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Bitcoin Mining: Is Antbleed a Bombshell, a Smear Campaign, or a Circus?

Last Updated March 4, 2021 4:56 PM
Andrew Quentson
Last Updated March 4, 2021 4:56 PM

There’s popcorn for breakfast and today’s movie is antbleed. For your pleasure and entertainment, we have one dramatic ant killed with a needle standing above a pool of blood. To its left there’s some boring text, so we have highlighted in red:

“The remote service can then return “false” which will stop the miner from mining… At worst, this firmware backdoor allows Bitmain to shut off a large section of the global hashrate.”

Are you scared yet? I know, I know. We should have watched this movie before bed, would have been more fun, might ruin your day so early on, but, no one asked us, so buckle up.

“What I saw yesterday was an ugly smear campaign. I saw outright lies, with Peter Todd falsely claiming remote code execution where there is none, and Tone Vays asking Segwit to be activated, even though Segwit had absolutely no connection to the topic at hand. The ugliness on display, the coordinated and vile lies made it quite clear to adults that this isn’t about an easily contained bug in some code, but it’s about the block size debate.” – Emin Gün Sirer.

Ah, the blocksize “debate.” Sorry, I thought we were watching a nice new movie, but it appears to be just the latest episode in “When Bitcoin Goes to War.” It’s the most popular TV series ever. Some hate it, some love it, many get to be background actors like Matthew Green, a respected cryptographer, who asked  “Why are the Bitcoin people so mean to each other.”

Probably because they’re long on popcorn and want all shops to run out of it. And that’s the interesting part. Bitcoin’s price has not moved one bit on the news. Maybe they all just stuck to the screen still, watching Jihan Wu apologize while saying “it’s a bug.”

“It’s a mistake to have put that functionality into the miners… redirecting the request will easily fix it,” says Sirer. This is the bit where the camera zooms into a university lecture and it gets all serious.

Is Proof of Work Flawed?

Because it is a fairly serious matter that 70% of the hashrate could have instantly been shut-down. There is no indication any of it has been used, but it took many months, if not a year or longer, for anyone to know. Or so we’re led to believe. The code is open source, it’s all out there. Gregory Maxwell apparently was aware  of it, but somehow didn’t think it would allow remote shut-downs.

The reasons for this code was so that a mining hardware can be shut down if stolen and police can more easily track it according to a statement  by Bitmain. They never managed to finish it, but seems to have forgotten it was still there.

Now some are trying to turn this matter into bigger or smaller blocks, but it has nothing to do with it. The real issue here is: does proof of work actually work? Bitmain was nice to open source their code, perhaps showing good intentions and lack of willingness or plan to abuse. I suppose if we try to look hard for a positive, the rivalry is nice too because if segwit had been activated I doubt we would have been enjoying this episode.

Some other miner might have been less nice. Bitcoin is permissionless. If people buy someone’s hardware, then there’s nothing anyone can do about it. If whoever manufactures them close-sources and perhaps adds to the hardware some nice things, then isn’t, conceptually, this whole thing flawed?

You could say no because if the manufacturer abused it then they are basically declaring bankruptcy or someone else could manufacture hardware and compete. However, as is often the case in these series, both sides tend to come out very injured, while ethereum tends to come out the winner.

That’s because when attention is brought to proof of work, then we can’t escape ethereum’s plans to move to proof of stake. If they do so upgrade successfully, there would be no hardware, so no chance of “mistakes” or “bugs” which can, perhaps accidentally, shut-off 70% of the hashrate, plunging the currency into outright chaos for months.

The small blockers of course thought the outcome instead would be that everyone will now suddenly support a proof of work change hardfork. Perhaps, if they can explain how to stop the turtles going all the way down. That is, how that would not lead to the exact same sort of situation.

Let’s take a magical proof of work algorithm which allows for mining only through a laptop. Let’s now imagine all those massive mining farms filled not with ASICs, but with laptops. Can anyone spot a difference? I can’t.

The point small blockers therefore are making, albeit unintentionally, is that proof of work is flawed. That serves them slightly, because they imply we should not trust miners. But aren’t miners the whole point of this thing? Isn’t the breakthrough the 51% which keeps miners honest? And if it isn’t, then why have miners at all?

It wouldn’t surprise me if, at least some of the small-blockers, perhaps some of them very prominent, do say that proof of work has failed and that bitcoin is fundamentally broken (although it has been working perfectly fine for now almost a decade with little abuse). Yet their solution is to just simply re-start, with some unaccountable developers making decisions. When, instead, anyone with some thinking ability will wonder if ethereum might not have it very right in moving to Proof of Stake.

However, it’s not for us to tire out little brains with thinking, let’s get back to the circus.

When Two Camps Go to War

“Remote shutdown is a denial of service issue. Remote Code Execution would have enabled a remote party to commandeer your miner and use it for their own purposes. Todd’s claims of a remote code execution vulnerability are false. What kinds of people knowingly use false claims?” – Sirer

That’s a very good question professor. May I suggest it could, perhaps, hypothetically, be the kind which fancies himself an actor after gaining a degree in, literally, “fine arts.” Instead of getting angry, perhaps you should admire the performance professor. It’s the highest level of 21st century art to get into an internet controversy and then turn it up full swing while watching everyone run to and fro like a circus.

“When a group work this hard and plays this dirty to try to create a big deal out of a relatively simple bug, they shift the focus from the bug to the tactics.” – Sirer

Bitcoin has turned into two political camps now where they campaign for their own preferred method of scaling and engage in all sorts of campaign stuff to try and persuade the “undecided” to vote for them.

The problem is, there is no set date for a “vote.” So, unfortunately, they’re stuck campaigning until somehow a decision is made. They could, of course, go their own ways but no one wants to be the smaller bitcoin so they’re stuck producing new TV episodes.

Ethereum, the Winner

Personally, I’m very much sick of it. I was reading r/bitcoin and r/btc yesterday, before this new episode came on, and it all just felt repulsive reading so many angry and demeaning comments from both subs.

So I went off to r/ethtrader where they were laughing, having fun, giving out flowers, bathing in sunshine. Astonishingly, 525 people were actively online, almost as much as r/bitcoin. Their daily thread had around 600 upvotes. Suggesting the community was attracting a level of attention comparable to bitcoin.

Bitcoin, the currency, is still great if it could move a bit faster at less expensive fee rates, but some parts of the community are, unfortunately, repelling. That is not to say the antbleed announcement is not worthy of consideration, but an opportunity given by this revelation to engage in a rational, civilized, intellectual debate, which tries to reach some sort of conclusion, appears to have been missed, in favor of what looks like a clown circus.

Those starting this circus probably think they are gaining an edge, showing just how smart they are, because the only one gaining an edge out of this is ethereum, which went up 15% today.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are those of the author and do not represent those of, nor should they be attributed to CCN.com.

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