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29 September 2020

Fight fire with fire: MIT scholar suggests ETC counters 51% attacks

Fight fire with fire: MIT scholar suggests ETC counters 51% attacks

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The recent 51% attacks on Ethereum Classic (ETC) have raised fresh questions about the security of proof-of-work blockchains.

Intuitively, the exchange and the attacker are fighting over the value of the current double-spend attack, he noted, “but the exchange also risks encouraging more attacks in the future if it allows the attack to succeed.

It notes that PoW mining was intended to provide blockchains with robustness against double-spend attacks (of which 51% attacks are a subset), but recent economic analysis strongly suggests that free entry conditions along with the ability to rent sufficient hashrate to conduct an attack arguably make the resulting block rewards irresistible to malefactors.

The model shows that the mere threat of this kind of counterattack eventually “induces a subgame perfect equilibrium in which no attack occurs in the first place.” Meanwhile, in the real world, attacks on networks like ETC continue?

1 attack on the Ethereum Classic network was enabled by hash rate purchased from NiceHash, a marketplace that connects sellers and buyers of hash rate for different algorithms.

In the case of NiceHash, its “co-founder is pending extradition to the United States for charges of fraud and racketeering after being convicted of similar offenses in Slovenia,” noted Ethereum Classic.

Emin Gün Sirer, CEO of Ava Labs and associate professor of computer science at Cornell University, told Cointelegraph that ETC’s case wasn’t unique: “Any PoW coin that isn’t the leader in its hash function is vulnerable to attacks such as these.” He went on to add: “Their security relies on the amount of hashpower that an attacker can get their hands on, and as that number grows, the number of confirmations required for security goes towards infinity.”.

“For a project like Ethereum Classic that has fought hard to maintain its belief in code is law, I can’t see this proposal being adopted.”

A better long-term solution in Sirer’s view would be to switch to a different consensus protocol — one that isn’t vulnerable to 51% attacks, which would “allow ETC to be minted with existing miner infrastructure, while computing the checkpoints in a decentralized fashion, without trusted keys or community members.”

“All decentralized blockchains including BTC are susceptible to 51% attacks by their very nature,” OKEx’s Hao told Cointelegraph, adding further:

Elsewhere, the MIT team hasn’t seen much evidence that their retaliation strategy is being used widely in the marketplace at present, but that could soon change

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