of Turkish businesses and real estate companies accept Bitcoin as payment.

On a separate note, various blockchain projects in Turkey have garnered interest from individuals who wish to see cryptocurrency become more accessible. The Blockchain and Bitcoin Conference held in Istanbul in March gathered global leaders to discuss the development and legislative regulation of the sector.

Iraq

The Central Bank of Iraq prevents the use and promotion of Bitcoin, according to a statement by an economic expert last December. Furthermore, those found using Bitcoin may be prosecuted under pre-existing Anti-Money Laundering (AML) laws.

Russia’s Federal Security Service claims to have prevented 25 of 29 terrorist attacks coordinated from Syria and Iraq in 2017, and that “terrorists love cryptocurrency.” The Russian authorities allegedly discovered 100 cases where virtual money was used to financed illicit activities. However, less than 1% of Bitcoin-related transactions between 2013 and 2016 were discovered to be funding illegal activities, according to research by the Center on Sanctions and Illegal Finance (CSIF).

Afghanistan

Code to Inspire, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing Afghan women’s economic and social standing in the country’s tech industry, is providing resources to women to learn how to code and design mobile apps and software. CIT’s mission will allow women to have a career in IT, participate in the global economy, and become financially independent by using Bitcoin.

However, the lack of domestic exchanges in Afghanistan marks a common issue with Bitcoin’s inability to reach remote, underdeveloped nations. The lack of technological infrastructure, local exchanges and stable wifi connections makes trading and using Bitcoin in Afghanistan difficult.

United Arab Emirates

The Prime Minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai announced the launch of the UAE Blockchain Strategy 2021 in April, with ambitious plans to be the world’s first blockchain-powered government. The UAE plan will focus on citizen and resident happiness, government efficiency, legislation and global entrepreneurship.

The strategy aims to have 50% of federal transactions being conducted using blockchain technology by 2021, which includes moving to paperless documentation of visa applications, bill payments and license renewals with blockchain technology, which could potentially save $11 billion annually.

The most recent development of the Emirates’ blockchain strategy is Dubai’s partnership with IBM to create a blockchain business registry to ensure businesses operate under its jurisdiction. The government announced the initiative in May, and says it will streamline the process of business operations, digitized documentation of activity and assurance of regulatory compliance.

The technology arm of the government, Smart Dubai, is tasked with facilitating digital implementation in the city and conducts research to determine services that could benefit from blockchain technology. The government entity, which is involved in various initiatives, will propose necessary legislation to ensure Dubai’s “smart transformation,” and aid mega projects developing in the city.

The Dubai Land Department (DLD) launched a blockchain-powered system to record real estate contracts, secure financial transactions and connect tenants and landowners with property-related billers, such as electrical and telecommunications utilities. The government agency, which is tasked with overseeing real estate purchases and approving contracts, says the initiative is exemplary of the country’s blockchain strategy to consolidate government services on a single platform.

In contrast to the government’s embrace of blockchain, the legality of using Bitcoin is not clear because pre-existing regulations do not recognize virtual currencies. However, the government and central bank of the UAE announced earlier this year that regulatory framework for Bitcoin usability and exchanges is coming in the near future.

The central bank previously rejected proposals for licensing trading exchanges, and the UAE Securities and Commodities Authority voiced concern over the high risk of ICOs. But after the announcement of future regulations for the crypto industry, the government and central bank seem adamant on federal oversight to ensure cryptocurrency doesn’t move to underground markets.

Meanwhile, investors in Dubai and the UAE continue to buy, sell and trade cryptocurrencies, despite the lack of local exchanges.

The supposed first-ever Sharia-compliant cryptocurrency, Onegram, launched in Dubai in May 2017 and is backed by actual gold reserves. Because each unit of value is backed by physical gold, speculation and market volatility are tightly controlled.

Notably, a gold investment and trading firm in Dubai is the first company licensed to store virtual currency in the Middle East. The company established a “cold storage vault” for clients to store Bitcoin and Ethereum. The secure vault holds cryptocurrencies in a physical form and are detached from networks in order to address the concerns investors have over online wallet-hacking and malware.

A Dubai-based entrepreneur, Com Mirza, launched the Islam-friendly “Bitcoin of the Middle East,” or Habibi Coin in late 2017. The asset-backed and interest-free Habibi Coin is a monumental advancement for Muslims who previously had difficulty buying homes and investing in other assets. Com Mirza claims to be planning a $100 million USD ICO, and will allow investors to purchase property directly on the Habibi Coin platform.

Kuwait

Kuwait’s Ministry of Finance banned the central bank and financial institutions from trading and dealing with Bitcoin in late 2017, due to market volatility and consumer risk. Other legal authorities in Kuwait indicate that online trading is prohibited by the country’s e-commerce laws, and Kuwaiti law does not recognize Bitcoin as a currency.

