Blockchain & Cryptocurrency , Next-Generation Technologies & Secure Development

Keybase Nixes Stellar Airdrop After Spam, Fake Accounts

Volume of Fake Accounts Beyond What Could Be Filtered
Keybase Nixes Stellar Airdrop After Spam, Fake Accounts
Keybase is ending a cryptocurrency distribution after an influx of fake accounts and spam.

Encrypted chat and messaging application Keybase has found out what happens when you wrap a cryptocurrency giveaway into your service. In short: Everyone comes out the woodwork to try to get a slice of the pie.

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Keybase says it will stop early a program that distributed units of the Stellar cryptocurrency – dubbed lumens - to its users due to an influx of spammers and fraudulent accounts.

“Starting in the last week or so, crappy fake accounts were beginning to come in, far beyond the capacity of Keybase or SDF [Stellar Development Foundation] to filter,” Keybase says. “It's not in the Stellar network's interest to reward those people; it is also not in Keybase's interest to have them as Keybase users.”

In cryptocurrency parlance, those programs are known as “airdrops.” Giving away small amounts of cryptocurrency has been a strategy to get people interested and familiar with the technology.

Max Krohn

Bitcoin had many faucets, including one built around 2010 by a platform developer where someone could get five bitcoins, which was worth just next to nothing at that time. Five bitcoins today would be worth more than $35,000.

Max Krohn, Keybase’s cofounder who was also a cofounder of OkCupid, tells Information Security Media Group: “Yes, we always thought spam was one of the risks. We work very hard behind the scenes to clean out bots and spam, and are constantly retooling as we better understand the adversary."

Krohn says despite the early end to the airdrop, it did drive interest in both Keybase and Stellar, which was one of the aims. But eventually “we just got to a point where the returns were diminishing,” he says.

Payments Integration

Keybase is kind of a Swiss Army knife for encrypted messaging, storage and using public key cryptography to verify one’s identity across internet accounts.

Users can upload their own PGP keys, verify that they control a certain domain name as well as other accounts such as Twitter, Reddit and GitHub. Keybase doesn’t have the user numbers of other encrypted messaging service, but it has growing following, especially among the more technically astute.

Two years ago, Keybased announced iwould integrate Stellar into the application. Stellar is a cryptocurrency that uses validator nodes and a consensus protocol rather than the proof-of-work model that Bitcoin uses. That means no mining and transactions that complete in seconds rather than minutes.

"Starting in the last week or so, crappy fake accounts were beginning to come in, far beyond the capacity of Keybase or SDF [Stellar Development Foundation] to filter. It's not in the Stellar network's interest to reward those people; it is also not in Keybase's interest to have them as Keybase users."

The Stellar Development Foundation was co-founded by Jed McCaleb, one of the original founders of another cryptocurrency Ripple as well as one of the most popular yet now defunct bitcoin exchanges, Tokyo-based Mt. Gox. Another Stellar co-founder is David Mazières, a professor of computer science at Stanford who helped developed the bcrypt algorithm, the gold standard for hashing passwords.

Cryptocurrency projects have run into a variety of problems, from regulation to lack of adoption to prolific scams and security issues. In the latest development, Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency project is on hold while the social media giant deals with a range of regulatory inquiries (see: Facebook's Libra Cryptocurrency Prompts Privacy Backlash).

Stellar has been aiming to be a platform for cross-border settlements between banks, and it has a big-name partner: IBM. IBM uses Stellar’s protocol and blockchain for its World Wire settlement and clearing system.

Spam-Fighting Tools

Keybase started creating Stellar wallets for new users in May, and existing Keybase users could initiate one. The keys to a Stellar wallet sit in the background, and users can flick lumens to each other using just usernames.

It planned to distribute 2 billion lumens to Keybase users, but now that’s going to be halted after the final distribution of 100 million lumens this week. All told, the airdrop included about 300 million Lumens. As of Monday, one lumen is worth about five cents according to CoinMarketCap.

The airdrop attracted an influx of new Keybase users, but not necessarily the kind it wanted. Keybase said on Dec. 4 it would introduce new tools, including the ability to block and report spammers.

Just a few days later, Ars Technica published a detailed post on how those lack of controls and a cryptocurrency giveaway dovetailed into what amounted to a terrible experience for some users.

Keybase says it has also now excised 100,000 bogus accounts. The last lumen pool “will be divided equally along 282,000 mostly real and living, or at least undead, human people.”

About the Author

Jeremy Kirk

Jeremy Kirk

Executive Editor, Security and Technology, ISMG

Kirk was executive editor for security and technology for Information Security Media Group. Reporting from Sydney, Australia, he created "The Ransomware Files" podcast, which tells the harrowing stories of IT pros who have fought back against ransomware.

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