A pivotal moment regarding the approval of a spot Bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF) by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) took an unexpected turn, evolving into a significant cybersecurity incident on Tuesday.
The SEC’s X account fell victim to a compromise, leading to a fraudulent post suggesting the agency’s endorsement of Bitcoin ETF plans. This misinformation triggered a momentary surge in the value of the leading cryptocurrency globally and prompted US authorities to launch an inquiry into the breach of a social media account within Wall Street’s primary regulatory body.
Kurt Gottschall, a partner at Haynes Boone and former SEC regional director, noted the incident’s broader implications, stating, “It shows the breadth and frequency of cyberattacks.” The irony is palpable, given the SEC’s firm stance on cybersecurity incidents in the past, emphasizing the vulnerabilities in the crypto space.
Investigation Unveils Cybersecurity Gaps
In response to the breach, the SEC announced its collaboration with law enforcement to investigate the incident. The unauthorized access was promptly terminated, and the SEC clarified that neither the agency nor its staff authored the misleading post. Gary Gensler, the SEC’s chair, affirmed that no decision on ETFs had been reached.
The SEC disclosed that an unknown party engaged in unauthorized activity on the @SECGov X account shortly after 4 pm ET on Tuesday. Despite the swift removal of the fake post, Joe Benarroch, head of business operations at X, assured that the “account is secure,” with investigations underway to identify the root cause.
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Critical Decision Looms for Bitcoin ETFs
Approximately a dozen companies have sought approval for ETFs backed by Bitcoin in the US, with a deadline for SEC action set for Jan. 10. Analysts anticipate the regulator’s simultaneous announcement of several decisions on this date.
Two essential prerequisites must be met for a spot-backed Bitcoin ETF to enter the market. First, the SEC must approve the 19b-4 filings submitted by exchanges intending to list the ETFs. Second, the regulator must greenlight the relevant S-1 forms, the registration applications from aspiring issuers, including industry giants like BlackRock Inc. and Fidelity.
While the SEC plans to vote on the exchanges’ filings (19b-4s) this week, decisions on the issuers’ applications (S-1s) may or may not align with this timeline. Successful approval of both sets of requirements could result in ETF trading commencing as early as the next business day.
Controversial SEC Stance on ETFs
Under both Gensler and his predecessor, Jay Clayton, the SEC has consistently denied the launch of such products, citing concerns about investor protection and the susceptibility to market manipulation. However, speculation has mounted since the SEC’s legal setback against Grayscale Investments in August, suggesting an eventual concession to the growing demand for Bitcoin ETFs.
Social media has amplified hype surrounding potential approval, reminiscent of an October incident where Bitcoin surged by 10% due to an inaccurate post claiming BlackRock’s approval for a spot ETF. The SEC’s historical caution surrounding ETFs adds an extra layer of complexity to the already contentious landscape.