Qatar

The central bank of Qatar issued a warning to banks in the country in February, urging others to deny accounts to crypto exchanges and traders, and that failure to comply with the request may result in legal recourse under pre-existing law.

Syria

Cryptocurrency is providing relief to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, where the United Nations World Food Program is using the Ethereum Blockchain to transfer vouchers to refugees. The successful project sent funds to buy food to 10,000 refugees and the U.N. plans to extend the program to 100,000 people in Jordan as well.

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Monero Mining Malware Attack Linked to Egyptian Telecom Giant

Unidentified entities at a telecom company connected to the Egyptian government are using malware to trick Middle Eastern Web users into unwittingly mining monero, according to a new report.

Internet users in Turkey and Syria who downloaded Windows applications such as Avast Antivirus, CCleaner, Opera, or 7-Zip were unknowingly redirected to malicious versions with malware, the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab claimed in a study published Friday.

The report – which calls this scheme “AdHose – explained:

“We found that a series of middleboxes on Türk Telekom’s network were being used to redirect hundreds of users attempting to download certain legitimate programs to versions of those programs bundled with spyware….We found similar middleboxes at a Telecom Egypt demarcation point. The middleboxes were being used to redirect users across dozens of ISPs to affiliate ads and browser cryptocurrency mining scripts.”

Telecom Egypt is a major state-owned telecommunications company, and the middleboxes in question include Sandvine PacketLogic devices, which have been associated with government surveillance in Turkey and Syria. The researchers’ regional network sweep in January found 5,700 devices affected by AdHose.

When reached for comment, Sandvine pushed back against the report’s findings, telling CoinDesk:

“Based on a preliminary review of the report, certain Citizen Lab allegations are technically inaccurate and intentionally misleading….We have never had, directly or indirectly, any commercial or technology relationship with any known malware vendors, and our products do not and cannot inject malicious software. While our products include a redirection feature, HTTP redirection is a commodity-like technology that is commonly included in many types of technology products.”

The spokesperson also said that an investigation into the allegations is being undertaken because the company is “deeply committed to ethical technology development.”

The idea of cryptocurrency-fueled government spyware may seem far-fetched. However, researchers involved with the Tor Project’s Open Observatory of Network Interference noted a similar malware epidemic – minus the cryptocurrency mining element – in 2016. Tor researchers found the Telecom Egypt-owned internet provider TE Data, which controls the majority of Egyptian internet bandwidth, facilitated a man-in-the-middle attack with both malware and affiliate advertising.

Egyptian flag and bitcoin image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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US ISIS Supporter Caught Sending $150k In Laundered Crypto To Syria

Long Island, New York: a woman is facing up to 110 years in jail after trying to send $150,000 in Bitcoin and altcoins to ISIS.

The New York Post reported how Zoobia Shahnaz fooled banks into giving her loans and credit cards, which she then used to purchase cryptocurrencies. The loan Shahnaz secured amounted to $22,500, while several credit cards contributed to a further $62,000 in cryptocurrency sent abroad to support the terrorist organization.

Shahnaz, a US citizen, previously worked as a lab technician in a Manhattan hospital. Last year she traveled to Jordan to work with the Syrian American Medical Society as a volunteer medic in Syrian refugee camps where, according to court documents, ISIS had “significant influence.”

In July of this year, the ISIS supporter was stopped and questioned in JFK Airport, apparently on her way to Syria and prevented from boarding. She was then arrested this Wednesday and charged with bank fraud and multiple counts of money laundering, Acting​ ​US Attorney Bridget Rohde said in a statement from the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Thursday.

The DOJ outlined Shahnaz’s activities as follows:

“…The defendant defrauded numerous financial institutions and obtained over $85,000 in illicit proceeds, which she converted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. She then laundered and transferred the funds out of the country to support the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham [ISIS]”

The same statement claims that Shahnaz was prevented from accomplishing her goals in supporting ISIS, though to what extent remains unclear. In the statement, the FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney triumphantly stated:

“The FBI New York Joint Terrorism Task Force kept this woman from her dangerous and potentially deadly goal. We will do all we can to stop the next person hoping to do the same.” 

According to the statement, if convicted, Shahnaz faces a maximum of 30 years for the bank fraud charge and 20 years on each money laundering count.

Crypto’s PR woes

The events are a blow to Bitcoin proponents, who have been trying to defend the cryptocurrency’s reputation from its birth. Bitcoin skeptics regularly claim that the cryptocurrency enables illicit activities, including money laundering and support of terrorism.

In terms of terrorism, analysts have found that cryptocurrency does not play a major role in funding terrorist organizations. However, Shahnaz’s case, though isolated, certainly works against cryptocurrency’s reputation.

Following the attacks in Europe this Summer, the European Union is seeking to understand the extent to which crypto is implicated in financing terrorist groups, and potentially to decrease the anonymity of cryptocurrency transactions as much as possible.

