Created in April 2014, the privacy coin Monero (XMR) enables untraceable, unlinkable, private, and analysis resistant transactions. The cryptocurrency is down 78% from the all-time high of nearly $500, established in December 2017. The market cap currently stands at US$1.91 billion, ranking XMR 14th on the Brave New Coin market cap table, with US$172 million in trading volume over the past 24 hours.
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The default privacy features used in XMR leverage Multilayered Linkable Spontaneous Anonymous Group signatures (MLSAG), ring confidential transactions (RCT), and stealth addresses. Other coins with the optional ability to send private transactions include Zcash ([ZEC](https://bravenewcoin.com/data-and-charts/assets/ZEC/price)), DASH ([DASH](https://bravenewcoin.com/data-and-charts/assets/DASH/price)), GRIN ([GRIN](https://bravenewcoin.com/data-and-charts/assets/GRIN/price)), and PIVX ([PIVX](https://bravenewcoin.com/data-and-charts/assets/PIVX/price)), which use Zero-Knowledge proofs or CoinJoin.
A quick comparison between coins with privacy capabilities shows that XMR leads in market cap, daily fees, and GitHub commits, holding second place in all other categories with available data. Both XMR and GRIN obscure the blockchain transaction values and addresses used.
MLSAG signatures, as used by Shen Noether’s RCT, are based on Gregory Maxwell’s Confidential Transactions, and Nicolas van Saberhagen’s Ring Signatures. These digital signatures allow any member of a group to produce a signature on behalf of the group, without revealing the individual signer’s identity.
RCT was initially implemented on XMR in January 2017 and improves upon ring signatures by allowing hidden transaction amounts, origins, and destinations with reasonable efficiency and verifiably trustless coin generation. A stealth address feature gives additional transaction privacy by allowing for single-use addresses, which only reveal where a payment was sent to the sender and receiver. A multi-signature wallet function in the native XMR wallet was also implemented in April 2018.
A drawback of a hidden ledger is the inability to audit the chain to determine if extra coins have been minted. In July 2019, HackerOne revealed several vulnerabilities, including the ability to send counterfeit XMR to an exchange wallet. The report stated, “by mining a specially crafted block that still passes daemon verification, an attacker can create a miner transaction that appears to the wallet to include a sum of XMR picked by the attacker…this can be exploited to steal money from exchanges.”
The bug did not affect on-chain XMR values and the vulnerability was patched months before the HackerOne report. ZEC had a similar but worse on-chain minting problem with an inflation bug that went without a fix for eight months.
The transactional privacy features used in XMR have also attracted increased mining malware and ransomware operators over the past few years. A report released in January 2019 found that nearly 5% of all XMR in existence was created by crypto-mining malware.
There have been several malware variants affecting different operating systems. KingMiner, targeting Windows servers, likely accounted for an 86% increase in crypto-jacking throughout Q2 2018, as reported by McAfee labs. Linux.BtcMine.174, which targeted old Linux operating systems, was discovered in November 2018. Mining malware affecting cloud providers using Linux was found in January 2019 by Palo Alto Networks Unit 42. The Ukraine government was also affected by the crypto jacker Minergate.
Trend Micro has also reported a significant uptick in XMR-related mining malware since late 2018. This included two mining malware variants affecting Windows servers, RADMIN and MIMIKATZ, and Linux malware Coinminer.Linux.MALXMR.UWEIU which eliminated any competing malware on the infected machine. The security analysts also detected a URL that was spreading a botnet with an XMR miner bundled with a Perl-based backdoor component. The Perl-based backdoor component is capable of launching distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, allowing the cybercriminals to monetize their botnet through cryptocurrency mining and by offering DDoS-for-hire services. Most of the infection attempts thus far have occurred in China.
In January, a threat actor named Vivin was found to have made thousands of dollars using crypto-mining malware. Cisco Talos also recently uncovered an XMR botnet called “Prometei” which uses 15 executable modules and asymmetric encryption. Earlier this month, an Argentine telecom was hit with a US$7.5 million XMR ransom request. ZDNet reported Sodinokibi was potentially behind the attack which deployed ransomware to 18,000 workstations across the company.
In August, Guardicore Labs identified a botnet called FritzForg which targets governments, banks, medical centers, telecommunications offices, and educational institutions. The malware installs an XMR mining app called XMRig after gaining access to servers. Another cybersecurity researcher, Mitiga, revealed an XMR mining infection in Amazon Web Service virtual machines. The total scope of both infections is not yet known.
