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Bitfinex chapter, quick preview: an attempt to explain WTF. Doesn't include latest developments. Please nitpick.
submitted by dgerard to Buttcoin [link] [comments]
Currently trying to do a non-shit cover for the book, which is actually a huge amount of work given I have no artistic talent whatsoever (though I'm OK at graphic design).
So instead of doing that, here's what I have so far on a current rich seam of comedy gold!
Please look over this and flag any
inaccuracies or unclear bits. What they did is convoluted and confusing, and a good example of why bankruptcy laws exist, so we need to maximise clarity.
The latest developments are not included, except the redemption. But OH BOY WILL SAID DETAILS BE FUN! Bitfinex: software competence turns out not to be optional
If you’re not interested in mining or selling something to get bitcoins, exchanges unfortunately haven’t improved much since Mt. Gox.
Bitfinex is one of the closer things Bitcoin has, or had, to a reputable exchange. Advocates liked and trusted it and enjoyed using it – it has margin trading and other fancy features – and recommended it to others.
Its software turned out to be made entirely of copy-and-pasted cheese and string that nobody at all knew how to fix. This is quite typical of Bitcoin-related code and systems, as if financial software and systems had never happened.
Bitfinex was based on the codebase from defunct exchange Bitcoinica, which was founded by sixteen-year-old Bitcointalk user “Zhoutong” and shut down after being hacked in 2012. One of Bitfinex's early developers described what the system was like when he had been working on it:
It has proved impossible to cleanly modularize and upgrade zhoutong’s spaghetti code. (Or if it is possible, Bitfinex technical team doesn’t know how to proceed.) In the current system, everything is entangled. There is no clean separation of concerns. They inherited this steaming shitpile of a codebase and they're stuck with it. A Bitfinex representative responded stating that “a grand total of 0 lines from Bitcoinica's code exist on Bitfinex” (the site moved at least partially to the AlphaPoint platform in 2015), but the poster asked him to explain, if Bitfinex had an all-new codebase, how they had accurately reproduced bugs that dated back to Bitcoinica.
Their legacy data model, as implemented in their current system is insane. The system was designed by a 16 year old FFS! Everything is ad hoc, there is no specification, there was zero documentation, there is minimal accounting for edge cases, exception handling was tacked on as an afterthought. There was no thinking things through. Everything is ad-hoc! Therefore it kinda works except when it doesn’t!
The software problems were glossed over for years, because day traders are otherwise known as compulsive gamblers, and cryptocurrency day traders are the worst. I don’t often use the word “degenerate,” but if I did, they’re who I’d apply it to: reduced to a lizard brain, typing and clicking obsessively and watching for a number to change and provide a hit to the pleasure centre, all other mental and bodily functions atrophied. They make foreign exchange day traders look sober, considered and balanced.
On 12 August 2016, nearly 120,000 BTC (then around US$60 million) was stolen from Bitfinex customer accounts. The accounts were secured with multiple signatures, including from third party agency Bitgo, but the hacker seemed to know Bitfinex’s systems and even overrode Bitfinex’s transaction limits. On many accounts, two of the three signatures were Bitfinex, and Bitgo routinely allowed all requests from Bitfinex because there were so many.
Usually a theft of this magnitude heralds an exchange disappearing or shutting up shop with apologies, or the regulators noticing their existence and swooping in. In this case, as the supplier of
gambling trading facilities not available elsewhere, Bitfinex felt there was sufficient demand for their services that a drastic action would be considered acceptable to their users. To wit: a 36% “haircut” for all customers. Depositors who had been hacked would be compensated with money from depositors who hadn’t.
You might think that compensating your customers using money from other customers, while the managers or owners don’t take a hit in any way, would be grossly illegal in any reasonable financial system. Particularly as bankruptcies usually go creditors, then depositors, and equity holders last. But welcome to Bitcoin.
Why on earth did the users put up with this? Secondly, because this was claimed to be the haircut they’d take if Bitfinex were to liquidate. (No, Bitfinex didn't show their working.) But firstly, because they were obsessive gamblers, desperate for more access to their strip mall casino. Bitfinex promptly went back up to No. 1 on the Bitcoin exchange volume charts, because Bitcoiners never learn.
Bitfinex didn’t want its users to feel they’d been left high and dry. So it offered them Bitfinex tokens (BFX) for their losses, saying (though not guaranteeing) that they’d totally come through at some later date on these IOUs and reimburse the holders with their face value:
The token is a notional credit, is dependent on the Bitfinex Group’s recovery of Losses, and is subordinated to any claims against the Bitfinex Group not related to the Losses. Meanwhile, you could trade these tokens – trading away your right to reimbursement if the stolen coins were recovered – and use them as collateral for financed trades! Only on Bitfinex, of course:
The token and your rights pursuant thereto may not be assigned except with notice to, and the prior consent of, the Bitfinex Group, on terms to be determined by the Bitfinex Group. You might think this would constitute offering an unregistered security, but welcome to Bitcoin. The price for BFX dropped below its $1 face value even before release, opening at $0.80 and ending the day at $0.32.
