The cryptocurrency attack featured on Silicon Valley is real, but it doesn’t work like that

Spoilers for the trailer of End of season of Silicon Valley .

Tonight's season finale from Silicon Valley is titled "Fifty-One Percent," and according to the trailer for the episode, it presents a crazy twist centered on what's called an attack of 51 percent. This is when an organized group of cryptocurrency miners attains a majority in a blockchain network, which allows them to keep the network hostage and alter it in various ways. In the program, Pied Piper's enemies begin to join the blockchain network until they reach a consensus of 51 percent, which gives them the power to "eliminate all our users, all our developer applications, ruin our currency" . This would be the end of Pied Piper, "explains Dinesh.

The 51 percent attack exists in the real world and has been used against smaller coins like Krypton and Shift, which are clones of the most popular cryptocurrency Ethereum. They were attacked by the same group, which is called Team 51. Once the group had a majority of both currencies, it sent its creators a ransom note, stating that Krypton and Shift would suffer serious damage if they did not receive the payment. it is a real threat, a group of coin miners who control more than 50 percent of the network can wreak havoc by stopping payments among users or reversing certain completed transactions, so that it appears that they still have the coins they spent. [19659009] For smaller currencies in particular, rewriting transactions in the public ledger can be detrimental because it ruins the legitimacy of all transactions, something that could well kill the business. It is a problem that does not have an exact solution because those miners are taking advantage of the decentralized form in which the network is built.

But Cornell cryptographer Emin Gün Sirer tells The Verge that 51 percent of the attacks can & # 39; Do as much damage as the episode of Silicon Valley suggests. Although playing with a coin like this could block it, it would not allow the attackers to "eliminate all our users, all our developer applications" as suggested by Dinesh.

"Miners with 51 percent or more have many powers, but they do not have the ability to change the real rules of the system, nor can they usurp funds," explains Sirer, "They can rewrite the existing blockchain in a way limited: they can not enter transactions that do not exist yet, they can skip any transaction they want, and they certainly can not change any of the existing rules. "

Sirer suggests that the exaggerated power attributed to the attack is just a bit of dramatic license. "Sometimes, for a good script, Hollywood will take liberties with the technical facts on the ground, I think we have one of those situations here." Silicon Valley has a long history of posing real problems in the technological community, although sometimes exaggerated by the effect. Last week, his penultimate episode highlighted excellent points about Bitcoin, and although this week's episode is a bit less precise, it still points to a big concern. The 51 percent attack is not well known outside the community of cryptocurrency researchers and suggests a potentially serious failure in fully decentralized networks. For people trying to do business in these block chains, it's a problem worth recognizing.