To Kill A Blockchain, Add Naughty Stuff To It?

Even if not all of us are blockchain savants, we mostly have a pretty good idea of how they function as a distributed database whose integrity is maintained by an unbroken chain of conputational hashes. For cyryptocurrencies a blockchain ledger stores transaction records, but there is no reason why the same ledger can not contain almost any other form of digital content. [Bruce Schneier] writes on the potential consequences of content that is illegal or censored being written to a blockchain, and about how it might eventually form a fatal weakness for popular cryptocurrencies.

It’s prompted by the news that some botnet operators have been spotted using the Bitcoin ledger to embed command and control messages to hide the address of their control server. There have already been cases of illegal pornography being placed within blockchain ledgers, as well as leaked government data.

[Schneier] uses these two content cases to pose the question as to whether this might prove to be a vulnerability for the whole system. If a government such as China objects to a block containing censored material or a notoriously litigious commercial entity such as Disney objects to a piece of copyrighted content, they could take steps to suppress copies of the blockchain that contain those blocks. Being forced by hostile governments or litigious corporations to in effect remove a block from the chain by returning to the previous block would fork the blockchain, and as multiple forks would inevitably be made in this way it would become a threat to the whole. It’s an interesting possible scenario, and one that should certainly be ready by anyone with an interest in blockchain technologies.

Only a few weeks ago we looked at another threat to blockchain technologies – that they might be legislated out of existence by environmental rules.

65 thoughts on “To Kill A Blockchain, Add Naughty Stuff To It?

  1. I think it would be really interesting to use the blockchain for veracity of media, i.e. has a journalistic photograph been tampered with somewhere between camera and end user

    1. I really like this idea – if the camera could, at a hardware level, write a hash of the image being produced, and then that would be part of the chain, it would provide some verifiable data. Of course, this causes issues when you want to correct a photo in a non-deceptive way. Simple color correction, for instance.

      1. Any dishonest journalists can ofcourse take a photo at a cunning angle or of a staged scene, and then also have the blockaahin report it to be the “untampered” “truth”.

    2. The Jenny LIST’S of the world, who steal other people’s article’s to put out a story is just sad.

      And YES a way to transfer information secretly is the ENTIRE POINT, just because John Q Public isn’t smart enough to get it, changes nothing. A mass media campaign to cherry pick parts of something so you see it from the “FED’s”, and “BANKS” point of view has been ongoing, another example of “ohh my god the same part in these Tesla cars is also a component of a WMD” lol and everyone freaks out, and hides under there closest Government. All I can say is do you really think this wasn’t thought of a decade + ago?? Ok bye, and “EYES OPEN” don’t let them put there fear blinders back on you.

      1. You need to have a transaction.
        And to have a transaction, you pay the transaction cost.
        And it cannot be infitely small as the traffic volume is deliberately kept very low, so at low enough transaction cost it might never make it to the chain, or take WEEKS.

    1. depends on the network, the older and more primitive ones might cost you a bunch, like $30 or so, but newer like Stellar might be as cheap as $0.20
      nothing is free, forget about heaven on earth

  2. These concerns are generally avoidable in practice, although its anyone’s guess whether a government would choose to do so. First, the blockchain isn’t natively that accessible–it requires a decoder/viewer program. So censorship can occur at that layer. And note that any byte stream can be “decoded” into any other by xor-ing the right bytes. So ignoring the viewer software is a fundamentally flawed approach.

    Second, blockchain software in practice already contains various caveats about historical blocks that, for example, allow formats that are no longer allowed. A possible, but ugly, response to a copyright challenge is to do something similar to the containing block. That is, hard code it to say “I know the block with hash N is valid, here’s the relevant financial data, and don’t bother downloading the whole thing and checking it.” For performance reasons, most software already skips some checks for all old blocks when the software needs to catch up after being offline for a few weeks.

    1. It seems to me that a simple solution would be that if blocks are no longer contested after a couple of days from when they were mined, then you could simply drop blocks older than, say, three months and pick a “new” starting point.

      So long as the procedure for doing so is spelled out in very clear algorithmic terms, it could be carried out and de-centrally agreed upon just like any other transaction.

      Problem Solved, if all you want to use the blockchain for is money.

  3. You are literately talking about an upload rate less than 100,000 bytes (per transaction) every ~10 minutes.
    So probably about 1200 bits/second. I can honestly see how that could become a major issue.

  4. Warning – Unpopular opinion –
    Perhaps cryptocurrencies need to die, this might be a way of doing it.
    -Bitcoin, Ethereal etc are solely responsible for serious worldwide power consumption and carbon release.
    -Might clean up the global semiconductor market, even make GPUs come down in price and increase availability.
    -No longer beneficial to Scalpers of GPUs / ASIC builders.

