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Blockchain isn’t as decentralized as you think: Defense agency report

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Distributed ledger technology (DLT) and blockchains including Bitcoin and Ethereum may be more vulnerable to centralization risks than initially thought, according to Trail of Bits. 

The security firm on Tuesday released its report titled “Are Blockchains Decentralized?”, which was commissioned by the U.S. Government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The report aims to investigate whether blockchains including Bitcoin and Ethereum are truly decentralized, though the report appeared to focus largely on Bitcoin.

Among its key findings, the security firm found that outdated Bitcoin nodes, unencrypted blockchain mining pools and a majority of unencrypted Bitcoin network traffic traversing over only a limited number of ISPs could leave room for various actors to garner excessive, centralized control over the network.

Bitcoin nodes

The report stated that a subnetwork of Bitcoin nodes is largely responsible for reaching consensus and communicating with miners and that a “vast majority of nodes do not meaningfully contribute to the health of the network.”

It also found that 21% of Bitcoin nodes are running an older version of the Bitcoin Core client, which is known to have vulnerability concerns such as consensus errors. It states that “it is vital that all DLT nodes operate on the same latest version of software, otherwise, consensus errors can occur and lead to a blockchain fork.”

A Bitcoin node is any computer that stores and verifies blocks in the blockchain. Nodes are used to monitor the health and security of the Bitcoin blockchain and validate the accuracy of transactions. The current version all nodes should run is Bitcoin Core 22.0.

Another takeaway from the report found that Bitcoin’s mining pool protocol Stratum is unencrypted and essentially unauthenticated.

This means that malicious attacks can be made to “estimate the hashrate and payouts of a miner in the pool” and “manipulate Stratum messages to steal CPU cycles and payouts from mining pool participants.”

Funneling through ISPs

The authors also found vulnerabilities in the infrastructure, based on the fact that Bitcoin protocol traffic is unencrypted and 60% of the network traffic traverses only three ISPs.

This is a problem because “ISPs and hosting providers have the ability to arbitrarily degrade or deny service to any node.”

Twenty-six pages of detailed information, data, and infographics are contained within the report. DARPA started in 1958, and is responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the agency of the United States Department of Defense and the US military. Trail of Bits is a cybersecurity research and consulting firm that was engaged by DARPA to develop the report.

Related: Centralized vs. decentralized digital networks: Key differences

The report comes at interesting timing, after centralization concerns were highlighted on Solana.

On Sunday, Solana-based decentralized finance (DeFi) lending protocol Solend put together a spur-of-the-moment governance proposal aimed at taking over a whale’s wallet that was facing liquidation which was threatening to put a strain on Solend and its users.

The proposal which was passed by one whale, saw immediate kickback from Twitter, and the creation of another governance vote to invalidate the previously approved proposal. Observers arguing the move could cause damage to the overall image of DeFi as taking control of one of Solend’s wallets means the fundamental principles of DeFi fall into question and reversing a vote wasn’t much better.



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Bitcoin

What are Bitcoin covenants, and how do they work?

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Various prominent Bitcoin experts, including Adam Back, Jimmy Song and Andreas Antonopoulos, have raised some concerns over the implementation of restrictive covenants, in particular with the BIP119.

In particular, Antonopoulos has voiced concerns over “recursive covenants” that the new update could convey, thereby deteriorating the network. A recursive covenant occurs when a programmer restricts a transaction, but he does it in a way that restricts another transaction after that, starting a domino effect resulting in future limitless recursive covenants.

Blacklisting and risks of censorship and confiscation

While locking up where a Bitcoin can be spent is advantageous to ensure more security, it also provides grounds for censorship, and control by governments, which would hinder the very existence of Bitcoin. Authorities could potentially force exchanges to withdraw only to covenants with some control over the coin.

While this same risk already exists, since governments can ask exchanges to send only to addresses with a taproot spend path or multi-sig controlled by them, could the implementation of covenants facilitate malicious purposes where it would make it easier for governments to enforce a sort of on-chain KYC? 

Fungibility threats

Covenants might interfere with Bitcoin’s fungibility — the ability of each Bitcoin to be identical in function and quality.

While useful for security and scalability, covenants would change the properties of specific Bitcoin units, essentially creating different types of digital currency, distinct according to what could be spent or where it could be sent. 

As a result, those who oppose the change argued that limiting how you can spend your Bitcoin would ultimately limit Bitcoin’s use as a digital currency, with inevitable consequences in its value.

There are strong opinions on covenants’ pros and cons; however, debates are healthy and necessary to improve a decentralized and leaderless network. Ultimately, the final decision will be down to the users and node operators who will download the software that better reflects their viewpoint.

