Bitcoin Cash’s October 2019 Hashrate Volatility Increase

Abstract: We look at the recent elevated level of hashrate volatility on the Bitcoin Cash network. We note that the apparent cyclical nature of the oscillations may indicate a form of manipulation, although we found no direct evidence of such behavior. We conclude that there are no easy solutions to Bitcoin Cash’s hashrate volatility issue, on the other hand the negative impact on the usability of the coin has been marginal so far. The best course of action in the short term may be to be patient and research possible solutions, unless a particular cause becomes more apparent. 

Bitcoin Cash Hashrate Estimate- (8 hour rolling average) – PH/s

(Source: BitMEX Research)
(Notes: Eight hour periods were chosen to maximise the visual impact of the apparent hashrate oscillations. Hashrate data calculated by using the difficulty and block timestamps)

Bitcoin Cash Hashrate Volatility Concerns

Recently some have expressed concerns about the apparent unusually high level of volatility in the Bitcoin Cash hashrate, causing larger than expected variances in block times. As the above chart indicates, the volatility in hashrate appears to have picked up at around the start of October 2019. It is important to consider that we calculated the hashrate based on block times, which is a random and volatile process anyway, therefore determining if short term changes in the hashrate are random or caused by actual changes can be challenging. However, in our view the data is reasonably compelling. This volatility may have made the network marginally less reliable for payments in some periods, although its not a major issue, in our view.

For the month of October 2019 we conducted a basic analysis of Bitcoin Cash’s difficulty, block timestamps and the times in which our node received the Bitcoin Cash blocks.

As the below chart illustrates, Bitcoin Cash does indeed appear to have more volatile time gaps between blocks when compared to Bitcoin. 

Time interval between blocks – 50 block rolling average (Minutes) – October 2019

(Source: BitMEX Research)
(Notes: The x-axis is block heights for Bitcoin Cash, while Bitcoin is added for the same 29 days ending 29th October 2019
)

Not only does the Bitcoin Cash time gap between blocks appear more volatile than Bitcoin, with higher peaks and lower troughs, but it also appears to be slightly less random, with more regular peaks and troughs. There may be some form of cyclicality in the data, which might imply manipulation, although we found no direct evidence of this. On the other hand, the random nature of the data means that the chart may look cyclical, but it could be an illusion. Please note, the Bitcoin Cash difficulty is adjusted on a per block basis and therefore the adjustment algorithm should not cause such cyclicality. Please also note that a 50 block rolling period was chosen to maximize the size of the peaks and troughs, therefore the chart may exaggerate the issue slightly.

The Inconclusive Hunt For Evidence Of Causation

In the table below, we analysed the average difficulty of each block for each mining pool, by calculating the difficulty at each block height. We were trying to determine if one mining pool had been successful in some strategy aimed at achieving a lower average difficulty than its peers. The analysis was inconclusive and the unknown miner(s) achieved an average difficulty reasonably close to the total average. However, it is possible a more detailed analysis of the data could find something more interesting.

Bitcoin Cash – October 2019 Mining Pool Statistics

Mining pool

Number of Blocks Mined

Mining Share

Average Difficulty When Each Block Was Mined

Average Time Gap Between Timestamp & Our Local Clock (Minutes)

Unknown

2,260

58.5%

346,505,954,955

0.48

BTC.TOP

394

10.2%

338,181,028,080

0.37

BTC.COM

374

9.7%

356,552,266,136

0.35

Bitcoin.com

266

6.9%

351,755,694,757

0.68

ViaBTC

234

6.1%

354,652,554,749

0.40

Antpool

210

5.4%

355,272,725,567

0.38

Huobi

118

3.1%

344,651,571,915

1.00

DPOOL

6

0.2%

360,262,982,821

0.31

Total

3,862

100.0%

347,926,146,858

0.48

(Source: BitMEX Research)

We also analysed the time gaps between the block timestamps and the time our local system clock says it received the block, again looking for discrepancies between pools for evidence of manipulation. Perhaps exploiting the potential 8.3% vulnerability we mentioned in yesterday’s piece. Again, no such direct evidence was found, with the unknown pool bang on the average, with the timestamp 0.48 minutes before our system clock.

The following charts continue to look at the timestamp gap to our local clock, and compare Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash, in an attempt to visually identify any irregularities. What they appear to indicate is that Bitcoin timestamps are on average more consistent with our local clock and the time gaps are less volatile. This may merely suggest that Bitcoin has a stronger peer-to-peer network than Bitcoin Cash, with faster block propagation, rather than any nefarious manipulation of the timestamps.

Bitcoin Cash – Average Time Gap Between Timestamp & Our Local Node Clock (Minutes) – October 2019 – (Y-axis cut to compare with Bitcoin)

(Source: BitMEX Research)

(Notes: Orange line is 50 block moving average)

Bitcoin – Average Time Gap Between Timestamp & Our Local Node Clock (Minutes) – October 2019

(Source: BitMEX Research)

(Notes: Orange line is 50 block moving average. The x-axis is the month of October 2019)

We were unable to find any evidence of timestamp manipulation or other nefarious mining strategies. Bitcoin Cash is a minority hashrate coin and therefore this is likely to make the hashrate more volatile to some extent. Perhaps the apparent cyclicality is caused by lags in automated systems designed to mine the most profitable coins or some other more benign factor.

Conclusion

Fixing the potential problems with Bitcoin Cash’s hashrate volatility may require a hardfork and the coin is already scheduled to have a hardfork upgrade in a few days time, which does not include a fix for the above issue. Any fix is likely to require considerable development work and analysis/discussion before it is rolled out. Therefore a fix is unlikely in the short term. However, the issue may not be urgent.

As for how Bitcoin Cash may consider fixing the problem, we suggest consideration of the following proposals:

  1. Merged Mining – Enabling merge mining with Bitcoin, as we explained back in November 2017, could add stability to Bitcoin Cash mining, however some in the Bitcoin Cash the community may still be unwilling to adopt this due to the somewhat unfriendly attitude towards Bitcoin. In our view, this anger will dissipate over time.
  2. Adopt Bitcoin’s Two Week Adjustment Period – Bitcoin Cash could return to Bitcoin’s fixed two week window difficulty adjustment system. This is perhaps one of the more simple solutions, although it will not completely solve the problem.
  3. Reduce block times – Bitcoin Cash could re-enable the 1MB blocksize limit and reduce the block time to around 1 minute instead, although this may not fix hashrate volatility, due to the lower block time gaps, blocks would appear reasonably regularly anyway. This strategy more directly aligns with the Bitcoin Cash community’s objective of higher onchain throughput and improved usability without waiting so long for confirmations, than blocksize limit increases would, in our view.