    Whilst the idea of cryptocurrencies is great, open and ‘free to use’, it has ended up funneling big money into those who can afford to pay for the compute resources required to mine. China and the US taking the lions share.

      1. Tulip mania

        Tulip mania (Dutch: tulpenmanie) was a period during the Dutch Golden Age when contract prices for some bulbs of the recently introduced and fashionable tulip reached extraordinarily high levels, and then dramatically collapsed in February 1637. It is generally considered to have been the first recorded speculative bubble or asset bubble in history.

        One example:

        A tulip, known as “the Viceroy” (viseroij), displayed in the 1637 Dutch catalog Verzameling van een Meenigte Tulipaanen. Its bulb was offered for sale for between 3,000 and 4,200 guilders (florins) depending on weight (gewooge). A skilled craftsworker at the time earned about 300 guilders a year.

        1. Worse than that, at least at the end of the day, the Dutch had some flowers. With blockchain, its just a bunch of bytes that are completely useless outside of a cryptocurrency (And possibly a massive electrical bill)

          1. Wouldn’t that make it even more effective? It seems like CC takes the worst parts of the whole concept of money and amplifies them.

            It’s too new to be directly involved in wars, but even thst could change if it was truly mainstream…..

      2. It’s have been a decade now, it’s a bit late, don’t you think?
        Plus blockchains aren’t limited to crypto currencies, it’s just an application among others.
        Lastly, shaming won’t stop the new finencials inverstors that get in the crytpo since 2020.

        Basically, you are just fighting windmill at this point.

        1. And an odd position for a forum where “freedom”* is championed. That includes the freedom to spend one’s money where one wants.

          *Freedom to hack your own hardware for starters.

        2. The other applications, with the possible exception of elections, are kinda holding back decentralized tech.

          Nobody wants their Facebook posts from when they were 16 and just lost all their hair and on suicide watch permanently archived for all of time on a million computers, for someone to eventually search through and make a “Cringe I found on the Blockchain” post.

          In practice, the delete feature of centralized media works. The NSA probably has a copy, but that’s not what anyone cares about.

          Maybe one or two of your friends screenshotted, but it’s unlikely they’re gonna send it to your new boss unless they’re extremely dedicated and willing to risk looking like a jerk themselves.

          Decentralized stuff can have deletion too, but all this focus on ledgers really interferes with that.

    1. Oh please, I have nothing against your opinion. But check the “facts” that you bring to try to back that up.
      – TikTok consumes a shitload of energy (the server gobble a lot, but the battery drain of the thousand of cellphones makes it even worse) and no one bat an eye. Also, most of the small scale miners use the heat generated to heat their home. so instead of just burning energy, it burns energy AND create data. Plus, there is very low consumption crypto available too.
      – The global semiconductor market is bugged, but it’s not because of miners. Miners do increas the problem, but that’s not what caused the problem. Plus, GPU shortage is not an average people’s problem. It’s a gamer and maybe AI scientist problem. Not a 90% population impacting problem. Also, as soon as the new cards will be available, miners will sell the old ones, so the used market will florish.
      – Please, we both know that Scalpers will Scalp, whatever the product. If there is scarcity (which company produce artificially) scalper will be here. PS5, PS4, PS3, even back in the PS2/Game cube, there where scalpers. And all the iProducts too.
      – Etc.

      So please, think what you want, bu base your choice on real data, not something that floats on the net.
      If you have links to back your arguments, please, do post them, it would be interesting to know.

      1. Hy this is interesting, do you have data on tik tok consumption v bitcoin. I suppose you could extend this to youtuve and other steaming services. Myself I’d be very skeptical of bitcoin but very happy to see the data if you could post it

      2. [1] “TikTok consumes a shitload of energy”. That something else B is also bad doesn’t make the first thing A less bad.
        [2] “Miners do increas the problem”. Right, so you’re admitting that BitCoin is in that way bad.
        [3] ” If there is scarcity (which company produce artificially) scalper will be here.” Scarcity of GPU and some components are worsened by the scare resource being wasted on mining, so that’s another way BitCoin is bad.

        In addition to wasting resources cryptocurrencies also enable ransomware criminals who cost their victims a lot of time and money and disrupt hospitals and other health care institutions.

          1. Bitcoin mining is a very inefficient way to heat a house. Thus resource waste compared to proper heating arrangements. Mining cryptocurrency is also waste and a net negative for society as a whole. Mining has no net benefits. It is only achieves two things: it lets criminals get away with ransomware (a big negative) and its has ponzi scheme type effects: some person A will lose money at someone else B will gain that money, which is zero sum, or actually worse than zero sum due to the wasted energy and hardware. So the fact that miners want to continue isn’t a good reason to let them, when the costs for all of us and especially the victims of ransomware criminals are much, much worse.

