The politicking and plotting within the Bitcoin community is on par with a William Gibson Novel. It is a mix of corporations, hackers, and dissidents acting out a science fiction, cypherpunk drama. This the latest in a never-ending debate started with the revelation of an exploit or an optimization tool (depending on who you ask).
Recognition of this tool was followed by a battle between Bitcoin Core, Bitcoin Unlimited faction members, Bcoin developers and everyone in between. They have been locked in a hostile tango of back-and-forth, verbal jujitsu.
Fear, Uncertainty, and ASIC Boost
First came the accusations. Then they flung thrusts and ripostes. It all happened as a result of the alleged “attack” or “exploit” called ASIC Boost cropping up in the dark corners of a mailing list.
On April 5, Core developer Gregory Maxwell unveiled the ASIC Boost feature on the Bitcoin developers mailing list. It is allegedly a tool that exploits vulnerabilities in Bitcoin’s proof of work functionality. It provides up to a 30% performance boost.
Developers Timo Hanke and Sergio Lerner invented ASIC Boost and it was revealed last year. They hold one of two current patents for the tool.
However, Maxwell suggests that covert variations of ASIC Boost may be used by Chinese miners to out-compete other miners and gain higher monetary rewards.
Exploitation of this vulnerability could result in payoff of as much as $100 million USD per year at the time this was written (Assuming at 50% hash-power miner was gaining a 30% power advantage and that mining was otherwise at profit equilibrium).
Many influential people reject Maxwell’s claims, though.
Has ASIC Boost Been Implemented? Is It an Exploit?
Professor Emin Gün Sirer out of Cornell University said if ASIC Boost is an exploit in the traditional sense of the term, there is no evidence it is being used. Even if someone implemented a covert version, there would be evidence galore.
Sirer said, “If ASIC Boost was actually used, we’d see ample evidence on the blockchain. This evidence would be in the form of transactions that are picked according to an algorithm that shuffles the transactions to create a sought collision, instead of sorting them by fee-per-byte.”
Other leaders in the industry have claimed that an ASIC Boost is an optimization. Former Bitcoin lead developer Gavin Andresen alluded to this fact when he tweeted;
It's not ok for Ethereum to change their rules to undo a theft, but it is ok for Bitcoin to change the rules to prevent an optimization?
— Gavin Andresen (@gavinandresen) April 6
NgsCrypto.com reached out to the lead developer of the Yours project , Ryan X, to get his thoughts. He said, “I read Greg Maxwell’s post to the mailing list. Based on that description, it sounds like an optimization. I then went and read some material by Sergio Lerner where it also sounds like an optimization. As best I can tell, the characterization of ASIC Boost as an “attack” is a political ploy to rally the community against miners.”
Finally, the mining device manufacturer accused of implementing the “exploit,” Bitmain, wrote an article defending its integrity and calling out Maxwell claims. The company said it did not implement ASIC Boost, even though in China they are legally allowed to use it.
Bitmain has tested ASIC Boost on the Testnet but has never used ASIC Boost on the mainnet as implied in Gregory Maxwell’s proposal. We ask conclusive proof from whoever claims this to be false because such baseless claims are toxic for the Bitcoin space. We also believe the math used by Gregory Maxwell is incorrect and that the method is not practical in a production environment.
A Crypto Coup: is BU Blocking Segwit?
Even though there are plenty defenders of the Bitcoin Unlimited team and ASIC Boost as an optimization, a plethora of critics still emerged to speak their peace and level their criticisms.
They believe Bitmain and other BU factions are blocking Segwit activation so they can run exploits to cheat the system and gain more financial rewards.
They see it as a clandestine and scandalous conspiracy to make money and destroy Bitcoin, but evidence for this dark crypto coup is either lacking or insufficient. There is not much more to offer than hearsay, backbiting, and infighting.
Secret Core Organization Conspiracy
On April 6, Lightning Network developer Joseph Poon wrote a response to one of Gregory Maxwell’s followers on an R/BTC subreddit.
They just have a secret channel where they organize their PR and trolling campaigns. Many people have talked about it (more than 5 people) and it’s alluded to in various places which are publicly accessible, since it’s basically where a lot of decisions around PR happens.
Prior to this accusation on a “secret Core organisation” by Poon, he and Maxwell exchanged heated words on the Linux developer mailing list , where Maxwell apologized to Poon.
Apparently, Maxwell said Poon was complicit in his knowledge about the ASIC Boost exploit and their attempts to cover it up .
The Dragon’s Den; Political Quagmire
This caused Poon to retaliate by claiming Bitcoin core members
along with Maxwell have a secret slack channel where they manufacture troll armies to conduct asymmetrical meme warfare against the Bitcoin Unlimited factions.
It sounds like something out of a science fiction fairy tale, but some evidence has surfaced about this channel. One blog post on telegra.ph attempted to elaborate on the facts. The name of Core’s supposedly nefarious channel is #dragonsden. There are a total of 21 members in the group.
The blog post’s author said this about the individuals named,
The known members of this channel, based on the information in the above glimpse of the channel are: BashCo (/r/bitcoin moderator), mrhodl (twitter troll), alp (twitter troll), moli (unknown), belcher (JoinMarket developer), BtcDrak (Bitcoin Core developer/activist) and Bram Cohen. These seven members represent 1/3rd of the total members in the channel.
These are compelling facts. But in the end, the Bitcoin community is just enmeshed in a political tug-of-war. It is a battle based on the constant threat of attacks.
The lack of communication and connection has turned the need for technical evolution into a novel-worthy battle for political domination. It’s a tragic thing to witness. Hopefully, the community can reconcile their differences and escape the quagmire.
How can the Bitcoin community resolve their political and technical differences?