Can a 51% attack be a good thing?

We recently witnessed a 51% attack which was carried out by two of the largest Bitcoin mining pools in the world, BTC.com and BTC.top. While these two mining pools carried out the attack in the name of the ‘greater good’, the fact that they were able to make such a bold and decisive move in response to Bitcoin theft that they uncovered, creates serious questions for just about anyone holding the popular cryptocurrency. The two mining pools took it upon themselves to govern the blockchain for a time.

If you don’t already know what a 51% attack on a blockchain is, it is when an entity owning a majority of the hash rate takes action on blocks that affect everyone else on the network. Generally, these types of attacks are seen as counter-intuitive and against what decentralized cryptocurrencies are all about. The whole idea behind using crypto, in fact, is to remain free from centralized controls, which means having a group act independently to affect the blockchain on a systemic level doesn’t sit well with everyone.

BTC.com and BTC.top became aware of a crypto miner stealing coins through a bug which May 15th’s hard fork was slotted to resolve.

A recipe for disaster?

In short, an attack on the blockchain is incredibly difficult no matter how you look at it.

In this case, however, there was a problem with Bitcoin Cash’s network and a bug created an opportunity. Since 2017, many coins have been incorrectly categorized and sent to addresses that are designated for free-spending – not connected to any one user. It is speculated that these coins were ‘lost’ in transactions from Bitcoin to Bitcoin Cash but were locked down until the recent hard fork when they became fair game to miners in the know. One miner, in particular, saw this and was quick to take advantage.

In response to the miner’s actions, BTC.com and BTC.top took it upon themselves to restructure the transactions to combat the theft.

The question that begs to be asked, of course, is how or why these mining pools should be able to take such action. Many would argue that a mining pool has no more right to controlling the blockchain than an individual miner does. They would also likely argue that actions like these show the increasing levels of centralization taking place on some blockchains – in this case, Bitcoin Cash. Others, however think that these steps were taken to keep best practices and blockchain reliability in mind.

Final thoughts

The mining pools acted decisively to protect the bigger picture, to be sure, but we will leave it up to you to decide whether it was the right thing to do. The concern for many is certainly real. If an organization, or partnership of organizations, holding a majority of cryptocurrency’s hash has the power to govern that asset, anyone from the minority of that crypto would be subject to the whims of the majority holders. That is an idea that could have some serious implications, however we haven’t seen such abuse of power on a blockchain yet.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

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