In response to the persistent and ongoing use of malicious software, the XMR community created a website to help users affected by these problems, including information for diagnosing and removing the malicious software. This month, Los Alamos National Laboratory also announced an AI-based system to detect crypto-mining malware focused on infected supercomputers and other important infrastructure globally.
Ongoing concerns regarding governmental attempts to declare a ban on XMR use remain strong. Japanese and U.S. governments have expressed interest in “legislative or regulatory actions” to prevent the use of privacy-focused cryptocurrencies, such as XMR and ZEC, for illicit purposes. UpBit and OKEx Korea delisted privacy coins in September 2019 and Bithumb delisted XMR pairs in June 2020.
In late 2018, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) blacklisted two specific Bitcoin addresses for the first time, both of which had been used for ransomware. In early 2019, OFAC blacklisted 10 BTC addresses and one LTC address connected to narco-trafficking. Earlier this year, several more BTC addresses were added to the OFAC list. These blacklisting procedures decrease coin fungibility and increase coin surveillance, both of which are not possible with XMR.
Riccardo Spagni, a member of Monero’s core developer team, has expressed his opinion that the U.S. is unlikely to declare privacy coins illegal. Spagni has stated that privacy coins will remain open to U.S. users as long as The Onion Router (TOR) remains open. He has also suggested that Zcash, which is managed by a U.S. company, is much more likely to be targeted by U.S. regulators.
On the network side, the XMR community has taken an aggressive approach to regain Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) resistance. Beginning in late 2017, the XMR hash rate began to increase substantially, suggesting ASIC mining. This meant that CPUs and GPUs could no longer efficiently mine XMR due to ASIC competition. The increased use of ASICs on any chain can mean increased network centralization as less efficient hardware, like GPUs and CPUs, become unprofitable to use, allowing those with more resources to buy more ASICs.
The XMR Proof-of-Work (PoW) algorithm, CryptoNight, had been scheduled for slight changes through the use of periodic hard forks, every six months, which would have ideally decreased the use of ASICs on the chain. In an aggressive attempt to remove ASICs from the chain, the XMR community implemented a new PoW consensus algorithm, RandomX, via hard fork in late November 2019. The new algorithm gives CPU mining a competitive advantage over both GPUs and ASICs.
Two further changes included; the removal of long payment IDs, where transactions require at least two outputs, and a ten-block lock time for incoming transactions. The goal of these changes is to improve privacy for the users and the network.
Since the hard fork and new consensus algorithm, the hash rate has hit a new all-time high. However, a CryptoNight hash is not equivalent to a Random X hash, so these cannot be compared directly. An increase in the hash rate since the hard fork does suggest increased mining interest on the chain. The recent temporary spike in hash rate may represent botnet or cloud mining activity.
Since the November 2019 hard fork, the hash rate appears to have increased in centralization based on hash rate distribution between each pool. Two pools currently control 58% of the hash rate on the network. Over time, this distribution will likely even out as more and more pools and users switch to mining equipment advantageous for RandomX.
Just over 96% of the 18.4 million XMR to exist by May 2022 have now been mined. XMR has a two-minute targeted block time with a 2.09% annual inflation (purple line, chart below), which is among the lowest of all coins. When compared to the stepwise disinflationary curve which occurs after each Bitcoin block reward halving (green line, chart below), XMR has a smoother emission curve until the block reward hits 0.3 XMR per minute, where it will remain indefinitely. This is known as tail emission and ensures a block reward in perpetuity, regardless of transaction fees. The XMR total supply (blue line, chart below) is currently slightly less than BTC’s total supply (red line, chart below)
Transactions per day (line, chart below) on the Monero network have continued to increase since the November hard fork, reaching new all-time highs earlier this week. Peaks in mining difficulty (fill, chart below) since January 2018 have preceded spikes in transactions per day, suggesting that mining activity may be a cause for this transaction spike. As mining malware activity or new ASICs come on or offline, mining difficulty can vary wildly.
XMR historically led the pack in regards to average transaction fees (red, chart below). XMR transaction fees are currently US$0.037, higher than DASH, ZEC, DCR, and GRIN, but lower than PIVX. XMR has also historically had more transactions per day than ZEC, GRIN, or PIVX, but fewer than DASH (not shown).
In October 2018, XMR completed a hard fork to implement Bulletproofs, which reduced transaction sizes by 80% and immediately brought average transaction fees down to US$0.020. The average daily block size is currently higher than DASH, ZEC, DCR, and PIVX, and has also decreased significantly since the addition of Bulletproofs (bottom chart, below).
