The Message Is The Medium

No, you did not “Break Bitcoin”

No, you didn't

Quote from a Motherboard (Vice) article published yesterday (October 7):

“Alister Maclin can break Bitcoin on command. In an email, Maclin said he’s been the one spamming the Bitcoin network over the last several days with enough force to compel a Bitcoin exchange to notify its customers that the attack was causing withdrawal issues. Of course, he added, “Alister Maclin” is an alias.”

UPDATED: Motherboard is tweeting a link to this article with the words: “Breaking Bitcoin was cheap, simple, and effective”.

That’s just clickbait, whether uniformed or intentional.

This is another one for Bitcoin Obituaries, where “Bitcoin has died 74 times”.

Your bitcoins are safe (even though your wallet’s transaction list might seem a bit confused at times, the money will still be transferred). Services (and their users) that have prepared for these sorts of attacks should not experience too much of a disturbance. This is a good time for wallet providers and other services using the Bitcoin network to make sure they are robust (that they have taken the malleability issue in consideration, for instance).

“Attacks” against the Bitcoin network are common, but the system has many built-in protective techniques implemented. Overnight (up until Thursday early morning CET) for instance a “dust attack” was witnessed on the network:


A “dust storm” beginning at approx. 18:00 CET Wednesday evening.

The spammy transactions someone is sending towards the Bitcoin network does show that it’s a good idea to pay a fee if you want to have your transaction processed and confirmed quickly (like it’s always been) – but this one did not “break bitcoin” either (but it’s currently pretty messy to categorize this attack as it includes many transactions in different sizes, they are not all small “dusty” transactions).

This site tries its best to inform you on how large your fee should be if you want to be sure your transaction will confirm “quickly” (at the time of writing that fee was around 33,660 satoshis for a median size transaction, and you can check the size (value) of your fee in your local currency here.

The mempool (the buffer of transactions waiting for confirmation by the miners of the network) is unusually large right now (about 1GB) but it doesn’t really matter for a regular user (if he/she is using a robust wallet/service) as all the dust transactions will be left by the wayside and sooner or later just get dropped by the network.

The “dust storm” started around 18:00 CET yesterday and ebbed out during the night and it does create problems for some actors in the industry who haven’t anticipated these sorts of games, but as a regular user you can still use the network just as you could’ve any other day before (or after) anyone “broke Bitcoin” according to media outlets. Some nodes (less than 10% though) went down for instance during the night. This might be a good time to decide on some threshold level for spam if you are running a node, as these sorts of games will continue as the network grows.

So, what’s the reason for this, the latest in a row of an outburst of spammy (very small and cheap) transactions on the network? Probably just attention. It worked.