As of now, the elevated hashrate volatility issue does not appear urgent and has only persisted for one month. The apparent sudden increase in volatility in October 2019 remains a mystery, at least to us. However, if this continues or a particular cause becomes apparent, in our view, a fix may be necessary. 

Bitcoin’s Block Timestamp Protection Rules

Abstract: We examine two of Bitcoin’s little-known rules, designed to stop nefarious miners from manipulating the block timestamps and achieving unfairly high mining rewards. We discuss why constants such as the two-hour MAX_FUTURE_BLOCK_TIME value may have been chosen and how this value may have particular implications for Bitcoin Cash. We conclude that Bitcoin’s time protection rules appear reasonably effective, an impressive feat, considering the lack of a functioning network when the rules were implemented. 

(Source: Pexels)

Bitcoin’s Time Problem

One might think that time is not an important consideration for the Bitcoin network, since the blocks already have a sequential order, as each block references the hash of the previous block. Bitcoin blocks also contain transactions (inputs, outputs and values), a Merkle tree leading to the block header and the block hash itself, used for proof of work. On the surface this may seem sufficient for a transaction and consensus system. However, there is the matter of the difficulty adjustment – if too many miners join the network, the block times could become too fast, or if too many miners leave, the block times could become too slow, making the network unreliable. To resolve this problem, every two weeks the mining difficulty adjusts to aim for a target time between blocks of ten minutes. Unfortunately, in order to calculate the two-week period, the concept of time needs to be introduced to the blockchain and be part of the consensus system. Therefore blocks are required to contain a timestamp, and one can think of Bitcoin as the world’s first distributed electronic clock.

Block Timestamp Security Rules

When a Bitcoin block is produced there are essentially two times involved:

  1. The timestamp in the block header, put there by the miner
  2. The actual time the block was produced.

Of course, these two times should be pretty much the same. After all, surely the miners have reasonably accurate clocks and why would they lie about the time?

As it happens, there are some incentives for miners to lie about the time. For instance, nefarious miners could add a timestamp which is in the future. For example, if a block took 10 minutes to produce, miners could claim it took them 15 minutes, by adding a timestamp 5 minutes into the future. If this pattern of adding 5 minutes is continued throughout a two week difficulty adjustment period, it would look like the average block time was 15 minutes, when in reality it was shorter than this. The difficulty could then adjust downwards in the next period, increasing mining revenue due to faster block times. Of course, the problem with this approach is that the Bitcoin clock continues to move further and further out of line with the real time.

To resolve or mitigate the above issue, Bitcoin has two mechanisms to protect against miners manipulating the timestamp:

  1. Median Past Time (MPT) Rule – The timestamp must be further forwards than the median of the last eleven blocks. The median of eleven blocks implies six blocks could be re-organised and time would still not move backwards, which one can argue is reasonably consistent with the example, provided in Meni Rosenfeld’s 2012 paper, that six confirmations are necessary to decrease the probability of success below 0.1%, for an attacker with 10% of the network hashrate.
  2. Future Block Time Rule – The timestamp cannot be more than 2 hours in the future based on the MAX_FUTURE_BLOCK_TIME constant, relative to the median time from the node’s peers. The maximum allowed gap between the time provided by the nodes and the local system clock is 90 minutes, another safeguard. It should be noted that unlike the MPT rule above, this is not a full consensus rule. Blocks with a timestamp too far in the future are not invalid, they can become valid as time moves forwards.

Rule number one ensures that the blockchain continues to move forwards in time and rule number two ensures that the chain does not move too far forwards. These time protection rules are not perfect, for example miners could still move the timestamps forward by producing timestamps in the future, within a two week period, however the impact of this would be limited.

As the above ratio illustrates, since two hours is only a small fraction of two weeks, the impact this manipulation has on network reliability and mining profitability may be limited. This is the equivalent of a reduction in the time between blocks from 10 minutes to 9 minutes and 54 seconds, in the two weeks after the difficulty adjustment. In addition to this, it is only a one-off change, as once the two-hour time shift has occurred, it cannot occur again, without first going backwards. At the same time, the miner may want to include a margin of safety before shifting forwards two hours, to reduce the risk of the block being rejected by the network.

These rules have proven reasonably effective in preventing miners from manipulating Bitcoin’s timestamps in nefarious ways, as far as we can tell.

Bitcoin Cash’s Theoretical Block Time Problems

As we first mentioned back in September 2017, Bitcoin Cash is an alternative coin which split off from Bitcoin in August 2017, the primary objective of the coin was to increase the blocksize limit. One of the concerns the Bitcoin Cash developers had at the time was that not many miners would mine Bitcoin Cash, and therefore the time gap between blocks could be too large. As a result something called the Emergency Difficulty Adjustment (EDA) was implemented to alleviate this concern. We will not go into the details here, but suffice to say this mechanism was highly complex and turned out to be fundamentally flawed. This algorithm meant that if a certain number of blocks were not found within a certain time period, the difficulty would reduce. The policy was particularly aggressive, as it meant that the longer the time gaps between blocks, the larger the downward difficulty adjustment. Miners manipulated the network by leaving large time gaps on purpose, resulting in large difficulty changes, followed by low-difficulty periods with blocks being produced at a very high frequency. The network then became unreliable.

As a result of this flaw, more Bitcoin Cash blocks were produced than expected and miner revenue increased during this period. Bitcoin Cash built a c.5,000 block lead over Bitcoin, a lead it still maintains to this day. A couple of months later, in November 2017, a fix was eventually rolled out. The EDA was removed and replaced with a new difficulty adjustment system, a more simple rolling 24-hour system. However, this is still different to Bitcoin’s two-week window system. Bitcoin Cash’s system is more dynamic and faster to adjust. While this means Bitcoin Cash may have a more volatile difficulty in the short term, the coin is faster to adjust to any changes, while any block time discrepancies in Bitcoin may take longer to correct.