      3. I agree, I personally mine crypto at home, not constantly, only when I’m not using my computer, so ~ 12 hrs a day on average, and it’s not running full tilt, I have to set to mine at peak efficiency, which is around 60% utilization, so I get the most for my electricity, and the little bit of heat produced just helps keep my office comfortable. I’ve done the math, and I pay about $0.55 per day on electricity for mining alone, and I make about $5-$8 a day on just my 2 computers while I’m not using them. And I’m just running 2x 20 series GPUs that I bought long ago before the shortages started, a 2080 ti at my desk, and a 2060 in the living-room for couch co-op games.

          1. Coins are worthless, I agree, but there are thousands of other uses, like accounting, inventory, cellular native systems and such that would greatly improve with a distributed ledger technology.

    2. My brother-in-law is a part of owner in an engineering firm, and a big project they’re working on right now is a cryptocurrency mining setup where they have a power plant that was unable to deliver its power to any major Metro because it’s in the Western United States, so instead they’re going to use all the power for crypto mining!

    3. I started writing at article on why I hate CC, and there’s just so many reasons.

      Anything that doesn’t allow reversing fraudulent transactions encourages fraud. We already see it used for ransomware.

      When you make money with it, there is an incentive to mine and invest. It doesn’t inherently encourage making useful services. It can’t be taxed, if the anonymity works as intended, making it the perfect way to get rich while contributing basically nothing.

      Not only do gamers want CPUs, but they are used for important scientific research.

      The economy is inherently unstable because people are irrational and self interested and you can’t predict the weather or pandemics. Moving to an unregulated currency seems like an Antifragile type scheme to directly expose everyone to that instability.

      Which usually results in the poorest people going bankrupt and the richest buying their house. Volatility usually benefits those who are already the best off, at everyone else’s expense.k

        1. Exactly! This article as well as most of the comments read as “it’s new and I’m startled by it I’m sticking with fiat which is literally backed by nothing but my belief that it’s something.” People on this forum and others keep mentioning attacks and this other stuff on something that is an immutable ledger and saves no personal info. The biggest issue is really people not remembering their passwords. And for allllll of these people talking about the travesty of crypto, Powell went on to state that they are looking at using blockchain tech for the digi dollar that’s… centralized??? But I do get a good kick out of comments and articles full of emotional reasoning and confirmation bias.

    4. Agreed! Anonymous blockchains in their current form are inherently bad for society. The basic idea of unalterable data is good but the verification mechanism and anonymity make it an expensive means for antisocial (i.e. bad for society – not just obnoxious) behavoir. The solution is to have no anonymity and a verification mechanism that is based on as many as possible identifiable individuals/organizations signing the content. Then trust is based on how much you trust the signers. Secrecy seems good when you have powerful oppressive parties but it also allows such parties to operate.

    5. Everyone talks about the power consumption and carbon release of crypto but they leave off the same points of standard currency. How much is consumed creating a $0.01 coin or a $1. Don’t forget to add in the cost to move from treasury to market and place to place over the life span of the bill. Also add in that over 70% of the power used for mining is renewable.
      What about the NFT market? Crypto isnt currency only now.
      GPUs would be short without mining. There is a worldwide silicone shortage. Automakers have assembly lines waiting on chips that has nothing to do with GPUs. Chips are a volume thing so if anything they help spread the cost of development over more chips maybe keeping the price lower and creates a larger secondary market

      1. Very poor example. A penny may cost over $0.01, but it can be used a great many times before it needs to be replaced. Crypto consumes energy with every transaction. And yes, currency IS expensive. But how much energy does it cost to transfer money from one entity to another?

        You sound just like the people who proclaim the benefits of guns, just because they don’t want to give up their own toys.

        And just so you know, silicone is what bathtub sealant is made from. Microchips are made from silicon.

    6. Agreed that blockchain based cryptocurrency would be better off gone. But the idea of a decentralised uncensorable unblockable currecny is a good one, blockchain just isn’t the right way to do it. And any such currency also needs some way of being tidied to a value of real world importance, either related to curencies (maybe the average between the dollar, euro, pound(UK), franc(swiss) and yen..) or to goods (the value of a day of bread or a tonne of iron…). How to tie to a realworld value, as opposed to the ultimate fiat of blockchain (sure state money has the danger of being worth only what a state wants it to be, but current blockchains have the danger of being only worth anything because masses of people want it to be), is what I suspect economists will call a “hard problem”. Still, anyone who can find a low energy, computationally efficient and real-world-value-tied way to run a decentralised anonymous unblockable currency would do the world a great favour.

