Assuming you haven’t already heard of a paper released by two researchers at Cornell University yesterday that suggested the Bitcoin currency is susceptible to a little something called ‘selfish mining,’ I will do my best to give you the Spark Notes version.
The paper — put together by Ittay Eyal and Emin Gun Sirer — explains that rogue mining pools could possibly keep the discovery of a Bitcoin block private whilst other mining pools look for that very same block — expending mining resources. The point in keeping the block private is to allow the described ‘selfish’ mining pool to get dibs on the next block, giving them more rewards (Bitcoins) than they’re actually entitled to.
But while this may actually sound like something some users would panic over, it probably shouldn’t be.
Lead Bitcoin developer Gavin Andresen took to Twitter to swat down the idea that the Bitcoin network is vulnerable to selfish mining.
“Executive summary of Cornell paper: not a big deal even assuming their analysis is correct (I’m not yet convinced),” he said.
The process is rather complex, and admittedly, even I don’t completely understand it. But if Bitcoin’s lead developer isn’t concerned, should you? Proposals to modify the protocol to prevent such attacks from taking place are already coming forward.