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Tag: TradeCoinClub

Russians and Koreans are the biggest payers to the global ransomware hackers

Russians and Koreans are the biggest payers to the global ransomware hackers

  

                                     There for the taking, but who's watching?
Users with infected computers in Russia and South Korea are so far the two biggest ransom payers to the hackers who mounted a global ransomware attack, called “Wannacry,” yesterday, according to new data from Chainalysis, a provider of software that works with banks, law enforcement agencies, and bitcoin companies to analyze the blockchain for financial crimes.

All bitcoin transactions are permanently recorded on the blockchain, and anyone can view them. Chainalysis crunches these transactions and assigns them to clusters of “entities,” which could be bitcoin exchanges, wallet providers, or bitcoin miners. The firm found that the hackers, who ask for ransom to be sent to three bitcoin addresses, had received a total of nearly $23,000 so far in dollar terms, converted at the point the transaction was made. The two entities that sent the most money to the hackers were bitcoin exchanges serving the Russian and Korean markets. “If you look at the infection rates, a lot of it is in Russia, so [the data] is complementing that,” says Jonathan Levin, a Chainalysis co-founder. “Given that we know the infections are also in Russia, I would say, it’s Russian users.”

Analysis by information security firm Kaspersky Lab showed Russia had the most infections, although South Korea doesn’t appear among the top countries. Here’s the list of where ransoms originated from via Chainalysis:

Counterparty name Counterparty category US dollar value of bitcoins sent
BTC-e.com exchange $4,270.66
Bithumb.com exchange $2,163.48
Bitstamp.net exchange $2,012.15
Kraken.com exchange $1,917.03
Poloniex.com exchange $1,627.24
Unknown uncategorized $1,526.32
Coinbase.com exchange $1,043.04
CoinPayments.net merchant services $849.30
Unknown uncategorized $774.25
CoinOne.co.kr exchange $684.05
LocalBitcoins.com exchange $670.84
Gemini.com exchange $627.97
MaiCoin.com exchange $627.79
Unknown uncategorized $576.62
CoinJar.com exchange $550.05
BitPanda.com exchange $375.71
Bitfinex.com exchange $313.63
Korbit.co.kr exchange $312.10
Bittrex.com exchange $295.78
Unknown uncategorized $294.16
Unknown uncategorized $253.50
Unknown uncategorized $205.33
BitoEX.com exchange $168.11
Xapo.com hosted wallet $165.39
Circle.com exchange $101.01
Bter.com exchange $91.42
Yunbi.com exchange $60.14
Unknown uncategorized $45.28
Paxful.com exchange $44.24
Huobi.com exchange $43.28
Hashnest.com mining pool $20.88
OKCoin.com exchange $15.07
Unknown uncategorized $14.56
Unknown uncategorized $9.60
HaoBTC.com mining pool $7.21
Unknown uncategorized $5.82
AlphaBay Market Tor market $5.41
Unknown uncategorized $2.80
ANXPro (Payout wallet) uncategorized $2.07
Silk Road Marketplace Tor market $1.85
  Total $22,775.16
Source: Chainalysis

There are a few caveats to the data. Levin points out that the payments attributed to “Tor markets,” the term Chainalysis uses to describe darknet markets, are probably “noise” generated by his analysis, and should be ignored. The low payment amount also suggests that it’s unconnected to the ransomware. Each entity could be using thousands of addresses, and it’s Chainalysis’ job to group them accurately. For instance, Levin says that one exchange, Poloniex, uses 376,000 bitcoin addresses, all of which have been clustered by Chainalysis, allowing correct attribution.

Additionally, just because a payment is from an exchange that serves Korean or Russian customers doesn’t necessarily mean the infected users are indeed in Korea or Russia—although it’s a reasonable inference. Lastly, little is known about BTC-E, the exchange at the top of the list, except that its operators are anonymous, it’s one of the longest running exchanges in bitcoin, and it notoriously doesn’t perform the identity checks that regulated exchanges must comply with, and it deals in the ruble-bitcoin market.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor
Please click either Link to Learn more about Bitcoin.

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Top Safe Bitcoin Wallets

Top Safe Bitcoin Wallets

The only way to properly store your bitcoin wealth is by using a safe wallet solution.

It is hard to quantify what makes one wallet safer than the next, as users have their individual preferences and needs in this regard. However, there are some wallet solutions out there that take keeping funds safe to a whole new level. Keep in mind these wallets are listed in random order.

Electrum

On the software side of things, there are quite a few different bitcoin wallets to choose from. However, one of the primary wallets people use in this regard is Electrum, as it is a lightweight wallet that offers plenty of functionality. Thanks to proprietary — yet decentralized and redundant — servers, synchronizing with the bitcoin blockchain takes mere minutes. Moreover, the wallet offers a cold storage solution, as well as multisig wallet support. 