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BTC price tops 10-day highs as Bitcoin whale demand sees ‘huge spike’

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Bitcoin (BTC) made the most of weekend volatility on June 26 as a squeeze saw BTC/USD reach its highest in over a week.

BTC/USD 1-hour candle chart (Bitstamp). Source: TradingView

“Unusual whale activity” flagged

Data from Cointelegraph Markets Pro and TradingView followed the largest cryptocurrency as it hit $21,868 on Bitstamp.

Just hours from the weekly close, a reversal then set in under $21,500, Bitcoin still in line to seal its first “green” weekly candle since May.

The event followed warnings that volatile conditions both up and down could return during low-liquidity weekend trading. On-chain data nonetheless fixed what appeared to be buying by Bitcoin’s largest-volume investor cohort prior to the uptick.

“Unusual whale activity detected in Bitcoin,” popular analytics resource Game of Trades observed.

“The supply held by entities with balance 1k-10k BTC just saw a huge spike in demand. Let’s watch if the trend confirms.”

An accompanying chart from on-chain analytics firm Glassnode showed shifting up markedly from around the time BTC/USD hit lows of $17,600 this month.

BTC supply held by entities with 1,000-10,000 BTC annotated chart. Source: Games of Trades/ Twitter

As Cointelegraph reported, whales had eagerly purchased BTC below $20,000, forming new support clusters in the process.

CME futures gap looms large

For others, however, conservative views on price action remained the norm.

Related: Bitcoin gives ‘encouraging signs’ — Watch these BTC price levels next

Cointelegraph contributor Michaël van de Poppe eyed the need to crack $21,600 definitively in order to secure the chances of further upside. Additionally, last week’s closing price of $21,100 on CME Group’s Bitcoin futures could provide a short-term target.

“Standard weekend fake-outs happening and probably ending at CME close at $21.1K for Bitcoin,” he forecast on the day.

“No clear breakout above $21.6K at this point, yet.”

CME Bitcoin futures 1-hour candle chart. Source: TradingView

The monthly close was still on course to cement Bitcoin’s worst June on record with monthly losses of almost 33%.

Along with May 2021, this would also be the worst-performing month since before the 2018 bear market bottom, data from on-chain monitoring resource Coinglass confirms.

Bitcoin monthly returns chart (screenshot). Source: Coinglass

The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Cointelegraph.com. Every investment and trading move involves risk, you should conduct your own research when making a decision.



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Small-time investors achieve the 1 BTC dream as Bitcoin holds $20k range

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Ever since early Bitcoin (BTC) investors woke up millionaires as the ecosystem gained tremendous popularity alongside the mainstreaming of the internet, investors across the globe have been in the rush to accumulate as many of the 21 million BTC — one Satoshi at a time.

With BTC recently trading at the $20,000 range for the first time since 2020, small-time investors found a small window of opportunity to achieve their dream of owning at least 1 BTC. On June 20, Cointelegraph reported that the number of Bitcoin wallet addresses containing one BTC or more increased by 13,091 in just 7 days.

While the total number of addresses holding 1 BTC saw an immediate reduction in days to come, the crypto community on Reddit continues to welcome new crypto investors that hodled their way into becoming a wholecoiner.

A Reddit post announcing the procurement of 1 Bitcoin. Source: Reddit

Redditor arbalest_22, who shared the above screenshot, revealed that it took him around $35k in total to accumulate 1 BTC over several months since February 14, 2021. Showing further support for the Bitcoin ecosystem, the Redditor aims to continue procuring Satoshis or sats until he accumulates over 2 BTC. 

Arbalest_22 started purchasing BTC from crypto exchange Coinbase but later started using Strike owing to lower fees. Sharing a peek into his future plans, they stated:

“I’m hoping in the future I can treat it more like rich people treat real estate and take loans out against it. Then as it appreciates just pay off the old loan with a new one. Boom, tax-free income.”

Following suit, another Reddit user Evening-Main-5860, too, posted about being able to 1 BTC after largely following a dollar-cost averaging (DCA) strategy, wherein they regularly bought smaller amounts of BTC over a long period of time, stating:

“I was able to catch the falling knife and buy enough to get me over the finish line. This was no easy feat. I’m just an ordinary guy with an ordinary life.”

Data on number of wallet addresses with at least 1 BTC. Source: Glassnode

Between June 15 to June 25, the total number of Bitcoin wallet addresses holding more than 1 BTC grew by 873, according to Glassnode data.

Related: ‘Bitcoin dead’ Google searches hit new all-time high

While falling BTC prices are seen by many as an investment opportunity, Google search trends highlight the tendency of other investors to speculate about its demise.

The Google search results reflect peak anxiety for the cryptocurrency markets following weeks of relentless selloffs in asset prices.



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