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Ethereum Hard Fork at Block 7,080,000 in January 2019

Ethereum Hard Fork at Block 7,080,000 in January 2019

The Ethereum development team has come to an agreement to deploy the Constantinople hard fork at block 7,080,000. Currently, Ethereum is near block 6.86 million, so this fork should happen some time between 14-18 January 2019.

The Constantinople hard fork was supposed to deploy in November 2018 but when had failed when deployed on the testnet in October 2018. After the failure on testnet, developer Afri Shchoedon made the accurate forecast that a fork was unlikely in 2018.

Ethereum has declined from USD 1,400 to less than USD 100 during 2018, and numerous companies and platforms launched via Ethereum are facing increasing enforcement pressure from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for unregistered issuance and trading of securities. This perhaps makes January 2019 a less than ideal time for a hard fork of the Ethereum blockchain, but the developers do not have much of a choice due to the difficulty bomb.

The difficulty bomb is programmed into Ethereum to cause blocks to become exponentially slower after a point, which eventually leads to an ice age where no more blocks are mined. This forces the developers to hard fork Ethereum periodically, and the point of this is to make sure Ethereum keeps on getting updated with the latest technology. The difficulty bomb is not going to be removed in the Constantinople fork, just delayed another 18 months.

The Constantinople hard fork may cause contention between investors and miners since it lowers the block reward from 3 Ether to 2 Ether. On the other hand, investors should welcome a lower inflation rate of Ether supply. However, miners have been struggling due to the collapse of Ethereum’s price and slashing the block reward by a third during this time could be seen as inconsiderate.

Lowering the block reward is already a heated issue but the Ethereum developers are rushing to implement ProgPoW, which would make ASICs incompatible with Ethereum mining. This move is likely to disenfranchise most of the major Ethereum miners.

The debate over this fork will intensify over the next month as the fork approaches and an Ethereum split is not out of the question, since the developers appear to have different views from the miners who are securing the network. Ethereum has already split once due to a hard fork over the loss of the development fund, since some of the community did not agree in reversing any transactions even if it was a hack, and this is how Ethereum Classic was born.

Yet another version of Ethereum could easily be born if a fraction of miners coordinate and decide not to upgrade their nodes to Constantinople. Indeed, miners who use ASICs have nothing to lose by doing this, since if ProgPoW is implemented their hardware will instantly become worthless unless they can succeed at keeping the current version of Ethereum alive.


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Inflation Bug Causes Bitcoin Testnet Blockchain Split

On 18 September 2018, a critical double spend inflation exploit was patched with the release of Bitcoin Core 0.16.3. However, the developers warned that a Bitcoin blockchain split was possible, and to wait up to 200 confirmations (about 1.5 days) when accepting payments just in case a split occurred. The fork did not occur on the Bitcoin blockchain but the Bitcoin testnet experienced a blockchain split due to this exploit, with its state being critical during 27 September 2018.

This exploit allowed miners to double spend a transaction, with two consequences. First, any nodes that receive a double spent transaction would freeze up and crash. Second, the double spent transaction would actually add to Bitcoin’s coin supply beyond the 21 million coins fixed limit, causing inflation. This is an unacceptable situation, since one of Bitcoin’s biggest selling points is its fixed supply, so developers rushed out a fix within a day and released Bitcoin Core 0.16.3.

However, the fix only works if miners and full nodes upgrade to Bitcoin Core 0.16.3; older versions are still susceptible. Therefore, if a miner using an older version of Bitcoin Core uses the exploit to double spend Bitcoins, the block mined by that miner would be accepted by wallets with older versions of Bitcoin Core. Wallets that are using Bitcoin Core 0.16.3 would simply reject the block.

This would cause a chain split, with the Bitcoin blockchain on wallets with Bitcoin Core 0.16.3 being different than the blockchain being used by older versions of Bitcoin Core. This could still happen at any time as long as there are a significant amount of full nodes using older versions of Bitcoin Core and unfortunately, 69% of all Bitcoin full nodes are still using older versions as of this writing on 27 September. The percentage of full nodes using Bitcoin Core 0.16.3 has only risen from 25% to 31% in the past four days.

This Bitcoin testnet blockchain split is proof that it could happen to Bitcoin, since the testnet uses the same software and rules as Bitcoin. Fortunately, testnet Bitcoins do not have any value, so no money has been lost from this blockchain split. It should also be noted, however, that testnet is far less secure than the Bitcoin mainnet, with far less hashpower securing testnet – it is far easier to perform a double spend attack on testnet.

Testnet admitted to ICU after inflation bug forked the network a few hours ago. Recitation in progress, vitals stabilizing ❤📈

Will be here all night if that’s what it takes to keep the valid chain going and @lightning apps functional

— Conner Fromknecht ⚡ (@bitconner) September 27, 2018

Developers depend on the testnet to perform testing with Bitcoin-related software, so it was important to keep the proper testnet blockchain alive. Conner Fromknecht, a Lightning Network developer, single-handedly kept the proper testnet blockchain running only using his laptop and a mobile hotspot.


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Will Lowered Block Rewards Cause Ethereum to Split?

Ethereum’s developers have decided to lower mining block rewards to 2 Ether, from the current reward of 3 Ether or a 33% reduction. This was decided during a 31 August developer meeting and will be implemented when the Constantinople hard fork takes effect. The hard fork is designed to smooth the transition from proof of work to proof of stake and when that happens Ethereum mining will become a thing of the past.

Ethereum mining was already quite unprofitable before this decision. Ether’s price has declined from a peak near USD 1,400 in January 2018 to less than USD 300 in August and continuing into September. Simultaneously, Ethereum’s mining difficulty has generally been increasing. The combination of drastically decreased price and increased difficulty is a recipe for Ethereum miners to go out of business, since it costs more electricity than the revenue produced from mining. Ethereum miners have been liquidating their rigs on peer-to-peer trading apps like LetGo.