Trezor

Bitcoin users all over the world are familiar with the Trezor brand, as it is one of the most secure hardware wallets available today. Trezor is the original hardware wallet for bitcoin users and comes at affordable prices. It is also compatible with all major operating systems. Various bitcoin businesses implemented Trezor support, including Bitstamp, Bitwala, and BitPay. It also supports two-factor authentication for additional security.  

 Mycelium

On the mobile front, there is a lot of competition for the crown of being the most secure wallet solutions available today. Mycelium has gotten a lot of support in this regard, as they are considered to be a must-have secure bitcoin storage application. Their HD wallet support, as well as an option to delete the private key from the device and integrate “watch only” accounts make Mycelium one of the top secure mobile bitcoin wallets.

KeepKey

Hardware bitcoin wallets have become quite popular over the past few years. That is only normal, as storing bitcoin in a secure manner becomes more important than ever. Hardware wallets are designed to facilitate secure funds storage, with quite a few companies launching their products in recent years. KeepKey is one of the top solutions in this regard, as the device requires users to manually approve every transaction. Moreover, the device has PIN protection, adding an extra layer of security.

Ledger Nano (S)

The Ledger line of hardware bitcoin wallets can not be ignored. The company prides itself on making affordable yet secure bitcoin wallet solutions. There is no reason to pay hundreds of dollars for a device when the same goal can be achieved with a device costing a fraction of the price. Don’t let the cheap price fool you, though, as every one of Ledger’s devices is more than capable of keeping your wealth safe. All of Ledger’s wallets come in the form of a USB-size, although there are minor differences between each type. The Ledger Nano S is by far the most popular hardware wallet, as it is capable of storing both Bitcoin and Ethereum. Moreover, users can complete wallet actions through the display on the device or by using the browser plugins. An affordable, robust, and secure line of products, that much is certain.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor
Please click either Link to Learn more about Bitcoin.

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Jaff Ransomware Demands a Two Bitcoin Payment to Decrypt Files

Jaff Ransomware Demands a Two Bitcoin Payment to Decrypt Files

Ransomware comes in many different shapes and sizes.

Some malware strains are rather easy to remove free of charge, whereas others can be a real pain in the rear. Jaff, a new type of ransomware, is perhaps one of the most expensive types of malware we have seen in quite some time. It demands a ransom of $3,700 to be paid in Bitcoin, which is a rather steep amount.

Jaff Ransomware Swings For The Fences

It is evident criminals who rely on ransomware distribution are looking to make a lot of money in quick succession. That is much easier said than done, though, as security researchers often come up with free decryption tools to nullify these threats.  However, in the case of Jaff,  there is no free decryption option whatsoever right now. Similarly to virtually any other type of ransomware, the Jaff malware encrypts files and gives them a custom file extension. It appears the files are encrypted using AES, which has become the norm over the past few months. It also appears Jaff shares a lot of similarities with Locky, at least here the payment page is concerned. That is rather interesting, although Jaff demands a much higher amount compared to Locky.

This brings us to what puts Jaff on the radar of security researchers right now. The malware demands victims to pay $3,700 worth of Bitcoin to have the files restored. It is rated unusual for ransomware types to charge such a steep amount, considering most consumers won’t spend that amount of money on recovering their files. Then again, people who are genuinely worried about losing sensitive files may be tricked into paying the ransom in the end. Regarding the distribution of Jaff ransomware, it appears the malware is actively distributed through MALSPAM traffic originating from the Necurs botnet. People who have been following our ransomware coverage may recall the Necurs name, as it is a popular botnet to distribute malware on a rather large scale. Spam email campaigns have been a very popular tool among cybercriminals over the past few years, and it looks like things will not change anytime soon.

To be more specific, the Jaff ransomware is hidden in a malware-laden email attachment that requires users to enable macros in Microsoft Word. Once the user does so, they will download multiple malicious files on their machine, including the Jaff payload itself.  As soon as the download is finished, the files on the computer will be encrypted. Breaking this encryption is impossible right now unless the money is paid. A demand of a $3,700 payment in Bitcoin is rather unusual, to say the least. This aggressive method by the criminals will make their ransomware a type priority for security researchers to decrypt with a free tool, though. It is doubtful anyone would pay 2 Bitcoin to restore file access. It is unclear if files can be restored from a previous backup, though, as most ransomware types often delete shadow volume copies as well.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor
Please click either Link to Learn more about Bitcoin.

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Why Bitcoin’s Price Has Been Surging and Where It Could Go From Here

Why Bitcoin’s Price Has Been Surging and Where It Could Go From Here

  

Bitcoin has shown amazing, and fairly steady, growth over the last year.

