Bitcoin Stress Test reveals frightening results

Last night, a group of redditors decided to perform a stress test on the Bitcoin network, by submitting a massive number of Bitcoin transactions all within a one hour period of time. The goal was to see just how easy it would be for a small group of individuals to cripple the network, while causing extensive confirmation delays. The results were frightening.

While the thread attracted a number of transaction “spammers,” the scale of the “attack” was relatively limited with only a few individuals pushing high volumes of transactions to the network. With that said, despite the limited effort, a near 8-hour backlog was created, with more than 22,000 transactions sitting in the memory pool waiting for their first confirmation.

Some members of the Bitcoin community pointed out that this was a coordinated action and that we need not worry since it was an abnormal situation that is unlikely to occur under regular conditions. This may be true, however the frightening aspect is that the network was effectively crippled for the better part of the evening due to the actions of a very small number of individuals taking part in the stress test. If a coordinated entity were to attempt a similar attack for profit, or if a government agency were to perform such an attack to effectively ddos the network, Bitcoin could become useless for sending transactions for days at a time. In fact, such an attack is surprisingly cheap. Our analysis of standard transaction fees, and purposely large transaction sizes (in storage terms), has revealed that such an attack could be carried out for as little as 17.28 BTC per day. At today’s rate of $232 USD per coin, the attack would cost a malicious actor less than $4000 per day.

At this point it has become clear that the threat must be taken seriously and some sort of hard-fork modification must be made.

May 30, 2015Peter P

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