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Bitcoin Testnet Mayhem: Developer Highlights Code Flaws, But Maintains Mainnet is Safe

Last Updated April 30, 2024 9:08 AM
Teuta Franjkovic
Last Updated April 30, 2024 9:08 AM
By Teuta Franjkovic
Verified by Peter Henn

Key Takeaways

  • A Bitcoin developer “griefed” the testnet, generating years’ worth of blocks in a week to expose a vulnerability.
  • This disrupted testing for other developers, sparking outrage and accusations of vandalism.
  • Jameson Lopp says his actions highlighted a critical issue, but the community is divided on the approach.
  • Lopp explained this can’t be reproduced on mainnet so there was no reason to worry

A Bitcoin enthusiast who admitted  “griefing” one of Bitcoin’s testnets has upset a large chunk of the BTC development community. Jameson Lopp, a cypherpunk and founder of digital asset self-custody solution Casa caused havoc when he produced three years’ worth of blocks in just one week.

This excessive generation of blocks forced some developers to pause the applications they were testing.

Bitcoin Dev Disrupts Testnet to Prove Point, Sparks Outrage

Lopp’s goal was to spotlight a vulnerability he had previously identified, generating 165,000 blocks in the space of seven days.

With only 20 lines of code and just $1 worth of electricity, Lopp’s action caused considerable disruption for developers. This led to a significant backlash, with some of his peers calling his approach as harmful and equating it to vandalism.

Francis Pouliot, founder of the noncustodial Bitcoin exchange and payments firm Bull Bitcoin, criticized  the individual disrupting the test net. He expressed frustration, pointing out that attacking a network without economic incentives achieved nothing beyond interfering wasting Bitcoin application developers’ time.

Lopp Claims “Griefing” Exposed Vulnerability

Pouliot was unaware initially that Lopp was responsible for the disruption. The Casa founder revealed himself  as the culprit in an April 28 post on decentralized social media platform Nostr.

Lopp testnet
Credit: Nostr

Lopp described the exploit as trivial, and emphasized that it served to underline a testnet vulnerability he had previously pointed out. Lopp stated that his actions were meant to draw attention to an important issue. He also said he felt it necessary to take direct action, rather than just sending an email to capture people’s attention.

According to data from mempool.space , the hash rate on the Bitcoin network testnet showed a significant spike. It reached 2,315 TH/s on April 19, before dropping back down  to 86 TH/s by April 30.

Lopp told CCN that what he is doing could not be reproduced on the mainnet.

He said:

“It’s only possible because testnet has slightly different rules.”

He also added:

“The main point is to reinforce the fundamental principle of ensuring testnet doesn’t accrue value by resetting it regularly, which we’ve been lax about. And while we’re at it, we can fix the issue that has resulted in the block reward decreasing far faster than intended which has made testnet coins scarcer than intended, making it easier for them to accrue value.”

Lopp went on to point out that, while nobody wanted an unreliable testnet, from his perspective, some people “were deluding themselves into thinking it’s reliable”.

He added: “It’s worse, though, that some people are claiming testnet is reliable enough to use for real value. That concerns me more.”

Testnet Disruption Sparks Controversy and Divides Community

However, Pouliot and a few others saw Lopp’s actions differently. They argued  it was like someone “taking a shit” in a jacuzzi just to get people to “move to another spa”.

Leo Weese, technical content lead at Lightning Labs, which is responsible for the Bitcoin layer-2 Lightning Network, explained  that the griefing attack disrupted node syncing on the Bitcoin testnet. Weese said incident could have led to the permanent discontinuation of permissionless testing networks.

A participant in the Bitcoin Talk Thread claimed  Lopp’s actions sparked what they referred to as a “testnet war”. They argued people like Lopp Bitcoin’s testnet should ban people like Lopp. They event went so far as to label him a “general security risk for Bitcoin as a whole”.

Despite facing significant backlash, Lopp defended his actions . He claimed they were necessary to highlight the need for changes to address the testnet’s “timewarp” vulnerability.

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