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Radical Academy: Amir Taaki's New Hacker Team Is Spreading Bitcoin in Syria

Lugging an AK-47, fighting ISIS in Syria – Amir Taaki has seen some shit.

But, through it all, the hacker – best known for writing crypto code in abandoned London flats and creating one of the earliest dark markets powered by bitcoin – has kept the technology at the forefront of his mind. Now, emerging from his latest chaotic period, he’s promoting the idea that the cryptocurrency needs to be taken back from central banks, governments and other powers that be.

In his first interview about a new unnamed project – which he simply calls “the academy” – Taaki laid out his plan to convert an entire region in northern Syria to a bitcoin-based economy.

While Taaki expects the project to take nearly 20 years to implement, he’s completed the first step, recruiting a team of five “revolutionary hackers,” who he describes as committed to ensuring bitcoin doesn’t fall victim to the same fates as other once-revolutionary technology movements.

He told CoinDesk:

“Bitcoin is now in that crucial balance where it can either find itself, like the other technology movements that have come before it, confined to irrelevance, or people can start to gather together to try to really, truly think about, on a social level, what bitcoin is really about.”

The idea for the academy came from Taaki’s months on the front lines, fighting with a group of revolutionaries — the Rojava Kurds — who believe in direct democracy with little to no government. Financially cut off by embargoes against Syria and facing an inflating Syrian lira ($1 is worth over 500 lira), Taaki began to imagine how the cryptocurrency he had previously worked with could be used to connect the Rojava people in entirely new ways.

Following a period he described as being dedicated to study (after his time in the Middle East, he spent about 10 months in England on house arrest), Taaki drew up a two-year plan for an entity based in Greece that was part hacker collective, part social engineering experiment and part school.

Now with a small team assembled to work toward that vision, Taaki said his next step will be to expand it to as many as 20 individuals within the next eight months.

As part of the early stage work, the academy intends to organize a series of educational events to lay the foundation for a “large-scale payment network” powered not by central banks or even the internet, but with a combination of Wi-Fi-enabled ESP 12 modules and counterfeit-proof paper wallets, which he hopes the academy will be able to develop.

But while this might all sound radical, Taaki argues it’s actually the normal, everyday people that are living a lie.

“What’s happened in recent years is technology has lost that big vision that it had before, and it has just sunk into now a lot of people escaping into a kind of dreamworld,” he said. “Bitcoin really comes at the end point, the tail end of that bigger political movement of the hackers, [but] even bitcoin is experiencing a lot of problems with a lack of vision.”

A new kind of business

Core to the academy’s ethos is a synthesis of various existing technology movements, including the free-software movement, the crypto-anarchist movement, the Anonymous movement and the pirate movement.

But while the radical nature of Taaki’s different projects, this one being no exception, could seem anti-business in its calls for individual empowerment, Taaki is actually neither full-on iconoclast nor rabid anti-capitalist.

For instance, crucial to a bitcoin-powered economy is the idea of open-source software, which powers not only all public blockchains, but also most permissioned blockchains too.

He describes business-led contributions made to the open source community, such as IBM’s Fabric and Intel’s Sawtooth – both part of the Hyperledger blockchain consortium now – as “necessary for the success of free software and open source.”

Central banks, though, he does have a beef with.

In fact, Taaki is skeptical that central bank interest in the technology is anything more than a distraction from bitcoin’s potential to empower individuals, but understands they could offer stiff competition for his vision of large-scale adoption and day-to-day use of bitcoin.

“We need to re-situate the economy back to something that’s connected to life and humanity,” he said. “And to people’s personal sense of fulfillment, and bitcoin … is a big tool that we use to challenge the power of central banks.”

The roadshow

While challenging central banks is a ballsy move, Taaki is currently undertaking a roadshow of sorts in search of financial sponsors, partner organizations, more “revolutionary hackers” and an actual location within Greece for his academy.

Most recently, the roadshow took him to a stage at the Breaking Bitcoin conference in France, where he revealed for the first time, what the academy is all about.

During that talk, he said he wants to make bitcoin the “national currency of Rojava,” complete with a series of exchange shops where local bitcoin traders can buy vouchers for any number of products.

The next stop for Taaki is to address the attendees at the M-0 conference in Zug, Switzerland, next month. Hosted by the ethereum-based Melonport asset management platform, the conference is geared toward portfolio managers, investors and lawyers looking to save costs by conducting trades on a blockchain.

For a man who both embraces the power of business to help make his ideas a reality and has in a sense turned his back on traditional finance, such a venue is perhaps both fitting and alien to the programmer.

“It’s not for money that I work,” he emphasized, concluding:

“And the people that I surround myself with as well, they should be driven by working on their ideas, not for material gain in this life – because they want to leave something behind, put their image into the world, their ideas, their spirit.”

Photo courtesy of Amir Taaki 

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is an independent media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. Interested in offering your expertise or insights to our reporting? Contact us at [email protected].