A single bitcoin was worth just $455 in May 2016. And even after retrenching slightly from a record Thursday high of over $1,800 per token, it has shown a stunning 286% annual return, based on prices from CoinMarketCap. As with most assets, explaining bitcoin’s bull stampede is more art than science. Bitcoin's price is fundamentally linked to how many people use the system to send money. But it's currently mostly driven by speculators, who trade on their belief that it will become more popular in the future. Positive news on that front has been plentiful in the last three months in particular.

Globally, Bitcoin is being treated with a great deal more respect by regulators. Positive comments about blockchain by Minneapolis Federal Reserve President Neel Kashkari coincided with the latest Bitcoin price surge. Japan approved Bitcoin as a legal method of payment in early April, and Chinese regulators have made progress in squaring Bitcoin usage with that country’s tight capital controls. There have been positive internal indicators, as well. Bitcoin’s major headwind is an ongoing debate over scaling up the system to handle more transactions. While that effort is still basically stalled by bitter infighting, some have seen a positive development in the successful deployment of a solution known as Segregated Witness on the LiteCoin system, which is largely a Bitcoin clone.

When considering further upside on Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, one factor looms above all: cryptocurrency is still essentially off-limits for institutional investors. While venture capitalists have poured more than $1.5 billion into blockchain startups, the tokens themselves don’t meet regulatory standards for more traditional funds. Once something like the Winklevoss twins’ proposed Bitcoin ETF is approved, the pool of potential Bitcoin investors will explode overnight. There are also two very important points of caution. First, Bitcoin is still a risky asset in the short term. Boosters were just as excited when it peaked at over $1,100 in late 2013—and the price then spent years gradually slumping, reaching a low of $200 in mid-2015.

There’s also a serious long-term downside risk to Bitcoin. While the potential of Bitcoin’s underlying blockchain technology is widely acknowledged, Bitcoin itself is now only one of dozens of implementations of the idea. Bitcoin has a big first-mover advantage, but innovators with names like Ripple and Dash have already significantly expanded on its features. Foremost among those innovative competitors is Ethereum, the second-largest cryptocurrency, whose price has also spiked over the last month. Many entrepreneurs building blockchain applications are using Ethereum, so it’s likely to share in—and maybe even cannibalize—Bitcoin’s long-term growth.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor
Please click either Link to Learn more about Bitcoin.

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Update on Blockchain and Beyond: The Future of Distributed Ledgers

Update on Blockchain and Beyond:
The Future of Distributed Ledgers

         inShare

Distributed ledger technology (DLT)

may have started off as the basis for bitcoin, but it already promises to be much more than a cryptocurrency. That’s why treasury and finance professionals need to pay attention, experts said at a panel discussion at Faster Payments 2017, the US conference and exhibition event organised electronic payments association NACHA.

Christopher Mager, CTP, managing director and head of global innovation for BNY Mellon, said that his bank is collaborating with other financial institutions on several proofs of concept, include Utility Settlement Coin, which aims to digitise fiat currencies for exchange on a distributed ledger. BNY also is one of the several banks working with SWIFT on its nostro account reconciliation POC, which is part of the global payments innovation (gpi) initiative,

he said.

“Dubai and Singapore are the two countries where they’ve embraced the technology throughout the whole ecosystem—banking, corporates and the government”

“2016 was a lot of proofs of concept, 2015 was a lot of talk about how blockchain is different from bitcoin. But now we’re in the world of reality,” said James Wallis, vice president, payments industry and blockchain, global industries for IBM. He said IBM and Northern Trust launched in Europe a distributed ledger that services the private equity market. Wallis added that the trade finance community is keenly interested in DLT. “Last I counted there were at least a dozen trade finance initiatives in the world, and at least two of those are looking to go into production this year,” he said.

Beyond process improvement

Microsoft is one organisation that is using DLT for trade finance. However, panellist Peter Hazou, director of business development for Microsoft, is more interested in blockchain’s potential beyond trade finance and payments. “It’s the smart contracts, how it connects to people, how it changes in a transformative way for the better—not just a simple process improvement to do the same old, same old,” he said. “That’s where the thinking has to go.”

Wallis agreed, noting that while there is validity in process improvement, “you’ll see uses for DLT that you can’t even think of today.” However, the success of DLT will hinge on the willingness of the different players in the ecosystem to collaborate. “It involves a level of sharing that hasn’t really existed before,” he said. Collaboration is happening. IBM and SecureKey Technologies have teamed with Canada’s largest banks on a digital identification solution that uses DLT. “The banks are collaborating to share, on a blockchain, data about clients,” Wallis said. “It will enable Scotiabank, for example, to offer a loan much quicker. You apply on your mobile phone, you authorise your other bank to provide information in a very secure way, and you can get the loan approved instantly.”

