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#1 18-01-2019 15:02:14

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More info on the "51% attack" on Ethereum Classic

More info on the "51% attack" on Ethereum Classic

Article originally appeared on The Street

Blockchain's public, immutable ledger keeps things secure. Until it can't anymore. That's the story of a recent Ethereum Classic blockchain infrastructure attack that entailed losses of over $1 million while undermining the currency's legitimacy.

Indeed, crypto exchanges are frequently victimised by theft, and for a while, digital currencies struggled to shed their dark-web origins. Although today's perilous digital environment could make anyone wary of trusting online assets, the tokens themselves have proven to be incredibly resilient to theft and misuse. The latest attack raises further questions about cryptocurrency market security amidst high volatility and regulatory uncertainty after last year's events, in which prices plunged.

Understanding what a 51% attack is

Because so many different users maintain the blockchain, it is immune from tampering as long as no single entity controls over half of the network's computing power. However, it's possible for a single user to achieve this power, and a hypothetical 51% attack on major cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum is often discussed in crypto circles.

As Avivah Litan, a Gartner security expert, reports, "the 51 percent attack is a real threat, which is why users should only trade in cryptocurrencies that have substantial hashpower."

In other words, the more people there are maintaining a blockchain, the less likely it is that someone could gain control of its network.

Unfortunately, when a miner gains over half of the network's computing power, he or she can alter the blockchain records, allowing him to spend a single token multiple times. According to CCN, this ability is "generally directed against cryptocurrency exchanges." This process, colloquially known as a "reorganisation" of the blockchain, is what's currently affecting the ETC.

The ETC attack

Although it's considerably less popular than Ethereum, Ethereum Classic is still one of the most prominent digital currencies available, with a recent market cap of about $480 million. The most recent breach was detected by SlowMist, a Chinese security firm, which relayed the information via Twitter. In addition, the popular Coinbase cryptocurrency exchange, which also posted its initial findings to Twitter on 6 Jan., is investigating the attack.

In a subsequent blog post, Coinbase flagged 14 cryptocurrency transactions and twelve of those included "double spends" -- where the digital currency was spent twice -- that exceeded $1 million in total. It said that no Coinbase accounts were impacted by the attack, however.

Once cryptocurrency exchange,, admitted that it lost funds, identifying 6 rollback transactions on their network. In their official statement, " will take all the loss for the users." Other services, including those by Binance and Bitrue, were also targeted in the attack.

ETC's official Twitter account has posted the attacker's address as they work to recover the funds.

Of course, this latest attack has renewed attention on the Proof of Work (PoW) consensus model that enables things like a 51% attack to occur. Donald McIntyre, a member of the ETC development team warned that "the question is whether a recovery in the medium or long term is plausible or if the network, unless it grows significantly, is perpetually vulnerable and therefore unusable.

Many in the blockchain community believe that a different consensus algorithm, Proof of Stake, will be more efficient and secure.

Miguel Palencia, CIO at Qtum, a blockchain that markets its "Proof of Stake" model, explained that "solutions such as Proof of Stake are not only less resource-intensive and more environmentally friendly, but they're also more secure and much more difficult to fall victim to a 51% attack."

He added that "for something like this to occur in a Proof of Stake network, the attacker would need to buy more than all the coins currently being staked, which would raise the market price exponentially, rendering the attack useless and extremely costly."

For users to feel secure, cryptocurrencies will need to be able to demonstrate that they are implementing the best practices and the most protected methodologies available to keep their tokens secure. This event wasn't as costly as it could have been, but it is a warning about what could be. It might turn out that $1.1 million might be a small price to pay for that reminder.

"Anything worth having is worth going for - all the way." - J.R. Ewing



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