Bitcoin goes to pieces as network reaches capacity

The digital payment network is in trouble, Google wants you to pay for groceries with your face and the Pentagon is launching its first-ever bug bounty program. It’s been a weird and wonderful week in IT. Read all about it in our weekly expertIP technology roundup.


Bitcoin, the digital payment system once lauded as an alternative to conventional banking, had a pretty tough time of it this week. The network appeared to have reached its capacity, generally accepted to be seven transactions per second, meaning that transactions across the world took far longer than usual as they queued up to be processed.

The network is coded to take an average of 10 minutes to confirm each transaction. That grew to 43 minutes this week, and at least one online shop that previously accepted the currency was dropping out, citing a lack of reliability.

One of bitcoin’s biggest problems has been the use of its network for things other than financial transactions. Many startups have been ‘colouring’ bitcoin transactions to make them represent other things, such as property, or digital tokens for use with other applications.

This is the latest blow for the network, which in December lost one of its key developers, Mike Hearn. He said the bitcoin experiment had failed in a blunt blog post explaining his departure.

Pay with a smile

While bitcoin struggled, Google released its own experimental payments application. The Hands Free app runs on iOS and Android, and lets you pay for items at stores without taking your phone out of your pocket. It uses Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and location services to work out whether you’re near a participating retailer. When you want to pay, you ask to pay with Google, and the clerk visually confirms your identity.

The project, only available in the San Francisco Bay Area right now, echoes the ‘selfie pay’ application demoed by MasterCard last week. This one is designed to complement Android Pay, Google’s existing mobile app, which uses NFC so that users can pay by tapping their phones against a reader.

Military: ‘Help us find our bugs’

The Pentagon is upping the ante with its cyber-security efforts, launching a bug bounty program that it hopes will help identify loopholes in its systems.

In what the U.S. Department of Defense says is the first such program in the history of the federal government, security researchers will be asked to look over the department’s public web pages, searching out potential attack points.

However, participants will be far more restricted than those in other bug bounty programs. They won’t be able to launch actual attacks and won’t be invited to comb through classified networks for potential security problems. They will also be forced to undergo a background check. So, the Hack The Pentagon initiative is a kind of ‘bug bounty lite.’ But participants could be eligible for financial rewards and other recognition, the department said.

Best of expertIP

Nothing encourages a company to tighten its belt more than falling revenues. That seems to be the case with the oil and gas industry, according to Jared Lindzon’s blog post this week on the sector’s adoption of cloud technology. When oil was $100 a barrel, cost savings may have seemed less important. Now that it’s hovering around $30, producers and distributors of black gold have to find cost efficiencies somewhere, and the IT department is ripe for transformation.

Oil and gas companies are adopting cloud in greater numbers, Lindzon said. Midstream companies are driven by a need to increase their productivity and optimize their processes. Downstream, application and IT modernization are top priorities, followed by cloud adoption.

Fossil fuel extraction is a particularly sensitive business, so security is a primary concern. Consequently, many of them are beginning with private or hybrid cloud projects, involving non-core applications. The hope for these companies is that they emerge from this depressed period leaner and meaner.

Image courtesy of: Bitcoin

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