Turning to developer activity, XMR currently has 18 repos on GitHub. In total, over 200 developers have contributed over 5,000 commits in the past year across all repos. Most of these commits have occurred on the main XMR repo (shown below). Monero v0.16.0.3 was released earlier this year with minor bug fixes and improvements.
Most coins use the developer community of GitHub. Files are saved in folders called "repositories," or "repos." Changes to these files are recorded with "commits," which save a record of what changes were made, when, and by who. Although commits represent quantity and not necessarily quality, a higher number of commits can signify higher dev activity and interest.
Source: GitHub – monero
Source: GitHub – monero-gui
Worldwide Google Trends’ interest regarding the term "Monero" remained sharply down over the course of 2018 and is currently sitting near multi-year lows. A slow rise in searches for "Monero” preceded the bull run in Q4 2017, likely signaling a large swath of new market participants at that time. A 2015 study found a strong correlation between the google trends data and bitcoin price, while a 2017 study concluded that when the U.S. Google "Bitcoin" searches increase dramatically, Bitcoin price drops.
A potential roadmap for future price action can be found using Exponential Moving Averages, Volume Profile Visible Range, the Relative Strength Index, and the Ichimoku Cloud. Further background information on the technical analysis discussed below can be found here.
On the daily chart for the XMR/USD market, the 50-day exponential moving average (EMA) and 200-day EMAs have crossed several times over the past 18 months. Currently, the cross is bullish with the spot price sitting above both EMAs. Downside support for the current bull trend sits at the; yearly pivot at US$70, 200-day EMA at US$76, and psychological level at US$100
The spot price is currently wedged between two large volume nodes on Volume Profile Visible Range (VPVR), US$85-US$97 and US$115-US$125. Despite the current bullish trend, the spot price may continue to consolidate between these two high volume areas until a final decision for the trend is made. Additional upside resistance, based on the yearly pivot, sits at US$150.
Further, long/short open interest on Bitfinex (top panel, chart below) is currently 60% long, with long positions increasing over the past week. Additionally, there is currently a growing bearish divergence with a higher high in price and a lower high in RSI. The divergence may cancel with further higher highs in price.
Turning to the Ichimoku Cloud, four metrics are used to determine if a trend exists; the current price in relation to the Cloud, the color of the Cloud (red for bearish, green for bullish), the Tenkan (T) and Kijun (K) cross, and the Lagging Span. The best trade entry always occurs when most of the signals flip from bearish to bullish, or vice versa.
Cloud metrics on the daily time frame with doubled settings (20/60/120/30), for more accurate signals, are bullish: the current spot price is above the Cloud, the Cloud is bullish, the TK cross is bullish, and the Lagging Span is above the Cloud and above the spot price. The trend will remain bullish so long as price holds above the Cloud. Kijun support currently sits at US$92. A recent TK cross and recross is suggestive of strong bullish continuation.
Lastly, on the XMR/BTC two-day chart, the trend is also strongly bullish. Price has convincingly breached both the 400-day EMA and two-day cloud for the first time since April 2018. VPVR suggests significant overhead resistance at the psychological resistance of 0.01 BTC to 0.011 BTC. Further yearly pivot resistance also sits at 0.012 BTC. Additionally, unlike XMR/USD, there are no bullish or bearish divergences on RSI or volume at this time.
Fundamentals show active and continued incremental XMR network upgrades over the past two years, including decreased transaction costs, improved transaction efficiency, blockchain pruning, improved privacy, and improved custody solutions. Transactions per day have recently breached new all-time high levels with inflation around 2.09% annually.
In November 2019, the XMR network changed from the CryptoNight consensus algorithm to Random X. The goal of the new algorithm is to help remove ASIC mining from the network permanently, by giving CPUs a competitive mining advantage. Thanks to ironclad privacy, darknet traffic continues to thrive due to new mining malware and various other attack vectors pointed at the Monero community, including, briefly, on Monero’s official website.
Technicals for the XMR/USD pair are bullish. The spot price is above the 200-day EMA and the daily Cloud, with a Golden Cross and recent bullish TK cross above the Cloud. All eyes over the next year are on the heavy resistance zone of US$150 based on VPVR, yearly pivots, and psychological round numbers.
Technicals for the XMR/BTC pair are also bullish. For the first time in over two years, the trend is distinctly bullish on the 400-day EMA and two-day Cloud. Strong psychological and VPVR resistance sits at 0.01 BTC as well as a yearly pivot at 0.012 BTC.