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 encompasses a loopy twist centered on what’s referred to as a 51 p.c assault. That is when an organized group of cryptocurrency miners obtain a majority on a blockchain community, which permits 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 supplies them the ability to “delete all of our customers, all of our developer apps, crash our coin. This could be the top of Pied Piper,” explains Dinesh.

The 51 p.c assault does exist in the true world and has been deployed towards smaller cash like Krypton and Shift, that are clones of the extra common 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 observe, stating that critical injury would happen to Krypton and Shift in the event that they weren’t paid. It is a actual risk; a bunch 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 might very effectively kill the coin. It’s an issue that doesn’t have a precise resolution as a result of such miners are making the most of the decentralized means 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 would possibly crash it, it wouldn’t enable attackers to “delete all of our customers, all of our developer apps” as Dinesh suggests.

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

Sirer means that the exaggerated energy attributed to the assault are only a little bit of dramatic license. “Typically, for a great screenplay, Hollywood will take liberties with the technical information on the bottom. I believe we now have 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 regardless 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 outdoors of the cryptocurrency researcher group and it does counsel a doubtlessly critical flaw in utterly decentralized networks. For individuals attempting to do enterprise on these blockchains, it’s an issue price acknowledging.

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