Bitcoin DDoS Attack Passes

CoinWallet.eu backed off their original plan to “stress test” the Bitcoin network. One can only speculate what kinds of pressures may have been applied (the Bitcoin community is not especially constrained by conventional laws or morality).

The cancellation notice commented that CoinWallet.eu had been consulting “multiple lawyers”, and maintains that the proposed “test” “would not violate any laws in the EU or elsewhere”. I’m sure that claim is debatable (if only because there are certainly jurisdictions where it would be illegal), but the fact that Bitcoiners even admit that laws might apply is an astounding heresy for the fundamentalists.

In an obnoxious move, CoinWallet.eu instead conducted a different stress test, a giveaway of 200 Bitcoins, which drew many ordinary users into the fray. Sort of like dumping a truckload of $20 bills in the middle of a busy intersection. Not exactly illegal, but real, real irritating.

This is somewhat goofy methodology for “testing”, and very antisocial, but the fact is that such an irrational feeding frenzy is a very real scenario that the network needs to handle.

The “stress test” apparently came and went without the worst consequences that had been threatened. Though noticed at the time (backlogs, delays, and crashes), the effects did not last long. At least, the network is still running.

I don’t think this exercise accomplished very much, indeed, it has probably been destructively divisive. Reasonable people might differ about the merits of different scaling ideas. But spamming the production network without permission in the name of “testing” is not a collegial approach, and alienates even people who might agree with you.

The fact that the network coped with this announced and relatively small attack is great, but scarcely grounds for optimism. This not particularly clever stack definitely rang the bell, even without a dedicated botnet. I don’t see any reason why such attacks can’t be replicated, and Bitcoin could not survive even a few days sustained spamming any more than any other system could.

These scaling problems were aired at the “Consensus 2015” meeting in Toronto (perhaps this meeting should have a different name).  This (all white and male) event should have been a sobering reminder of how trivial Bitcoin’s current capacity really is. While many people realize that Bitcoin handles only 1/1000 of the traffic of creditcard processors, it should be realized that the Internet handles millions of times the traffic that Bitcoin currently carries. The current proposals that are causing so much controversy won’t come close to scaling far enough.

It’s no secret that P2P systems aren’t scalable, Bitcoin is recapitulating what engineers have discovered over the last 20 years.

The Consensus meeting aired a variety of proposals that depart from the simple minded peer-to-peer model. All of the proposals are standard techniques taken from successful industries including financial systems and online games.

Can Bitcoin actually abandon it’s naive P2P concepts in order to scale up, without splitting into multiple rival communities and networks? It’s going to be a big challenge.

 

 

Cryptocurrency Thursday

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