Interoperability and regulation

For DLT to truly advance, there needs to be interoperability between competitors, Mager noted. Currently, there are a number of digital ledgers that are emerging, such as Hyperledger’s Fabric, R3’s Corda, Ripple, and more. “You’ve got a lot of ledgers out there that don’t talk to each other,” he said. “Until interoperability occurs, or one of them emerges as the leading code base, that’s going to impair the network effect.”

The other missing piece is regulation. Thus far, regulations around blockchain and DLT apply only to digital currencies. Regulators have yet to tackle distributed ledger as a book of record. This creates a legal quandary: Is settlement that happens on a ledger final and legally binding? “That hurdle has to be overcome before you’ll see large scale enterprise applications with a distributed ledger underpinning them,” Mager said.

Once standardization, regulation and interoperability are sorted out, the use cases for distributed ledger technology are potentially endless

Regulators in the United States and the UK have largely taken a wait-and-see approach to blockchain and DLT, given that they don’t want to stifle innovation. However, some governments have been a bit more proactive. “Dubai and Singapore are the two countries where they’ve embraced the technology throughout the whole ecosystem—banking, corporates and the government,” Wallis said. “In Dubai for example, one of the proofs of concept was around trade. It was two banks, an airline, a shipping company and the port authority trying to figure out what a new ecosystem might look like.”

DLT tomorrow

Once standardisation, regulation and interoperability are sorted out, the use cases for DLT are potentially endless. Whereas there will be “low-hanging fruit” like Know Your Customer (KYC) and digital identity management, Mager also sees much more exciting prospects, such as a convergence of technologies. “The Internet of Things and DLT have a lot of potential overlaps,” he said. “Smart contracts and artificial intelligence have a lot of potential overlaps. I think you’re going to see a convergence of these technologies emerge in the coming years.”

Hazou agreed, noting that DLT has hit the collective consciousness. But it’s just one of many technologies. “Advanced analytics, predictive analytics the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence—there are so many profound technologies that are going to interact,” he said. “It’s a matter of how one navigates this brave new world.” “I think that’s a matter of thinking through what the potential use cases are, and experimenting with it.”

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Suddenly, Spotify Goes Blockchain, Aims to Improve Tracking of Royalty Payments

Suddenly,
Spotify Goes Blockchain,
Aims to Improve Tracking of Royalty Payments

  

Spotify, the largest European streaming music platform,

has announced its decision to acquire Blockchain-related startup Media chain. According to Investopedia, the main objective of the acquisition is to improve Spotify’s tracking and processing of royalty payments thanks to the distributed ledger technology.

What’s Media chain?

Media chain has launched in 2016 thanks to seed funding received by Andreessen Horowitz and Union Square Ventures. The New York-based startup created a peer-to-peer database to register, identify and track the online distribution of creative works. This was made possible through Blockchain technology, which works as a timestamp and certification of the ownership of content. Through its new partnership with Spotify, Media chain wants to enhance the ability of musicians to prove ownership over their composed music, in order to also receive payment of royalties.

Royalties payments: who earns them?

This is one of the biggest problems that Spotify currently faces. In the case of independent musicians and labels, understanding who owns the rights to a particular composition is difficult for streaming platforms to determine. In order to solve this issue, Media chain indicates that "a music blockchain would be a single place to publish all information about who made what song, without have to trust a third-party organisation." In assisting artists to receive royalties payments through the use of Blockchain technology, Media chain could help Spotify to obtain a competitive advantage over its competitors, reaching more producers, artists and labels.

Blockchain and music

In addition to the specific case of Media chain and Spotify, Blockchain could revolutionise the music industry. That’s what Benji Rogers, founder of PledgeMusic, had in mind when he decided to create dotBlockchain, a company with a desire to disrupt the music sector thanks to a new media format. In fact, dotBlockchain wants to develop a new media and architecture to benefit musicians, composers, among other artists. This format will be created via an open source protocol and licenses, leveraging the Blockchain in order to have a fair and transparent way for music artists to express their rights and wishes for commercialising their art. Also, it should prove useful in improving the efficiency in which music is delivered worldwide.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Blockchain Can Be China’s Global Tech Breakthrough: Bitbank VP

Blockchain Can Be China's Global
Tech Breakthrough:
Bitbank VP

  

China's appetite for Blockchain technology

is getting bigger and the world needs to be ready for the breakthrough that the country may come up with, says Virgilio Lizardo Jr., vice president at Bitbank Group. Lizardo Jr has been in China for nine years and currently lives in Shenzhen where he handles international business development and other services for companies under Bitbank including BW and Bter. He says it remains to be seen how Blockchain-related developments will translate into successful products or services in domestic markets. “They have a much greater chance of being successful in China because it’s for domestic use,” Lizardo Jr. states.

He adds:

“Shenzhen, where our office is located is poised to be the digital currency experimentation zone and could be an example for other places. The factors for international success goes beyond just this industry, China is yet to develop a globally recognizable brand/product/service but perhaps Blockchain technology could lead to that breakthrough.”