Overview of Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash’s Difficulty Adjustment Systems

 Coin

Calculation period

Difficulty Adjustment

Comments

Bitcoin

2 weeks

Every 2 weeks

  • Less likely to suffer from block time discrepancies
  • Any discrepancies take longer to resolve

Bitcoin Cash

1 day

Each block

  • More likely to suffer from block time discrepancies
  • Any discrepancies are resolved faster

(Source: BitMEX Research)

One thing that many may have overlooked in Bitcoin Cash’s new difficulty adjustment algorithm is its interrelationship with the two-hour time protection rule. As far as we are aware, Bitcoin Cash has retained the 2 hour constant.

A two-hour period is now 8.3% of the calculation period. This is the equivalent of a reduction in the time between blocks from 10 minutes to 9 minutes and 10 seconds. This does appear to be potentially significant and could result in changes to miner profitability, if exploited. Bitcoin Cash may therefore be somewhat vulnerable to miners manipulating timestamps, or at least more vulnerable than Bitcoin.

On the other hand, although Bitcoin Cash may be more vulnerable to miner timestamp manipulation attacks than Bitcoin, any issues will be resolved faster. 

Conclusion

The apparent vulnerability with Bitcoin Cash’s time protection rule, perhaps unexploited, illustrates how well thought out Bitcoin’s time protection rules were. As far as we know, these time protection rules existed since Bitcoin launched in 2009. When designing the system, Satoshi had to innovate at least three layers deep:

Proof of work system → Difficulty adjustment system → Robust time protection rules

While this may not seem especially ingenious to us now, we have had almost 11 years’ experience with such systems. That Satoshi had thought all this through before any such network existed is quite remarkable, in our view.

ForkMonitor: Unexpected Inflation Detection and Warning System

Abstract: ForkMonitor has now implemented unexpected inflation detection and warning systems for Bitcoin. The block reward is currently 12.5 bitcoin, which means that no more than 12.5 new bitcoin should be created each block. Some of the ForkMonitor nodes now calculate the total coin supply each block, using the gettxoutsetinfo RPC call. If the total coin supply increases by more than 12.5 bitcoin, warnings systems are initiated. This service potentially provides additional assurances to network participants about the supply of Bitcoin at any given time.

(Source: ForkMonitor.info)

Overview

ForkMonitor has recently added a new feature, unexpected inflation detection. This feature has been added for Bitcoin and Testnet Bitcoin. The system periodically checks the total coin supply by summing up all the UTXO values. If the value is unexpectedly large, warnings are activated. Bitcoin nodes are already supposed to check the coin supply, however this occurs by only checking that no unauthorised coins are created in each individual transaction and there is no macro total supply check. Therefore the ForkMonitor service could provide an additional layer of security and assurance for Bitcoin users, as well as an early warning system which could encourage people to run these checks on their own nodes if an issue is detected.

If the inflation is in line with expectations, a green tick is displayed on the website. However, if unexpected inflation occurs, a red cross is displayed alongside other warnings.

Illustration of unexpected inflation detected by Bitcoin Core 0.18.1

(Source: ForkMonitor.info)

Please subscribe to the feeds, to be altered in the event of unexpected Bitcoin inflation.

Coin Supply Checking Mechanisms

The systems plan to check the inflation using the following methods:

  • Coin supply change from the previous block –  After each Bitcoin block is produced, the system checks the total coin supply and stores the figure in a database. As each new block is produced, the summation is repeated and the total coin supply is subtracted from the previous figure. If the change is higher than the allowed block reward (12.5 bitcoins today, 6.25 bitcoins from around May 2020, etc.), then the warnings are initiated.
  • Consistency across multiple node versions In addition, the system will also check that the total bitcoin supply is consistent at each block height for all the nodes participating in the inflation check (which is illustrated on the ForkMonitor website).

Gettxoutsetinfo Issues

One of the main challenges we faced when implementing this inflation check feature was that it took considerable time for Bitcoin Core to run the gettxoutsetinfo call, typically around 2 minutes. This created several implementation challenges for ForkMonitor, such as what to display in this two minute period or what happens when a block is found while the calculation is occurring. For example, the maximum rate at which the inflation check can move forwards is one block every two minutes; if many blocks are found in a row, with smaller than two minute intervals between them, our check can be ineffective for a while.

Gettxoutsetinfo RPC call – Bitcoin’s supply of approximately 18 million is illustrated

 (Source: Output from Bitcoin Core 0.18.0 “Gettxoutsetinfo” call)

Others are aware of these issues, as Bitcoin developer Fabian Jahr recently put it:

[The gettxoutsetinfo call] does not have a sufficient user experience, you call it and it actually takes several minutes to respond and there is no feedback

 (Source: Fabian Jahr (Youtube))

In 2017 Bitcoin developer Pieter Wuille posted to the Bitcoin development mailing list, a potential improvement, which he says could make this Remote Procedure Call (RPC) call faster.

Replacement for Bitcoin Core’s gettxoutsetinfo RPC’s hash computation. This currently requires minutes of I/O and CPU, as it serializes and hashes the entire UTXO set. A rolling set hash would make this instant, making the whole RPC much more usable for sanity checking

 (Source: Pieter Wuille’s 2017 Rolling UTXO set hash email)

Based on the above idea, Fabian recently indicated he may work on implementing this potential fix, in an attempt to improve this RPC call. If this improvement is implemented, it would certainly be helpful for ForkMonitor.

Bitcoin’s 2018 Inflation Bug (CVE-2018-17144)

ForkMonitor was very much inspired by the events of September 2018, when it emerged that Bitcoin Core had a bug which would enable miners to create coins out of nowhere in addition to the normal block reward. This bug affected versions of Bitcoin Core spanning from 0.14.0 to 0.16.2, before the fixes were released. (0.14.X nodes merely crashed while later nodes would have accepted the blocks with the unexpected inflation).

A successful exploitation of this bug could have had catastrophic consequences for the network, for example Bitcoin’s supply could have inflated above 21 million or a large rollback may have occurred, undermining the security many users and businesses depend on.

