Attacks are becoming alarmingly more common. One of the most feared forms of attack is the so called “51% attack.” The team behind project Horizen believe they may have come up with a solution for this increasing problem.
Even though this attack has alarming consequences, many networks believe they are safe. Simply because of the incredible amount of resources it would take to organize such an attack on a large network.
In order for the 51% attack to be successful, one miner has to take control of over 51% of the network. Naturally, for large scale networks this looks rather impossible. The sheer amount of hash power required to take control of 51% of let’s say bitcoin’s network is unimaginably large.
Horizen’s team wants to update their proof-of-work (PoW) algorithm with a “delay function.” This function will instantly penalize miners, which can potentially be preparing to launch a 51% attack. The penalty will essentially make the attack over 10 times more expensive.
This will potentially be very effective, since in order to complete the attack, the malicious miner has to acquire or produce the blocks in secret.
Horizen could have done it
Horizen’s algorithm will force delayed blocks to be penalized. This involves all blocks, which are broadcasted to the network after x amount of time since the latest block. Essentially, this is a modification of a feature of the underlying consensus algorithm. The so called “longest chain rule” will be modified with the delay function.
A simple way to explain it would be to have a proposed block, 5 or more blocks behind and that block would be instantly penalized. This increases the amount of blocks the attacker needs in order to have transactions accepted on the chain. Potentially this will decrease the chances of the 51% attacks dramatically.
Horizen’s architecture will only penalize malicious miners. Because the average time it takes to find a block is 2 to 2 and a half minutes and the maximum broadcast around the world takes like 1-5 seconds at most, there is legitimately no way a miner has any reason to be 5 or more blocks behind.
There has been much discussion about whether or not Horizen can actually live up to their promises. A lot of research still has to be done, but if Horizen’s proposal is successful, one of the most feared attacks can become a thing of the past.
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