The decision to cut Ethereum’s block reward at such a time would be welcomed by investors and indeed, price is up nearly 10% since this decision was made. Miners may have been made unhappy, however.

When Ethereum implements the Constantinople hard fork, miners will have the choice to keep mining the older version of Ethereum and this is likely to happen to some extent. It is unknown how many miners will split off and choose not to upgrade when the Constantinople hard fork occurs. The developers are quite explicit with their intentions, which is to eventually get rid of proof of work mining. This would be the time for Ethereum miners to make their stand.

Ethereum is also planning a hard fork every eight months and is guaranteeing this by programming a difficulty bomb into their code. After 12 months, its difficulty will begin to rapidly increase, leading to an ‘ice age’ where no more Ethereum blocks are mined. This forces the Ethereum developers and community to produce another hard fork before that happens.


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Less than $1k Needed to ‘51% Attack’ Most Cryptos

A new website has been created to calculate the cost of performing a ‘51% attack’ on various cryptocurrencies via renting mining power from mining company NiceHash. The results are surprising and shocking, with many cryptocurrencies requiring less than USD 1,000 for a successful one-hour 51% attack.

The website was created by Reddit user xur17 in response to an attack on Bitcoin Gold this past month which cost exchanges over USD 10 million. Verge has recently experienced a costly 51% attack as well. xur17 used network hash rate data from Mine The Coin, coin prices from CoinMarketCap, and mining rental prices from NiceHash for the calculations.

A 51% attack is one of the main vulnerabilities of a blockchain-based cryptocurrency. For this sort of attack to have a 100% success rate it requires the attacker to control more than half of the hash power on the network. The attacker will send cryptocurrency to a merchant or exchange, while secretly mining blocks that send the cryptocurrency somewhere else. The attacker, with superior hash power, should theoretically build blocks quicker than the rest of the network.

Once the cryptocurrency deposit from the attacker is confirmed, the attacker releases the blockchain secretly mined, replacing the original blockchain with a longer chain – this becomes the new recognized chain. The attacker’s funds remain on the new blockchain, while the exchange loses all the funds received, as they are not recognized on the new chain.

For more mature cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, a 51% attack is financially and practically unfeasible. There is 35,849 PH/s of hashing power on the Bitcoin network, and according to the website a one-hour 51% attack would cost USD 648,000 if that power were rented. However, there is no cloud mining site where that much hash power can be rented; NiceHash has less than 1% of the required amount. The cost of buying the equipment and paying for the electricity for a Bitcoin 51% attack is astronomical.

However, smaller cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin Private, Einsteinium, Gulden, Feathercoin, and many more require less than USD 1,000 to perform a 51% attack using rented power on NiceHash. Some cryptocurrencies like Mooncoin, Catcoin, PinkCoin, DigitalPrice, MAZA, Zetacoin, and several more require less than USD 10 for a successful 51% attack.

Clearly, some smaller cryptocurrencies simply should not be considered secure since they have so little network hash power that they could easily be compromised by a 51% attack.


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Bitcoin Cash Undergoes Hard Fork, 16% of Its Network Splits Off

Bitcoin Cash updated its protocol and executed a hard fork at block 530,350 one week ago, but 16% of Bitcoin Cash nodes did not switch to the new protocol. This amounts to roughly 350 nodes out of a total 2200 nodes on the Bitcoin Cash network.

Bitcoin Cash itself was created by forking Bitcoin’s protocol amid much controversy in August 2017 near block 477,000. Now Bitcoin Cash is the 4th most valuable cryptocurrency behind Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Ripple with a market cap of $20 billion.

The most significant protocol change that Bitcoin Cash introduced was to increase the maximum block size to 8 MB, which allows more transactions per block. This reduces transaction fees and makes it easier to use Bitcoin Cash as an everyday currency versus Bitcoin where transaction fees have been high enough at times in the past to make small transactions like buying a cup of coffee unfeasible. Hence the word cash in its name.

When the Bitcoin Cash fork occurred one week ago, any nodes that did not update their protocol became incompatible with nodes that did change their protocol. It can result in risky situations, leading to a loss of money. For example, if someone sends Bitcoin Cash from a wallet they didn’t update to an exchange that is updated they would lose their money. This issue is one of the most dangerous things about cryptocurrency forks.

Essentially, the 16% of Bitcoin Cash nodes that did not update are running on their own distinct blockchain and could be considered a new cryptocurrency. It is unknown whether this 16 % of nodes simply forgot to update or if keeping the old protocol was intentional and organized. If it was indeed intentional this new cryptocurrency may soon get a name, like Bitcoin Cash Legacy for example.

The protocol changes introduced on the hard fork include another block size increase from 8 MB to 32 MB and smart contracts. Introducing smart contracts to Bitcoin Cash makes it competitive with Ethereum, the 2nd most popular cryptocurrency, and is a major improvement. Smart contract functionality will allow users to develop decentralized applications that integrate the Bitcoin Cash blockchain.

The block size increase from 8 MB to 32 MB is more controversial as the 8 MB size is already eight times more than Bitcoin’s 1 MB, and is quite enough space for the foreseeable future to keep transaction fees low. In fact, Bitcoin Cash block sizes are often less than 100 KB and almost always less than 1 MB, so changing the block size limit to 8 MB like the original protocol does actually makes no difference versus Bitcoin. Upping the block size limit to 32 MB seems senseless.

Bitcoin Cash developers have received some criticism from the Bitcoin community about leaving nearly 1/5th of their network behind.

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