ForkMonitor was launched to mitigate these risks. If such a bug existed today, our systems should be able to detect it in three ways:

  • ForkMonitor runs multiple versions of Bitcoin Core, spanning many years of development. If a newly-introduced bug results in unexpected inflation or an unauthorized spend, the older nodes should detect this and mark the block as invalid, triggering the warning systems.
  • The website also runs independent implementations of Bitcoin, such as bcoin, btcd and Libbitcoin. If Bitcoin Core has a bug which allows unexpected inflation or an unauthorized spend, as long as the same bug wasn’t independently implemented, these other clients should mark the block as invalid, triggering the warning systems.
  • As of October 2019, ForkMonitor also directly checks the total coin supply of each block. In the event of unexpected inflation, even in the unlikely scenario that all our nodes mark the block as valid, the warning systems will still be triggered. The inflation checking system is also helpful even if nodes do mark the block as invalid, as it can help users determine why this was the case in a timely manner.

Independent Implementations

As we explained in our October 2018 piece, Competing with Bitcoin Core, there are advantages and disadvantages of competing implementations and in particular independent implementations. One key advantage of independent implementations that we mentioned is that there could be a bug in Bitcoin Core or the reference implementation which is not present in the independent implementations.

For the above reason, we are keen to add one of the three independent implementations (bcoin, btcd and Libbitcoin) into the total coin supply inflation checking system as soon as possible. The method of calculating total coin supply used by these implementations may be independent from that used by Bitcoin Core, which should provide extra reassurance that the number is correct.

Conclusion

This new service may not solve all potential problems with regards to detecting unexpected inflation. For example there could be a bug in the gettxoutsetinfo check. In addition to this, the various mechanisms to check for unexpected inflation and block validity may not be truly independent from each other. Even the independent Bitcoin implementations may have inadvertently copied a bug or erroneous concept from Bitcoin Core. However, we believe this macro inflation checking service is potentially a useful addition to network security.

As a reminder, the ForkMonitor website is open source, therefore please feel free to contribute, fork the project or reproduce the website.

The Bitcoin Foundation

Abstract: In this piece we look back at the history of Bitcoin, focusing in on “The Bitcoin Foundation”, once one of the most prominent organisations in the ecosystem. We look at Foundation’s origins and then examine its failings with respect to its governance, transparency and finances, which ultimately led to a total loss of legitimacy within the Bitcoin community. We conclude that an all-encompassing Foundation was never likely to have been a good idea given the high governance and transparency standards of some in the community, and that a constant stream of scandals damaged the Foundation’s brand to such an extent that its duties had to be carried out by other organisations.

(Screenshot of the Bitcoin Foundation’s website and logo in 2013)

The Foundation’s Origins

Following on from our July 2018 piece, which took us back to shenanigans and incompetence at MtGox in 2011, this second look at Bitcoin’s scandal-rich history takes us back to July 2012, when The Bitcoin Foundation was founded. The Foundation had seven founding members, or six if you exclude Satoshi, who was oddly included as a founding member.

Bitcoin Foundation Founding Members

  • Gavin Andresen, Bitcoin Developer
  • Peter Vessenes, CEO of CoinLab
  • Charles Shrem, CEO of BitInstant
  • Roger Ver, CEO of MemoryDealers
  • Patrick Murck, Principal at Engage Legal
  • Mark Karpeles, CEO of MtGox.com
  • Satoshi Nakamoto, author of the white paper “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System”

(Source: GitHub) 

The objective of the Foundation was never completely clear, with the original bylaws stating the following:

The Corporation shall promote and protect both the decentralized, distributed and private nature of the Bitcoin distributed-digital currency and transaction system as well as individual choice, participation and financial privacy when using such systems. The Corporation shall further require that any distributed-digital currency falling within the ambit of the Corporation’s purpose be decentralized, distributed and private and that it support individual choice, participation and financial privacy.

(Source: GitHub) 

The Foundation’s Mission – June 2013

(Source: The Bitcoin Foundation)

In practise the role of the Foundation appeared to be as follows:

  • To pay the salary of Bitcoin developer Gavin Andresen
  • To arrange Bitcoin conferences
  • To promote Bitcoin to regulators

During 2012 and 2013 the Foundation gained in popularity, attracting members from across the Bitcoin community, including prominent developers, businesses and community members.

Public list of individual lifetime members

(Source: Bitcoin Foundation

Corporate members as at September 2013

(Source: Bitcoin Foundation

The Foundation was funded by membership fees – the initial membership fee schedule is provided below. However, the Bitcoin-denominated prices did start to decline in 2013 as the Bitcoin price appreciated.

Initial Membership Fee Schedule

(Source: GitHub)

It was believed by many that due to the membership subscription fees, the Foundation had considerable financial resources to spend on its mission.

Approximate lower bound of member contributions in April 2013 (Assuming initial fee rates)

  • 2 Platinum Industry Members * 10,000 BTC = 20,000 BTC
  • 7 Silver Industry Members * 500BTC = 3,500 BTC
  • 175 Lifetime Members * 25BTC = 4,375 BTC
  • Total Resources = 27,873 BTC

(Source: BitMEX Research)

As we see later on in this report, the Foundation only had around 8,000 BTC at the end of 2012, still a nice warchest, but a lower balance than many had expected. It is possible our estimate above could be an overestimate, as the timing of member subscriptions is unclear.

The Foundation Board

The governance structure of the Foundation was quite complex and arcane. There were three classes of members: 

  1. Founders
  2. Individuals
  3. Corporates 

The board initially consisted of five members, one nominated by the founders, two nominated by individuals and two nominated by corporate members. The term of each appointee was expected to be 3 years. At the start of the Foundation, all five board members were appointed by the founders and all board members were founders, with the exception of Jon Matonis.

Bitcoin Foundation Board Members (2012 to 2019)

(Source: Bitcoin Foundation Website, BitMEX Research)

Critics can point to the fact that the governance structure gave too much power to the initial founders and that new members of the organisation should have been able to join as equals to the founders.

Board Elections

The first board elections took place in 2013, with Meyer Malka winning the Industry seat and Elizabeth Ploshay winning the vote amongst individual members.