Bitcoin plays a major role

Earlier in the cryptocurrency space, China has been known for its interest mainly in Bitcoin. Now, there is a growing interest from the government, corporate organisations and startups to explore the potentials of the distributed ledger technology. The Blockchain spreading in China is being accompanied by the introduction of more altcoins in the Chinese market. Most of them identify with Blockchain technology though Bitcoin still plays a major role in the crypto landscape in China.

Rise of interest in Ethereum

In the case of Ethereum and Ethereum Classic both of which enjoyed a rise in China lately due to greater Chinese interest in these two coins, Lizardo Jr. said he was not expecting such a dramatic rise. He expects the prices of ETH and ETC to continue rising in the long-term barring any major setback due to the hype and the organisation of the developers/community.

He says: “At this point, it continues to be mostly speculative, though the news of large tech firms starting to use Ethereum for projects could lead to some real world use. Bitcoin will remain the reserve currency for entering the altcoin market not only in China but the world for some time. Though at a website we do offer ETH and ETC/CNY pairs as we are the largest ETH/ETC market by volume, in China, we are seeing a big demand for these two tokens in the last couple months. China does have a very developed altcoin market domestically of projects and altcoins that do not make it to the international markets. Teams from overseas also market their projects for the Chinese market regularly. The desire of young tech-savvy investors and the sheer size of the market makes it that projects can be hugely successful simply in the China market.”

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

How Encrypted Weather Data Could Help Corporate Blockchain Dreams Come True

How Encrypted Weather Data Could Help Corporate Blockchain Dreams Come True

Banks and investors have sunk millions into the idea that blockchain programs called smart contracts can make finance and other industries more efficient.

  

In the era of fake news,

professor and cryptographer Ari Juels is preparing to launch an online service designed to provide the most trustworthy information on the Internet. But Town Crier, scheduled to launch Monday, is for the benefit of machines, not humans. The downside is that a smart contract is only as trustworthy as the data it draws on. JJules a professor at Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute in New York, says that is limiting progress on making the concept practical. Smart contracts can’t simply scrape data from the Web, because existing systems don’t provide a way to verify that the data a contract is acting on hasn’t been tampered with, he says: “Because you don’t have good sources of data, there’s not a lot you can do right now with smart contracts.”

The Town Crier service launching next week is designed to showcase software of the same name that Juels and colleagues at Cornell say offers a solution. Their system pulls in data such as weather reports over an encrypted connection, and repackages it into feeds for use by coders building smart contracts. Town Crier’s feeds wrap data in cryptography that allows outsiders to verify the data’s source and confirm that it hasn’t been altered. Smart contracts are a favourite idea of the banks and venture capitalists that have ploughed millions into blockchain technology, an approach to managing data and money inspired by the digital currency Bitcoin. Town Crier is built to integrate with Ethereum, a cryptocurrency and smart contract platform with a total value of $8.4 billion, which has been endorsed by corporate giants including UBS and Microsoft.

Vitalik Buterin, co-founder of Ethereum, hopes Town Crier can help translate more of the enthusiasm about smart contracts into action. “The lack of data feeds from the outside world is definitely a large impediment, and Town Crier could go far in mitigating this issue,” he says. The Cornell researchers plan to release Town Crier as open-source software for others to use. The demonstration service launching next week will provide feeds of data including stock prices, weather reports, flight information, cryptocurrency exchange rates, and UPS package tracking. Longer term, a commercial version is planned.

Town Crier’s design also allows smart contracts to hide the data they are using for everyone but the parties to the contract. The default on blockchain systems like Ethereum is generally for all transaction data to be visible to all.

Do you think blockchains will really catch on?

David Yermack, chair of the finance department at New York University, says those privacy features could help address another challenge for financial companies interested in blockchains. “Privacy is a huge issue for people looking into distributed-ledger technology,” he says. “The clients, banks, and regulators put a very high premium on secrecy.”

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Blockchain and bitcoin: Trustees urged to adapt to change

Many are still unfamiliar with the concept of bitcoin and blockchain, but experts say the pensions industry must engage with technology and accept change to adapt to an increasingly digital world.Nearly 40 percent of senior executives in the US know little or nothing about blockchain technology, according to a 2016 Deloitte survey.

Change is happening, no matter how uncomfortable human beings are with it

Martin Bartlam, DLA Piper Similarly, PwC’s global fintech report found that 57 percent of respondents, including chief executives and chief investment officers at banks and asset management firms, are unsure about or “unlikely to respond” to blockchain.

What is blockchain?