      As for uses for blockchain, there is one possible use. Use it as somewhere people can upload news, or just personal commentary, and other data they want to remain as a matter of public record. Nothing would verify that anything which went in was true, or legal, but this way you could have an archive, albeit mostly filled with junk I suspect, of publically viewable data which could never be erased. A good basis for an anti-censorship system and a way to stop people covering up history, if not of any se as a currency.

    7. It’s not an unpopular opinion but unfortunately it’s ignorant and stupid. First, don’t you think the most innovative and world changing idea/technology deserves from us a little bit of energy. People already wasting so much of it on gaming, wars, and practically nothing nowadays. Most importantly, cryptocurrencies are moving away from Proof of work (PoW) to a proof of Stake (PoS) systems. Projects like Cardano and even Ether in the near future uses a PoS system which consumes the electricity of a house to run the entire network vs that of a small country with PoW consensus.

      1. Ignorant and stupid?

        “First, don’t you think the most innovative and world changing idea/technology deserves from us a little bit of energy.”

        No, I don’t think they deserve a LOT of energy. Crypto currencies consume whatever energy the miners can afford to spend on them, to compete with each other. They expand to use all of the energy they can. I’ll believe “proof of stake” when I see it.

        And just what is so great about them, anyway? Sure, governments don’t always regulate currencies well. But having NOBODY regulating them is even worse.

  5. All, I know is when the bitcoin operation was working here, it consumed more electricity than our city. Sounds ‘environmentally’ sound doesn’t it? Luckily is was not ‘on’ when we had a cold snap as we were on the edge of having to shed some load as it was (the wind was 0, solar doesn’t work at night, hydro in the winter is down, etc.). So yes, in a utility, we see the affect of the silly game techies are playing here. The fad affects all of us.

  6. I find this ironic: Only a few weeks ago we looked at another threat to blockchain technologies – that they might be legislated out of existence by environmental rules.

    I live in the southeastern US.
    Running my HVAC for one hour during the summer uses more electricity than using my 3060ti at 100% load mining bit coin for 24 hours.

    1. Okay, sure. I.e., bullshit. How much extra HVAC do you have to run in order for your mining rig to run 24/7? That’s not just electricity use for the miner, but additional electricity for the HVAC.

      1. And then I see the error in my logic. Sorry about that. What you are really saying is that you are a small enough operator in cryptocurrencies that targeting you is like targeting someone for using a flashlight that has an incandescent bulb.

        BUT, if you USE cryptocurrency, you have to remember that the economics of crypto is that it ends up costing just less in energy than the value someone got from mining it. Someone who probably DOES heat their house in the winter with their mining, and doesn’t stop just because it’s summer.

  7. It’s interesting how governments always want to fight crime which is (sometimes) being enabled by crpyto, yet they continue to hide their own horrible crimes, including m.rder1ng thousands each year, in far away lands, without jury or trial. Not to mention Epste1ns of which only 1% get uncovered and then mysteriously “disappear”.

    If governments didn’t lie to people, there would be no need for “conspiracy theories”.

    So as usual, one rule for me, and another for thee.

  8. With such content, it will make a lot of organization reticent to host copies of the blockchain, included organization that already hosting it, lowering the barrier to a well-heeled organization hijacking the whole thing by deploying enough nodes to gain majority.

    Hell, it wouldn’t be difficult for someone like the NSA to intentionally put illegal content into the blockchain, then siccing the FBI / InterPol on those servers’ owners until a significant number have been taken down, then its just a matter of setting up a bunch of their own servers until they get a majority, then just going about manipulating the blockchain. They may have already accomplished that and are just waiting to do something until the right opportunity, or to keep the servers online for long enough that rewinding the chain becomes too unattractive to do it.

    Of course, they aren’t the only organization that can do that, and that isn’t the only way. China’s intelligence agencies also have sufficient power to perform a similar attack. There have also been a lot of police agencies that have accrued a lot of seized cryptocurrency, with some agencies have more than enough that they could one day do a mass-sell of it all, which is likely to just cause a massive wave of panic selling (and collapse the currency).

  9. Personally I would encourage blockchains to be used for the most irrefutable truth mechanisms for mass media misinformation and disinformation. We need the truth not someone’s opinion. Fact based that can be sourced to the original link and owner not some pathetic journalism spewing crap day after day.

    1. I’m not sure how this would work. You could guarantee the authenticity of a document (that is, prove that it came from a certain person or organization and hasn’t been altered) using old fashioned encryption methods, no blockchains required. But truth? All blockchains give you is a trail of evidence. You still have to be able to trust the original source.

  10. you go ahead and do that, meanwhile, I am buying and holding more crypto because I know it’s here to stay, it’s the the future, and the most innovative idea and technology since the invention of internet and personal computers.
    It’s really painful to see people expressing BS just because they don’t have the time to read or educate themselves about it

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