The cryptocurrency attack featured on Silicon Valley is real, but it doesn’t work like that

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Spoilers for the trailer of Silicon Valley’s season finale.

Tonight’s Silicon Valley season finale is titled “Fifty-One P.c,” and in response to the trailer for the episode, it incorporates a loopy twist centered on what’s known as a 51 p.c assault. That is when an organized group of cryptocurrency miners obtain a majority on a blockchain community, which allows them to carry the community hostage and disrupt it in varied methods. On the present, Pied Piper’s enemies begin becoming a member of the blockchain community till they attain a 51 p.c consensus, which provides them the ability to “delete all of our customers, all of our developer apps, crash our coin. This may be the tip of Pied Piper,” explains Dinesh.

The 51 p.c assault does exist in the true world and has been deployed in opposition to smaller cash like Krypton and Shift, that are clones of the extra in style cryptocurrency Ethereum. Each have been attacked by the identical group, which calls itself the 51 Crew. As soon as the group held a majority of each cash, it then despatched their creators a ransom notice, stating that critical injury would happen to Krypton and Shift in the event that they weren’t paid. This can be a actual risk; a gaggle of coin miners that management greater than 50 p.c of the community can wreak havoc by stopping funds between customers, or reverse sure accomplished transactions, in order that it will look as in the event that they nonetheless had the cash they spent.

For smaller cash particularly, rewriting transactions on the general public ledger might be damaging as a result of it ruins the legitimacy of all transactions — one thing that would very properly kill the coin. It’s an issue that doesn’t have an actual answer as a result of such miners are making the most of the decentralized approach the community is constructed.

However Cornell cryptographer Emin Gün Sirer tells The Verge that 51 p.c assaults can’t do fairly as a lot injury because the Silicon Valley episode suggests. Whereas messing with a coin like this may crash it, it wouldn’t permit attackers to “delete all of our customers, all of our developer apps” as Dinesh suggests.

“Miners at 51 p.c or extra have a number of powers, however they don’t have the power to alter the precise guidelines of the system, nor can they usurp funds,” Sirer explains, “They’ll rewrite the present blockchain in a restricted trend: they can not introduce transactions that don’t exist already, they’ll omit any transaction that they need, and so they actually can’t change any of the present guidelines.”

Sirer means that the exaggerated energy attributed to the assault are only a little bit of dramatic license. “Typically, for a very good screenplay, Hollywood will take liberties with the technical info on the bottom. I believe we’ve a kind of conditions right here.” Silicon Valley has an extended historical past of elevating actual points within the tech group, although typically exaggerated for impact. Final week, its penultimate episode highlighted glorious factors about Bitcoin, and despite the fact that this week’s episode is rather less correct, it nonetheless factors out a big concern. The 51 p.c assault isn’t extraordinarily well-known exterior of the cryptocurrency researcher group and it does recommend a doubtlessly critical flaw in fully decentralized networks. For individuals making an attempt to do enterprise on these blockchains, it’s an issue price acknowledging.

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