Board Election – Industry Seat (2013) – Winners: Meyer Malka

(Source: Bitcoin Foundation)

Board Election – Individual Seat (2013) – Winner: Elizabeth Ploshay

(Source: Bitcoin Foundation)

At the start of 2014, the holders of the two founding industry seats resigned. Charles Shrem resigned on 28 January 2014, two days after his arrest at JFK airport for money laundering and unlicensed money transmitter related offences. Charlie was eventually convicted and sentenced to two years in prison in December 2014. The main substance of Mr Shrem’s felony appears to be that he continued to provide customer support to a user of his BitInstant Bitcoin purchasing service, despite him allegedly knowing the customer wanted Bitcoin for the purposes of purchasing illegal drugs on the Silk Road e-commerce platform (Or that the customer wanted to supply the Bitcoin to somebody else, who wanted to purchase illegal drugs, one extra layer removed). Mark Karpeles, the holder of the other industry seat, resigned on 24 February 2014, following the failure and insolvency of the MtGox Bitcoin exchange, where Mark was CEO.

Brock Pierce and Bobby Lee were then elected as the two replacement industry appointed board members.

Board Election – Industry Seats (2014) – Winners: Bobby Lee & Brock Pierce

(Source: Bitcoin Foundation)

The appointment of Brock Pierce to the board proved controversial, with some claiming the Foundation should have done more vetting before allowing Mr Pierce to stand. The allegation against the former child actor, who featured in the “Mighty Ducks” and Disney’s “First Kid” was related to his alleged involvement in the sexual exploitation of children in the late 1990s. Although only a teenager at the time, Mr Pierce was an executive and co-founder at the internet video startup, Digital Entertainment Network (DEN), which was accused of hosting several parties where sexual abuse may have taken place. The allegations resulted in co-founder and CEO Marc Collins-Rector, along with Mr Pierce, resigning from DEN and supposedly fleeing to Spain.  Mr Collins-Rector eventually plead guilty to child abuse related offences and according to Reuters, court record show that Mr Pierce paid US$21,000 to settle a related civil suit, while other claims were dropped, the article also states that Mr Pierce denies the allegations.

Towards the end of 2014, in the face of considerable pressure, the Foundation made the following improvements to its governance:

  • Board member terms were reduced to 2 from 3 years
  • The founder board seat was eliminated
  • The founder member class was removed

The Foundation’s Finances

The below table provides a basic analysis of the Foundation’s finances, in the period where most of the member dues were depleted (2012 to 2014). The data is based on the organisation’s IRS990 forms. With respect to the pay of the board, the disclosure seems reasonably strong. Most board members received no remuneration other than those acting as executives. Paying Gavin was one of the main aims of the organisation and Gavin’s pay appears to be disclosed in a reasonably clear and appropriate manner.

  2012 2013 2014
Directors pay      
Gavin Andresen $15,000 $209,648 $147,917
Patrick Murck   $57,592 $115,001
Lindsay Holland   $160,652  
Jodie Brady     $141,667
Jon Matonis (Contractor)   $31,250 $137,500
Other pay costs $14,013 $118,047 $582,782
Total pay costs $29,013 $577,189 $1,124,867
Conference costs   $418,413 $825,525
Other costs $32,608 $472,302 $1,335,210
Total costs $61,621 $1,467,904 $3,285,602
       
Foundation Revenue      
Membership fees   $358,007 $335,723
Conference revenue   $377,883 $584,308
Other   $64,803 $35,728
Total revenue $159,359 $800,693 $955,759
       
Surplus/(Deficit) $97,738 ($667,211) ($2,329,843)
       
Disclosed Bitcoin figures      
Bitcoin (US$ value at year end) $107,549 $4,512,316 $703,843
BTC sales proceeds   $749,157 $569,728
Realised Bitcoin gains/(losses)   $77,148 ($40,316)
Unrealised Bitcoin gains/(losses)   $5,195,589 ($1,966,768)

(Source: IRS 990 Forms, BitMEX Research)

The main criticisms related to the Foundation’s finances at the time appear twofold:

  1. There was a sharp increase in spend in 2014, depleting the organisation’s reserves to near zero
  2. There was a lack of transparency with regards to the Foundation’s Bitcoin balance

As for the first criticism, concerns did seem somewhat justified. In 2014 pay costs increased by 81%, the 2014 conference made a significant net loss and other costs increased significantly. As for the $1.3m in other costs, we have provided a breakdown below, therefore readers can judge the extent of the excesses. Compared to the excesses of the ICO bubble in 2017/18, where the total sum of the costs below perhaps represent a fraction of just one marketing party for the most egregious ICOs, the spend is moderate. However, some Foundation members clearly expected their funds to be spent more prudently. The main issue appears to be that expectations were not clearly set out in advance. Whatever your view, the fact is that by the start of 2015, the Foundation had almost run out of financial reserves and to that extent, its finances were mismanaged.

2014 breakdown of other spend

Other professional services $307,767
Legal fees $200,003
Travel $159,166
Information technology $158,021
Professional event expenses $115,401
Public relations $93,241
Exchange loss $73,362
Accounting $50,556
Office costs $39,071
Grants (Foreign) $37,314
Bad debts $18,500
Payments to affiliates $18,002
Occupancy $17,949
Grants $14,000
Advertising $9,218
Insurance $3,639
Other $20,000
Total other spend $1,335,210

(Source: Bitcoin Foundation IRS 990 form)

The lack of transparency with respect to the Foundation’s Bitcoin balance is another area of concern. At the end of each year the IRS990 form disclosed the USD value of the Bitcoin holding, the realised Bitcoin gains and the unrealised Bitcoin gains. Based on this information we calculated the following:

BitMEX Research BTC calculations 2012 2013 2014
Bitcoin price at year end $13 $754 $320
Implied BTC balance at year end 8,216 5,985 1,381
Change in BTC balance   (2,232) (4,604)
Implied sales price   $336 $124
Realised Bitcoin gains/(losses)   $719,945 ($2,901,314)
Unrealised BTC gains/(losses)   $4,433,979 ($599,354)
       
Lowest Bitcoin price figures      
Lowest Bitcoin price in the year $4 $13 $268
Implied BTC sales proceeds   $29,011 $1,233,739
Realised Bitcoin gains/(losses)   ($201) ($2,237,303)

(Source: IRS 990 Forms, BitMEX Research)

The disclosures in the IRS990 forms lead us to the following apparent Bitcoin related discrepancies:

  • The Foundations closing bitcoin balance in 2012 seems reasonably low given the volume of Bitcoin donations (See the c.28,000 BTC figure earlier in this report)
  • The Foundation disclosed an unrealised Bitcoin gain in 2013 of $5.2m, however based on the annual price movement and the calculated year end balance, we calculated an unrealised gain of only $4.4m
  • The Foundation disclosed an unrealised Bitcoin loss in 2014 of $2.0m, however based on the annual price movement and the calculated year end balance, we calculated an unrealised loss of only $0.6m
  • The Foundation disclosed Bitcoin sales proceeds of $569,728 in 2014, while even assuming all Bitcoin were sold at the lowest traded price in the year, given the large reduction in the Bitcoin balance of 4,600 coins, sales proceeds should have been $1.2m

Although there were accusations of embezzlement, we do not consider these disclosures to indicate any such crime. The Foundation was probably receiving Bitcoin and spending Bitcoin throughout the period, therefore clear financial record of Bitcoin sales are not likely to be available. At the same time, rules related to the reporting of realised and unrealised gains with respect to financial assets are not strict for this type of organisation and the Foundation does have a degree of discretion with respect to the calculation methodology. Therefore, the filings themselves do not indicate wrongdoing in our view. However, what we can say is that filings do not clearly explain what happened to the Bitcoin balance and an explanation from the board could be helpful.

Some members clearly expected greater transparency and wanted to question the board about the funds, but they were never given such an opportunity. The following quote from Bitcoin commentator Andreas Antonpoulous (who at the time was a Foundation committee chairman), reflected the views of many in the community at the time.

You say they are funded. Where are those funds? Who controls those funds? When were the last audited? Are they actually solvent? Or have all of those funds disappeared into a big black hole? Just remember who was in the leadership until recently, who is in the leadership today and what their track record of ethics has been and I would suggest that I would not be surprised at all if the Foundation implodes in a giant embezzlement problem sometime down the line or funds get stolen, within quotes or without quotes, or something like that. It’s bound to happen because these things don’t happen due to technical failures of bad actors, they happen due to failures of leadership The Foundation is the very definition of a failure of leadership.

(Source: Andreas Antonopoulos – March 2014 – Let’s Talk Bitcoin Episode 95)

Entanglement in the MtGox Scandal

To make matters worse, there were also accusations of the Foundation’s entanglement in the MtGox insolvency:

  • The MtGoX CEO, Mark Karpeles, was a founder and founding board member of the Foundation, while the company itself was a platinum member of the Foundation
  • Founding member, Roger Ver, famously assured MtGox customers of the solvency of the platform shortly before the exchange failed
  • The Foundation’s founding chairman, Peter Vessenes (who may have believed he was entitled to some MtGox equity), has been involved in various legal disputes with MtGox dating back to 2013 as a result of a failed business partnership. Peter’s company Coinlab sued MtGox for US$75m in 2013. As of August 2019, Peter now claims a remarkable total of US$16bn (Y1.6 trillion) from MtGox, an amount large enough to effectively block distributions to MtGox clients, and a large source of frustration to creditors to this day.

Andreas compared the Foundation’s situation to MtGox as follows:

Its problems go directly back to a complete failure of leadership. A completely closed, insular, arrogant, sheltered, uncommunicative leadership. Part of which was Karpeles himself, but there are another couple of relics left on that board, who pursue the exact same approach with their leadership. The Foundation is the Gox of Foundations. I am surprised it didn’t blow up in the wake of the Gox scandal, because there were a lot of significant conflicts within that environment.

However, perhaps it is unfair to make much of the association between MtGox and the Foundation, afterall, the ecosystem was small and MtGox was the dominant exchange, therefore a degree of association was inevitable to some extent.

The Amsterdam Conference (May 2014)

In May 2014 the Bitcoin Foundation arranged what was, up until this point, the largest conference in the space. It was the first conference (at least one which we attended), with characteristics familiar to many in the 2017/18 era. Unabated enthusiasm, unrealistic expectations about the underlying technology, expensive catering and countless booths representing new businesses with plans that appeared to make little commercial sense. As the figures above indicate, despite the expensive ticket prices of up to $800, the conference appears to have generated a net loss of around US$250,000.

The conference was split into two sections, a commercial section in the main exhibition hall, and the Bitcoin Foundation annual meeting (or technical track), which was down the hallway in a hotel conference room, entry to which was free for Foundation members. The technical discussions were followed by the Foundation members’ meeting

(Source: Eventbrite

Journalist Ryan Selkis (now founder & CEO of Messari), was one of the key lifetime members at the event trying to hold the Foundation to account. At the annual meeting he asked several challenging questions to the Foundation board members, asking for greater transparency. Up until this point much of the debate and complaints had taken place on online web forums and this real world interaction marked a significant and novel change. In response to his challenges, one board member said the following:

We can spend a lot of our time trying to be transparent as much as we can and higher resources can be transparent or we can spend a lot of time in the board level making sure that we [have the] resources to make bitcoin bigger. It’s possible but right now, honestly, we’re in an environment where bitcoin is not well perceived. You asked for priorities at least from my side as a board member, it’s more about [making bitcoin bigger]

(Source: Bitcoin Foundation 2014 Annual Meeting)

It was clear from this response that, for whatever reason, some board members had chosen not to tackle the transparency and governance concerns, leaving some members feeling frustrated and more convinced of wrongdoing on the part of the board. 

The Blockchain Election (February 2015)

Given the issues that the Foundation had faced and the concerns in the community about transparency, governance and the purpose of the Foundation, this was a relatively important set of elections. There was a large number of candidates and a reasonably good quality debate among the candidates, for example a dedicated Let’s Talk Bitcoin podcast on the election. 