Blockchain is a digital ledger that can record digital currency transactions publicly. It is the technology behind bitcoin, which is a digital currency that was invented in 2008 involving peer-to-peer payment through digitally signed messages. This 'cryptocurrency' is created and held electronically and is seen as an easier, cheaper and more efficient way of spending money because it removes the need for a middleman, such as a bank or credit card company. The Bank of England defines blockchain as “a technology that allows people who don’t know each other to trust a shared record of events”. It explains that the distributed ledger “is a genuine technological innovation which demonstrates that digital records can be held securely without any central authority”. 

Transactions cannot be deleted or altered, and private blockchains and strong encryption exist to improve security. Nevertheless, the technology is not immune to cyber attacks. Companies using digital currencies, such as Bitfinex, have been targeted by cyber criminals during the past year. In 2016, former minister for welfare reform Lord Freud announced that the Department for Work and Pensions had started a trial of distributed ledger technology to pay welfare benefits, but despite blockchain being described as very secure, the announcement still sparked privacy concerns.

Cybersecurity

Speaking at the Pensions Management Institute’s annual conference on Thursday, Dinis Guarda, founder and chief executive of Humaniq, a company that provides blockchain-based financial services, argued that blockchain is “a revolutionary technology that is replacing the internet as we know it”. Guarda explained that all aspects of the economy, including the pensions industry, are in the process of being “digitalised”, with blockchain usage increasing. However, he also said that despite blockchain technology being particularly safe, cyber security was still an issue.

Andy Agathangelou, founding chair of both the Transparency Task Force and the Technology Task Force, noted that “in many ways, in operation terms, the pensions industry is built on data” so the topics of data integrity and data protection “are fundamental issues for our industry already”. Martin Bartlam, a partner at law firm DLA Piper, said that “initially there was a lot of distrust” when it came to the concept of virtual currency. But over time, regulators and other established industry bodies were getting more involved and starting to realise that because it is a system with a permanent record, blockchain is “a good way of checking what’s actually happening”. Blockchain is “a powerful tool [and] it’s the way people use it that will determine whether we see scams”, he said.

Adapting to change

In terms of advice for pension professionals looking to adapt to an increasingly digitalised world, Hossein Kakavand, chief executive of Luther Systems, a company that leverages blockchain technology to help financial institutions’ transaction management, highlighted the importance of organisations “engaging aggressively in developments in technology”.

Forget about robos and chatbots — a bigger tech wave is breaking 

Forget about robos and chatbots — these are just the froth on the crest of a much bigger wave of technology change sweeping through financial services.While Bartlam argued that engaging with technology is helpful, he also said it was a good idea for industries to generally accept change.“Change is happening, no matter how uncomfortable human beings are with [it], whether it's processing, whether it’s globalisation, whether it’s technology,” he said. He noted that the insurance, banking and pensions sectors, in particular, are likely “to witness a huge amount of change over the next five to 10 years”. Guarda said that “as everything becomes digitalized, there will be more visibility and transparency, and that will be great for all of us”.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

 

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

How to Create SEO Friendly URLs

How to Create SEO Friendly URLs

URLs. They’re one of the most basic elements of SEO. Yet they’re vitally important.

In fact, Backlinko reports that URLs are a significant ranking factor.

More specifically:

  • URL length is listed as #46 in Google’s top 200 ranking factors
  • URL path is listed as #47
  • Keyword in the URL is #51
  • URL string is #52

So when you put it all together, URL optimization is kind of a big deal. And it seems simple enough. Enter a few words into the URL slug, throw in a keyword or two and you’re good. Right? If only it were that easy. In reality, there’s an entire science behind proper URL optimization. But after tons of research and a lot of trial and error on my end, I’ve come up with what I think is a rock solid formula. It covers all of the bases and aims to satisfy both search engine bots and of course human users. In this post, I’m going to explain the science behind creating URLs for maximum SEO as well as the logic behind each tactic. So let’s get to it.

Choose a top level domain

Let’s start from the beginning. There’s an infographic from Search Engine Land that covers the ins and outs of friendly URL  structure. One thing they point out is that using a top level domain (TLD) is usually your best bet. This simply means that it’s ideal to use a “.com” domain rather than “.biz,” “.pro,” “.tel,” etc. Now I’m not saying that you’re doomed if you use anything other than “.com” for your domain. In fact, TLD doesn’t directly impact rankings. But what it does tend to do is increase trust for human users.

And this is huge. When people trust your domain, it’s going to trickle down and have a positive impact on your overall SEO. I realize that making this point doesn’t do you a lot of good if you already have a domain other than “.com.” I also realize that it’s simply not realistic to be able to land your brand name with a “.com” domain (there were over 124 million “.com” domains of 2016), but it’s something to keep in mind if you’re choosing a domain in the future. This post offers some insight on what you can do if the domain name you want is already taken.

