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2014年3月 3日 (月)

ビットコイン 仮想通貨の危うさが見えた

The Yomiuri Shimbun March 02, 2014
Bitcoin exchange collapse highlights virtual currency’s lack of protection
ビットコイン 仮想通貨の危うさが見えた(3月2日付・読売社説)

Risks involving the bitcoin virtual currency, which is traded on the Internet but lacks state-backed credibility, has been thrown into the spotlight.

Mt. Gox, the operator of a major bitcoin exchange based in Tokyo, has gone bankrupt.

Almost all bitcoins belonging to Mt. Gox’s customers are presumed to have been fraudulently withdrawn by some unknown person or persons, resulting in an excess of liabilities over assets, the exchange said. The damage is said to total about 850,000 bitcoins (equivalent to about ¥11.4 billion), including Mt. Gox’s own store of the virtual currency.

We are astounded that such a huge sum of bitcoins has vanished like a puff of smoke.

The exchange operator said a hacker or hackers exploited vulnerabilities in the firm’s software system. It said there is a great possibility the bitcoins were stolen.

Mt. Gox’s explanations are highly suspicious, such as its argument that as much as ¥2.8 billion in cash deposited by its customers has also disappeared. Thorough investigations must be carried out to clarify what happened.

Bitcoins are useful as they can be transacted freely around the world via the Internet, and are not subject to control by any country. However, unlike ordinary currency, bitcoins are unprotected because they are not regulated by any monetary authority. It seems that no measures can be taken that would help the firm’s customers recover their money.

Even in the United States, where the use of bitcoins has been rapidly spreading, Federal Reserve Board Chairwoman Janet Yellen said in testimony before the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday, “This is a payment innovation that’s taking place entirely outside the banking industry.”

She said the Fed lacks the ability to supervise and regulate exchanges between bitcoins and banks as “there is no intersection at all, in any way.”

Act responsibly amid risk

The value of bitcoins soared sharply last year, with the outstanding balance at one time exceeding an equivalent of ¥1 trillion in the global virtual currency community.

With increasing fears over possible erratic fluctuations of bitcoins, along with warnings from analysts pointing to potential money-laundering and other criminal uses of virtual currency, the Bank of Japan has been researching and investigating bitcoin exchange services.

Most victims of the bitcoin scandal are believed to be non-Japanese, but as the website of the Tokyo-based bitcoin exchange operator is at the center of the trouble, both the government and the central bank will probably have to deal with the issue in earnest.

Finance Minister Taro Aso, who is also in charge of financial services, said Friday, “I was thinking it [Mt. Gox] would collapse eventually...but it came earlier than I thought, and we will take prompt [countermeasures].” The government should waste no time in preventing a recurrence of bitcoin irregularities, and regulate the virtual currency in close cooperation with other countries concerned.

Despite the collapse of the major bitcoin exchange, transactions using the digital currency are continuing on the Internet. This is largely because bitcoins allow users to make remittances globally for small fees.

There are fears, however, that other malicious hackers are waiting in the wings to find the next bitcoin target. Bitcoin exchange services operators are strongly urged to take stringent steps to guard against unauthorized access to their computer systems.

Bitcoin users, for their part, should be aware that the virtual currency has no guarantee and protection based on public credibility, so they should act responsibly.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 2, 2014)
(2014年3月2日01時33分  読売新聞)


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