The Foundation decided to conduct the 2015 individual board seat elections on the blockchain. As the chair of the election committee, Brain Goss said: 

I believe in the concept of using the block chain for storage of compact proofs/hashes (as the market dictates), and I’m a big believer in transparent voting that any one can verify

(Source: Bitcoin Foundation Forum)

However, the blockchain voting process did not run smoothly and the following issues arose:

  • The first round of voting took place using the Helios voting system. However, no candidate achieved more than 50% of the vote, as required by the by-laws, therefore a second round was required. The Foundation then made the odd decision to switch the voting platform to Swarm between the voting rounds, a decision met with widespread opposition. Despite initially starting the final round voting process on Swarm, during voting the Foundation then decided to switch back to Helios, invalidating the Swarm votes
  • The decision to reduce the number of candidates to four after the first round of voting appeared arbitrary 
  • Registering to vote was widely regarded as a cumbersome and complex process and some candidates complained

(Source: Email received as part of the Swarm voting process)

Board Election – Individual Seats First Round (2015)

(Source: Helios voting system records)

Board Election – Individual Seats Final Round (2015) – Winners: Oliver Janssens & Jim Harper

(Source: Bitcoin Foundation)

After the voting controversy, Patrick Murk told Bitcoin Magazine:

This clearly struck a nerve with folks that think blockchain technology should only be used for transferring Bitcoin and not other [applications] like voting. [It] sparked a debate on how people use the blockchain

(Source: Bitcoin Magazine)

Removal of Directors & The End Of Board Elections (December 2015)

In December 2015, the two newly elected board members, Oliver and Jim, were removed by the other board members, due to a disagreement over the best way forward for the Foundation. Oliver and Jim had recently succeeded in competitive elections from individual members, giving them a considerable democratic mandate. At the same time the two year election terms of Elizabeth and Meyer had already expired, while Brock and Bobby had been elected by the industry and not individuals. Therefore, from the point of view of the individual members, Oliver and Jim were the only two board members with a significant mandate and they had been removed. In a violation of the by-laws, the Foundation then decided not to conduct any further board elections. As the executive director Bruce Fenton put it:

I used to believe that public, open elections were a great thing.  I’m not as convinced now…. We unfortunately don’t have the time or resources for more process. 

(Source: Bitcoin Foundation forum)

In our view, this logic seemed difficult to justify, given many of the problems were caused by the boards apparent lack of accountability to individual members, with Elizabeth Ploshey being the only board member elected by individual members who served on the board for any meaningful amount of time. If the Foundation did want to revive itself, it could have reinstated Oliver and Jim and allowed further elections to replace the other board members who could have left. Instead, the Foundation decided to distance itself even further from members, avoiding the challenges this accountability would have imposed, and consequently the Foundation appeared to lose any remaining legitimacy it had left.

After this point, between 2015 and 2019, four new board members were appointed from the pool of candidates that were defeated in the previous elections, except this time appointments were made by the board rather than members.

Conclusion

The Foundation still exists today, with Brock as Chairman and Bobby as Vice chairman, although their elected terms have long since expired and no more elections are in sight. The Foundation has no significant financial resources and is largely irrelevant. The activities the Foundation used to conduct are now carried out by others, for example Coin Centre does some regulator lobbying, and Bitcoin development is funded by other organisations such as Chaincode Labs, Blockstream, MIT’s DCI and other industry players. In many ways the conclusion to this piece writes itself. Bitcoin never needed a Foundation, it is stronger without one, and any all-encompassing Foundation like this was always doomed to fail.

The outrage at the lack of transparency at the Foundation exposes some of the key divergences in expectations and culture between members of the Bitcoin (now cryptocurrency) community. Some Bitcoiners, especially those involved since the early days of the Foundation, were often highly conspiratorial, paranoid and expected radically high levels of transparency, accountability and financial prudence. The Foundation seems to have misjudged these expectations, lost the backing of the community and ultimately failed. However, compared to the excesses of the coin offering era, which picked up from around 2014 onwards, peaking at the start of 2018, the financial accountability and transparency of the Bitcoin Foundation was almost impeccable, relatively speaking. Some members of the cryptocurrency community (not all newer ones), had radically different expectations, focusing more on what they perceived as game-changing technology, changing the world and getting super rich, rather than governance. Even in this new climate, irreparable damage to the Foundation’s brand had been done and it never again found its place.

UPDATE – 23 September 2019

After the publication of this piece, several prominent Bitcoin developers, whose names were displayed on the Foundation’s website, indicated to us (in some cases with proof) that they were given membership status for free (rather than by paying 25BTC). This may indicate that:

  1. Support for the foundation may not have been as widespread as we initially thought
  2. The Foundation’s bitcoin balance in 2012 may never have been as large as we initially thought

Lightning Network (Part 4) – All Adopt The Watchtower

Abstract: BitMEX Research has upgraded its lightning nodes to include watchtower functionality. The watchtower functionality is a mechanism for connecting to another friendly node, which monitors your lightning channels for you and prevents a dishonest counterparty from stealing your funds, even when you are offline. We successfully conducted an experiment, proving the watchtower concept actually works, at least in our case. It is encouraging that the watchtower concept, which has been around for years in theory, now actually works in practise.

(Source: Alcatraz, flickr)

Overview

This piece on watchtowers follows on from our three previous pieces on the lightning network:

  1. Lightning Network (Part 1) – Motivation
  2. Lightning Network (Part 2) – Routing Fee Economics
  3. Lightning Network (Part 3) – Where Is The Justice?

On 29 June 2019, LND 0.7.0 (Go implementation of lightning) was released and this included the watchtower functionality. A watchtower is a third party lightning node, that can detect if a dishonest party attempts to steal funds and then broadcast a justice transaction, sending the funds back to the honest party, even when the honest node is offline.

There two modes of watchtower functionality

 

Client/Tower User

Server

Description

The client connects to a watchtower server. Whenever the lighting channel states change, data is sent over to the watchtower server with the latest channel state. In the event of a channel breach, the watchtower can broadcast a justice transaction, sending the funds to the honest node’s onchain wallet.

The watchtower server does not need to have any lighting channels or make any payments. The server connects to a lightning client and monitors the client’s lightning channels for them, on their behalf.

Operational details

To connect the node to a watchtower server, one needs to add the following line to the lightning configuration file:


> wtclient.private-tower-uris=tower-public-key@ip-address:9911

Where the public key and IP address is provided by the watchtower server.

To activate a watchtower server, one needs to add the following line to the lightning configuration file:


> watchtower.active=1


After this, one can run the command:


> lncli tower info


The watchtower server should then display the watchtower public key (different from the lightning node public key). This key is needed by the watchtower client. Due to potential denial of service threats, it is currently not advisable to publish the watchtower public key.


One can check if the watchtower is working by viewing the logs.

It is possible for a node to be both a watchtower server and client at the same time. If you run two nodes, each node can be the watchtower server of the other. BitMEX Research currently has three operating lightning nodes and the nodes all watch over each other in a loop configuration.