HTTPS is ideal

Online security is a huge issue these days. With cyber crime and identity theft on the rise, Internet users want to know that they’re using a secure connection. Just look at how the monetary damage reported by cyber crime has increased from 2001 to 2015.

It’s dramatic.

As a result, I really recommend using HTTPS rather than HTTP. If you’re unfamiliar with the difference, HTTPS stands for “HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure,” which is the secure version of HTTP. This simply means that information on a website is encrypted, which heightens security significantly. Here’s an illustration of the difference between HTTP and HTTPS.

Not only does this keep your visitors at ease, it has actually become a ranking signal. According to Searchmetrics, “HTTPS is becoming more relevant and even a ranking signal for Google. Encryption is primarily important for sites with purchasing processes or sensitive client information to increase trust and conversion rates.” And in my opinion, this is likely to become an even bigger ranking signal in the future.

If your site hasn’t yet received an SSL certificate, I suggest taking care of this ASAP. This is especially true if you actually process customer orders and capture sensitive financial information online. You can learn about the details of this process here. There are several companies you can choose from to buy an SSL certificate. One of the top providers is Namecheap. First, you choose a plan to buy. Then choose the number of years you want your SSL certificate to last.

Then confirm your order.

 

Once it’s activated, you’ll need to install your SSL certificate and update your site to use HTTPS. This is fairly technical, but you can find pretty much everything you need from this resource. It will walk you through step by step.

Length

Now that we’ve gotten the more technical aspects of URL optimization out of the way, let’s get down to the nuts and bolts.The element I’d like to address first is length, and it’s a biggie.But when you really break it all down, deciding on the length of a URL is quite simple.The shorter the better.According to Backlinko, “Shorter URLs tend to rank better than long URLs.”To prove this, they performed some extensive testing on one million Google search results.Here’s a graph that shows how Google rankings decline as URL length gets longer.

It’s pretty cut and dry.

Notice how the number one position has URLs with roughly 50 characters. But once you move down to the number 10 spot, the average URL has 62 characters. So somewhere around 50 — 60 characters is a pretty good number to shoot for. If you go way beyond (say 80+ characters), this is likely to have a negative impact on your ranking.

How many words should you use?

I personally try to shoot for around three to five words per URL because it’s simple and gives users a pretty clear idea of what a particular piece of content is all about. Here are a couple of examples from NeilPatel.com

See what I mean?

I keep the number of words in these URLs to a minimum, but you can still get a sense of what you can expect to find by clicking on those links. According to an interview with Matt Cutts, this is a pretty good formula to stick with. Here’s a snippet from the interview. The bottom line is that you want to condense the essence of your content into roughly three to five words and try to use a max of 60 characters. If you consistently implement this formula, you should be good to go.

Readability

Like I said earlier, there’s a correlation between user-friendliness and overall SEO.They’re forever intertwined. And this is most definitely true when it comes to URL optimization.Or as Moz puts it, “A well-crafted URL provides both humans and search engines with an easy-to-understand indication of what the destination page will be about.”This brings me to my next point.You should strive to structure your URLs for maximum readability.While I realize that this is an inherently subjective term, I think that this “scale of readability” illustration explains it quite well.

Notice how the first example is short, to the point, and easy to understand? Without even clicking on the link, it’s clear that it contains images of adorable puppies that are confused by a rainbow. So it probably contains something like this.

But notice how the examples get increasingly more confusing. The third example gives you absolutely no idea of what you’ll get by clicking on the link. In fact, it could quite possibly be a nefarious link that will infect your computer with a terrible virus. But let me elaborate just a bit more on the importance of readability. Say that someone links to one of your posts.

While they may initially replace the naked URL with their own anchor text like “cute puppies confused by a rainbow,” there’s a good chance that the URL will be copied into other sources somewhere down the line.At some point, it will probably be ppostedas the original naked URL.If it’s easily readable with http://mydomain.com/puppies-adorably-confused-by-rainbow, it will still be easy to understand regardless.

But if it’s ugly and long winded like http://cdn07.mydomain.cc/9rf7e2/i?HXID+iaj34089jgt30hgqa3&qry=f#loaddelay, no one is going to have a friggin clue what it’s about. I dare you to click on that link. So the point here is that simplicity and clarity are what you want to aim for when creating URLs. If it can be easily understood with a quick glance, you should be good to go. Fortunately, you’re a human, so it shouldn’t be all that difficult to structure your URLs for other humans.

Use hyphens, not underscores

When it comes to putting spaces between words, you have two main choices. You can use either hyphens or underscores. So what’s the best choice? That’s a no-brainer. Always use hyphens. Here’s advice straight from the horse’s mouth. If this is what Google prefers, you can rest assured that it’s the best option.

Use lowercase letters

Okay, this is probably obvious to at least 90 percent of you. But I thought that I should mention it just to be clear. Always stick with lowercase letters. Why? Using uppercase letters can potentially lead to redirects or 404 errors on certain servers. So just don’t do it.

