The 4 Bitcoin experts stated that with decentralization as the focus, “greater readability” should be sought as intentional bug insertion or a hypothetical developer shortage could represent a problem.
The decentralization and security of Bitcoin are two central aspects of this network. In this regard, four experts in the field spoke in a panel of the virtual conference The B Word about the problems they have faced in the past and what they would emphasize for the future. In this sense, readability and simplicity appear as the main challenges.
The panel, titled Attack Vectors, was moderated by Neha Naruta, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s digital currency project. Cory Fields was joined by Cory Fields, a software developer on the same MIT project; Andrew Poelstra, director of research at blockchain and bitcoin solutions company Blockstream; and Anthony AJ Towns, bitcoin developer at Paradigm.
With network security at the center, the first topic to be addressed was past experiences with Bitcoin bugs and failures.
First of all, Neha Naruta stated that she does not believe that bitcoin has never had problems, even though “it is often heard that it is super secure and that there is nothing to worry about.”
To go deeper, the moderator mentioned the ‘ Inflation Bug ‘ of 2018, which basically consisted of ‘a miner could have mined a transaction that increased the supply of bitcoin. It would have been obvious if it happened, but it is a scary thing and it would have created an existential crisis for bitcoin.
Regarding the experiences of the other participants, Fields commented that in 2018 he discovered an error in the Bitcoin Cash code that allowed the network to be forked when making a transaction.
“This would alter the shared ledger,” he said, and confessed that this experience “changed my perspective on bitcoin a bit.” “The problem is that anyone on the entire internet could carry out a transaction, without the need for processing power,” added Naruta, who was also part of the team that analyzed the problem when it was discovered.
For his part, Poelstra went back to 2008, when “I found a code error that allowed me to steal the signature to use it and thus even steal all your bitcoins (BTC).”
The “scary” thing about this is that, according to his narrative, if the error had been different and had included a 0 instead of a 1, “perhaps until today we would not have discovered it and anyone could steal any amount of cryptocurrency of the network since all the signatures would have been insignificant ».
Proposals to improve the security of Bitcoin
The second half of the talk was not directed to the past, but to what is to come. In this regard, Naruta remarked that people take security as an essential issue in Bitcoin, and it is almost like “the most important thing.” He also stressed that it is a decentralized system in which “anyone can join and make transactions”.
Regarding the priorities that developers should focus on, Poelstra said he would build on two things. First, in the decentralization of bitcoin, that is, that anyone with certain resources can join and contribute to the operation of the network. Second, there is what he called “readability.” “It is about that, ideally, we should all understand what we get into when working in bitcoin: what happens when doing transactions, what are the keys and signatures, among other possible situations,” he explained.
“I mean, to understand bitcoin these days you have to be a computer expert, cryptographer, and economist, and nobody is all that. So when I propose changes I try to keep them fairly simple, “he continued.
For his part, Anthony Towns agreed with what Poelstra said about decentralization and the simplicity of the network. “One of the difficulties is what would happen if people who understand about bitcoin decide to leave,” he questioned while affirming that combining the two goals (simplicity and decentralization) is quite difficult. “As Andrew (Poelstra) says, try to ‘clean it up as much as possible, but without encouraging people to work against what bitcoin is about.”
Finally, Fields entered into these positions with an anecdote: ” A few years ago, there was the update of Segwit.
One of the drawbacks we had was convincing people that it was safe because there were many beliefs that funds or transactions would be lost. It was hard to disprove. There is a certain tension here because to simplify, you first have to make it more complex.
Potential problems for Bitcoin in the future
The last section of the talk focused on those problems that experts believe may happen in the future or should be taken into account.
The first to speak about this was Poelstra, who argued that there could come a time when miners will be rewarded more for transaction fees than for a block reward, so they could steal previous transactions. “The rewards are cut in half every four years and the value of the network has increased, so the commissions have also increased. If we got to that point, we would have a serious economic problem, but since I’m not an economist I don’t know how it could be solved, I don’t know what to think about it.
AJ Towns, meanwhile, said he fears “that people will insert into bitcoin as developers, build a wallet and deliberately insert bugs .” Naruta agreed with this and even assured that there could already be “some of those undercover agents” in the network.
Finally, Cory Fields is concerned about the massive backlash that could come from these attacks and how the bitcoin community might deal with them. Therefore, he added that “readability is something that would allow a much more in-depth analysis than we have now,” and the other experts all agreed with this view.