Bitfinex redeemed about 1% of the BFX in early September. As it happened, they had enabled margin trading on BFX one day before, and the price went up from $0.40 to $0.56 just before the announcement. Speculation was that they had paid for the 1% redemption using insider margin trading on the BFX itself, thus looking good for free, but I’m sure it was all just pure coincidence.
Bitfinex was getting their customers coming and going, and keeping them coming and going. Around the time of the 1% redemption, 30% of trading on Bitfinex was BFX, which they collected trading fees on. Furthermore, the BFX tokens kept their customers on Bitfinex in the hope of a payout, rather than just cashing out and never coming back.
In October, they came up with another layer on the scheme: the Recovery Right Token (RRT), for everyone who had converted their BFX for further gambling. Should any of the stolen coins ever be recovered, Bitfinex would first pay back the BFX holders who had not converted their BFX to something else, then pay back RRT holders with the remainder. That’s a made-up token on a made-up token on money they would normally have had to pay back.
Convoluted arrangements like this are part of why bankruptcy laws, let alone financial trading regulations, exist: so that creditors and depositors get paid first and fairly in a clear and open manner, rather than having what they are owed obscured in fast-talking flimflam.
In the meantime, Bitfinex set a financial and security audit in motion. Not by any such tawdry profession as actual accountants; they used “Ledger Labs Inc., a top blockchain forensics and technology firm,” which happens to be run by Vitalik Buterin, creator of altcoin Ethereum (of which more later).
They also posted an open letter to the hacker, seeking “a mutually agreeable arrangement in exchange for an enormous bug bounty”, i.e., if only they would explain how they’d hacked Bitfinex: “Our interest here is not to accuse, blame or make demands, but rather to discuss an arrangement that we think you will find interesting.”
It was entirely unclear to any observer what possible arrangement would be more interesting to the thief than “I have all your bitcoins now.” The stolen bitcoins are slowly being sold off through other exchanges. This is very like a bank accepting dye-marked notes known to have been stolen from another bank and deciding they don’t care. At least Bitfinex will never have to cash in those RRTs.
In April 2017, Bitfinex announced they would finally redeem 100% of the BFX tokens for their $1.00 face value! This involves paying back the dollar value of the stolen bitcoins at the time of the theft – i.e., about half what it was by April. They also shut down all margin positions on BFX, putting users with insufficient collateral into debt to them (on a margin position on their own debt).
The founder of Bitfinex, Raphael Nicolle, has never seemed to appreciate the problem financial regulators tend to have with schemes that pay early investors using money from later investors. He enthusiastically backed the Pirateat40 Ponzi – though at least he later apologised for that one – and came up with a high-yield scheme of his own:
So I'm thinking of the following plan: when I need more coins than I have to fill an order, I will ask everyone that previously “registered” with me to lend me some btc. After 7 days, I will return all of it, principal + 2% interests. For you to be contacted, you would have to post here or in PM to say you might lend me bitcoins, and approx. how many you'd be willing to lend me. Nicolle has not been seen online since the 120,000 BTC hack.
The Bitfinex hack does answer one common question about Bitcoin:
“If you're so down on Bitcoin, why don't you short it?”
1 elux. Comment on “[Daily Discussion] Sunday, October 04, 2015”. Reddit /bitcoinmarkets, 4 October 2015.
2 Bitfinex. “BFX Token Terms”. August 2016.
3 e.g., 7a11l409b1d3c65. "Buttfinex pays back 1% of their debt - Butters cheer, not realizing that they have been scammed again". Reddit /buttcoin, September 2016.
4 Zane Tackett. “Bitfinex: Update Regarding Security Audit, Financial Audit, And More”. Reddit /bitcoinmarkets, 17 August 2016.
5 Giancarlo Devasini. “Message to the individual responsible for the Bitfinex security incident of August 2, 2016”. Bitfinex blog, 21 October 2016.
6 Andrew Quentson. “Bitfinex’s Hacked Bitcoins Are on the Move; 5% Recovery Bounty Offered”. CryptoCoinsNews, 27 January 2017.
7 “100% Redemption of Outstanding BFX Tokens”. Bitfinex, 3 April 2017.
8 unclescrooge. “[shame thread]The sorry and thank you Pirateat40 thread”. Bitcointalk.org Bitcoin Forum > Economy > Marketplace > Lending > Long-term offers, 17 August 2012.
9 unclescrooge. "Unclescrooge 1-week deposit program at 2%/week". Bitcointalk.org Bitcoin Forum > Economy > Marketplace > Lending > Long-term offers, 13 September 2012.
10 Andrew Quentson. “Bitfinex’s Founder Seemingly Tried to Start a Ponzi Scheme”. Cryptocoins News, 8 June 2016. hai
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