Stop words

Here’s a topic that’s received a substantial amount of debate. To use stop words or not use stop words? That is the question. First of all, what exactly are stop words? They’re words like:

  • a, an, or, but

These are basically “filler” words that connect the essential words that are the backbone of your URL. For a long time, stop words were viewed by many SEOs as an unforgivable sin that simply could not be forgiven. But you know what? It’s really not that big of a deal. In fact, it’s unlikely that you’re going to be penalized for using them. However, they’re not going to do you any favors either. Stop words are basically ignored by search engines and don’t carry any real weight as a ranking factor. So here’s what I recommend when approaching stop words.

Don’t use them if you can help it.

If your URL structure still makes sense and is readable, including stop words is only going to make your URL longer and more complicated. But if you feel like you need to include a stop word for your URL to make sense and more readable then go ahead and include it. The key word here is “readable.” If it makes it easier for people to read, then that’s usually your best option. Just use your best judgment when deciding which route to go.

Use “safe” characters

And here’s another point I need to make. It has to do with using “safe” characters in your URL rather than “unsafe” characters. The easiest way for me to explain the difference between the two is to simply show you a graph from Perishable Press. It’s pretty simple. You’re totally fine using safe characters in your URL. But you definitely want to stay away from unsafe characters. The reason is because they can create issues for browsers, which creates usability issues. Not good.

Use a max of two folders per URL

If you’re unsure of what I mean by “folders,” they’re simply the slashes you see between text in a URL. Like most other aspects of URL optimization, it’s best to keep it simple with the number of folders you use in your URLs.

In other words, less is best.

According to Moz, “It’s not that the slashes (aka folders) will necessarily harm performance, but it can create a perception of site depth for both engines and users, as well as making edits to the URL string considerably more complex (at least, in most CMS’ protocols). Users can still tell what the content is about with the second, restructured URL, but it contains fewer folders. And if you really want to get specific in terms of the number of folders to use, stick with one or two. This makes your URL way more eye appealing, and it’s easier for search engines to decipher the meaning.

Target 1-2 keywords

Ah…keywords. You should have known that this topic would surface at some point in this post. So what’s the best way to handle keywords when creating URLs? Should you still include them? If so, how many can you include before it’s seen as spam and you get penalized?

Well here’s my take on things.

First of all, you should definitely still include keywords in your URL. Although this practice is unlikely to skyrocket you to the number one spot, it should give your ranking a slight boost. And from a user standpoint, including keywords serves a very important purpose. It enables the URL to serve as the anchor text when your content is copied without including anchor text to clarify. This way people can instantly tell what your content is about at a quick glance regardless of where they find the link. Even without anchor text, it’s good to go. This takes the guesswork out of it and will encourage more people to inevitably click on your content.

But here’s the deal.

You by no means want to shamelessly stuff keywords into your URL. This should go without saying. That would be a recipe for disaster. But exactly how many keywords should you target? Is there a specific number? According to Brian Dean of Backlinko and John Lincoln, CEO of Ignite Visibility, you should aim for one or two keywords per. Adding more and “Google will not give you as much credit.” And let’s be honest. Keyword stuffing in any way is never a good thing. You wouldn’t use keyword stuffing in your content, so why would you use it in your URL? In terms of positioning, it’s generally regarded as best practices to include your target keywords located toward the beginning of your URL.

Avoid keyword repetition

Here’s one last little detail. Never repeat your keywords (or any words for that matter) in a URL.

Here’s why.

Repetition is pointless because Google will in no way reward you for using a keyword that appears more than once (what is it 2005?). In fact, this could potentially be seen as a form of manipulation, which obviously isn’t good. Moving beyond that, it’s probably going to make your content look spammy, or at the very least, diminish your credibility in the eyes of search engine users. It just looks ridiculous to have the keywords “canoe puppies” listed back to back between two folders. So stay away from this tactic at all costs.

Conclusion

While it may seem easy enough on paper, the URL optimization process can be quite tricky. There are several variables that must be addressed when structuring URLs to appease both search engines and human users. It starts with the more technical aspects like choosing a top level domain and getting an SSL certificate so users know that your site is safe. You should then work your way down to finding the optimal number of characters and words to ensure that your URL has “human-readability.” There’s also the issue of proper formatting so to not cause problems for browsers.

And of course, you want to make sure that you’re correctly targeting your keywords without teetering on the edge of anything black hat. So yeah, it’s a little complicated. But when you break things down step by step, URL optimization becomes much more manageable. And when you really analyze it, the process largely boils down to a lot of common sense principles that can be encapsulated into three main words. Short, simple, and readable. If you create URLs with these objectives in mind, you should be golden. Can you think of any other URL optimization strategies?

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

 

 

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member