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Exchange Outages Thwart Cryptocurrency Traders, Coinbase, CBOE

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December 12, 2017 9:55 PM

While Ether, Litecoin, and bitcoin reach all-time highs, the popularity of exchanges offering trading platforms for these cryptocurrencies has also surged.

However, rather than rise to the demand, many exchanges have struggled to meet it, leaving investors to muddle through issues like high-latency trades, if not outright exchange closure. At time of press, Coinbase users are barred from settling transactions of Ether or Litecoin until further notice; both of these options have been suspended amid a major outage, according to the exchange‘s status page. While Coinbase might be unable to manage its Ether and Litecoin orders, the same cannot be said for the blockchains behind these cryptocurrencies, which have continued to forge onward.

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Degraded performance has also been reported on the status page of Bitfinex, following reports from the company’s official Twitter acount that a « heavy DDoS » affected its API.

It is unclear how the ongoing latency during spikes of investor interest will affect day-to-day trading volumes on the exchange, but the DDoS attacks on Kraken and Poloniex are still fresh in the community’s collective memory.

Major cryptocurrency exchange Gemini has also recently experienced crashes. On November 29, 2017, Ether briefly rose to $513. However, users who tried to access Gemini received a « bad gateway: 504 » error. Gemini acknowledged the issues and worked to resolve the problem, but many investors were left unable to adjust their positions in the marketplace during what might have proven to be crucial moments on an exchange that is supposed to be available 24 hours a day.

Cryptocurrency exchanges aren’t alone; the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) recently opened the doors to contracts for bitcoin futures and experienced an immediate crash of its front-end interface. Again, it was a case in which consumer demand resulted in high traffic that the platform was simply not ready to handle. Better testing might have avoided the system crash altogether, but CBOE claimed that the delays caused by technical difficulties had « no impact on trading activity. »

Outages like the ones that affect exchanges during times of high volatility might give the false impression to onlookers that blockchains are unable to meet the demand of consumer interest, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Volatility is not what causes an exchange to shut down; in actuality, the centralized systems that exchanges rely upon to manage their API and order books are more likely at fault.

Why are these services failing to scale to the demand of consumers? Unlike the scalability solutions currently in development for blockchain platforms, the technology that exchanges could use to avoid outages already exists. DDoS attacks and known sources of bad traffic can be identified and rejected by countermeasures such as signature-based firewalls and routers. In the case of high traffic, the simple answer is to add more servers with practical load balancing to ensure that traffic doesn’t create a systemic failure.

Exchanges shoulder the responsibility of scaling out to meet the demand of users, and the technology is already out there to do it. When the marketplace cuts users off due to volatility, it causes undue disruption (not the kind preferred by the ecosystem). High volatility means that a trader must be able to act fast or else miss out on a possibly lucrative opportunity. Exchanges exist to facilitate that function of trading, and should thus invest in a backend that is capable of mitigating issues that result from DDoS attacks or otherwise high traffic. Perhaps users ought to redouble their scalability demands of both the blockchains from which cryptocurrencies arise and the exchanges upon which they trade.

Jeremy Nation is a writer living in Los Angeles with interests in technology, human rights, and cuisine. He is a full time staff writer for ETHNews and holds value in Ether.

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