Bithumb still trying to gain trust

Bithumb was the first cryptocurrency exchange to be established in Korea. It has the highest transaction volume and the most users. But it has significant reputational issues as a result of a number of hacking incidents. To salvage its image, the exchange formed a research center earlier this month. Lee Jae-geun, who has been with Bithumb since 2017, is chief technology officer. “Trust is the most important element for an exchange, and that is what Bithumb is most desperate about,” said Lee in an interview held on Jan. 14 in Gangnam, southern Seoul. Below are the edited excerpts. What is the reason for the establishment of the technology research center at this point, especially when Bithumb is facing so many doubts? The status of the business isn't a consideration when establishing a technology research center. We recently started the center, but the actual foundation was in 2017. A research center back then studied cryptocurrency. The difference is the center back then operated the cryptocurrency exchange and conducted research at the same time. The center spent more effort on improving the security. I don’t think the operations and the system should be researched separately. But if the workforce that handles the operation also conducts research, it is realistically difficult to come up with creative research results. That’s why the technology research center develops the technologies for Bithumb, and the operating organization applies the technologies developed. What kind of research does the center conduct? The center has three teams that study developmental research, another team that studies architecture and another team that studies blockchain. We plan to study ways that could enable us to process a large number of transactions simultaneously. Of course, we can do that with the current Bithumb system, but we plan to find ways to raise the performance. We also plan on studying on public transactions. We hope to develop a tool that can analyze transactions from an integrative point of view, and use that to help protect user assets. In a long term, we plan to expand the scope of research to secure ways to apply blockchain in diverse areas, like payments, contracts, retail, distribution and record keeping. What are the center's priorities? Technology. We spent so much time strengthening the internal system that we couldn’t build public trust. When people first think of Bithumb, they think hacking. We want to inform the public that the cryptocurrency exchange system is being operated stably. When was the toughest time for you while working for Bithumb? It was the hardest yet most fun working for Bithumb in 2017, when Ethereum, LTC and XRP went public. At this point, that doesn't seem like a big deal, but creating a wallet for the first time, listing it and enabling stable transactions was a very difficult thing. Following the cryptocurrency boom, transaction volume was three to four times what we expected. There were only 10 to 20 developers in the early 2017. We had to hire more people. By the second half of 2017, Bithumb became quite well-known without having to explain what we do. Why does hacking continue to happen despite the efforts to secure the system? External attacks are beyond imagination. Even right now, the automatic system will probably be preventing one or two attacks. Every day, we encounter attack, every minute and every second. Simple attacks can’t penetrate Bithumb’s security barrier. We believe hackers are aiming for Bithumb because there are a lot to take from it. What are the strengths of Bithumb? It has a lot of data on not just related to blockchain but years of transaction records that can’t be accessed by other research centers. We have the largest transaction amount in Korea, which is difficult for other cryptocurrency exchanges to follow. I believe this will ultimately result in a disparity in research quality. What are your hopes for the industry? I feel sorry that people tend to regard the cryptocurrency market as a speculation. We were preparing a business to do payments, but had to withdraw the plan due to such a view. I hope people view the market more favorably.

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