Successful test of the watchtower

On 30th July 2019, BitMEX Research successfully tested the watchtower system. Much like our previous piece on justice transactions, we tried to cheat ourselves, but this time used a watchtower. In an encouraging sign, the watchtower functionality correctly worked and the would-be thief was punished.

In order to do this test, we needed to run three nodes:

  • The dishonest node – BitMEXThief
  • The node using the watchtower service – BitMEXTowerClient (the user of the watchtower service)
  • The watchtower itself – BitMEXResearch

Manually constructing a watchtower justice transaction

(Source: BitMEX Research)

The eventual justice transaction, broadcast by our watchtower can be seen here.

Conclusion

All BitMEX Research lightning nodes are now protected by watchtowers. While a watchtower is a large improvement in security, in our view, a greater problem than dishonest channel breaches, is the risk of a lightning node’s memory becoming accidentally lost or destroyed – under such circumstances the node could lose the latest channel states. A watchtower does not fix that problem, although there have been improvements in this area, with Static Channel Backups (SCBs). Using SCBs, as long as no new channels were created post backup, all the funds should be safe.

A successful test of the watchtower does provide us with a greater degree of assurance about the robustness of the lightning network. It is encouraging that ideas such as watchtowers, which have been theoretically discussed for years, finally exist. However, when it comes to improving the robustness and reliability of the lightning network, there is still a long way to go.

Lightning Network (Part 3) – Where Is The Justice?

Abstract: In our third look at the lightning network, we examine lightning channel closure scenarios and the incentives to punish dishonest parties and prevent them from stealing funds. This punishment mechanism is called a “Justice Transaction”. We explain how to arbitrarily construct a “Justice” scenario and present data on the prevalence of this type of transaction on the Bitcoin network. We have potentially identified 241 Justice transactions, representing 2.22 Bitcoin in value, since the lightning network launched at the end of 2017.

(Lightning strikes the city of Singapore)

Overview

Following on from our January 2018 discussion of the motivation behind the lightning network and our March 2019 analysis of lightning network routing fee economics, this third piece on the lightning network looks at channel closures and the incentives designed to prevent dishonest lightning nodes from stealing funds, by broadcasting an earlier channel state.

It should be noted that, by design, when a thief attempts to steal funds on the lightning network, if caught, they do not only lose the money they tried to steal, they lose all the funds in the relevant channel. This “punishment” is expected to act as a deterrent and is sometimes called “justice”.

The four lightning channel closure scenarios

Opening lightning channels is, generally speaking, more simple than closing them, there is only one way to open a lightning channel, cooperatively with interactive communication between the parties. On the other hand, when evaluating channel closures, one needs to consider four different scenarios, as outlined in the decision tree below (See figure 1).

Figure 1 – Lightning network channel closure types – decision tree

(Source: BitMEX Research)

Figure 2 – The four lightning channel closure scenarios explained

Closure type Description Onchain technical details and example transactions
This is the most common scenario.

A cooperative closure occurs when an honest node initiates the channel closure, while the node on the other side of the channel is online and communicating.

Funds are distributed to each party’s onchain wallet based on the latest channel state.

A cooperative closure requires only one onchain transaction.

Inputs are redeemed using a “normal” 2 of 2 multi-signature script and sent to two outputs, each belonging to the parties involved, with the balance based on the latest channel state. 

This transaction is hard to identify as lightning and therefore it is the most private of the three channel closure types.

Example closure:

A non-cooperative non-breach closure occurs when an honest node initiates the closure, without directly communicating with the node on the other side of the channel.

Funds are distributed to each party’s onchain wallet based on the latest channel state.

These two different economic scenarios, are represented by one technical onchain scenario.

This scenario requires two onchain transactions. 

Firstly the funds are redeemed using a 2 of 2 multi-signature witness and sent to two outputs. The node which did not initiate the closure is allocated funds based on what the channel closing party says is attributable to them, while another pot of funds is sent to an output which can be redeemed by using either an OP_IF or an OP_ELSE script. 

In a second transaction, the funds sent to the OP_IF script, are claimed by the party that initiated the channel closure, using the OP_ELSE branch of Bitcoin script.

Example closure:

A non-cooperative breach non-justice closure occurs when a dishonest node initiates the channel closure, by broadcasting an earlier channel state, attempting to steal funds from the node on the other side of the channel.

The non closing node does not check the network within the locktime period, normally 24 hours and does not broadcast a justice transaction. Therefore the theft is successful.

Funds are distributed to each party’s wallet based on an earlier channel state, such that the non closing party losses funds and the dishonest channel closing party successfully steals funds.

A non-cooperative breach justice closure occurs when a dishonest node initiates the channel closure, without directly communicating with the node on the other side of the channel.

The non closing node does check the network within the locktime period, and creates a justice transaction, such that the attempted theft fails.

The would-be thief is punished and all the funds go to the honest non closing party.

In the justice scenario, two onchain transactions are also required. 

In the first transaction, the funds are redeemed using a 2 of 2 multi-signature witness and sent to two outputs. The node which did not initiate the closure is allocated funds based on what the channel closing party says is attributable to them, while another pot of funds is sent to an output which can be redeemed by using either an OP_IF or an OP_ELSE script.

In a second transaction, the honest node, that did not initiate the closure claims all the funds sent to the OP_IF script, using the OP_IF branch.

This is the most revealing of the three channel closure types and provides the lowest level of privacy.

Example closure:

How to construct a Justice transaction?

In the below arbitrary scenario, we manually created a justice transaction, using the following steps:

1. Spin up a new lightning network node (LND), with the alias “BitMEXThief” and open a channel, worth US$50 (400,000 Satoshis) with the BitMEXResearch lightning node
2. Switch off the BitMEXThief node and back up the .lnd directory
3. Restart the BitMEXThief node and make a lightning payment of US$25 (200,000 satoshis) to BitMEXResearch. The channel is now balanced, US$25 in both directions
4. Switch off the BitMEXThief node again
5. Switch off the BitMEXResearch lightning node (to prevent it broadcasting the latest channel state to the thief node)
6. Restore the BitMEXThief node back to its state prior to the channel re-balancing, the state in step 2
7. On the restored BitMEXThief node, attempt to close the channel from its earlier state and claim the full US$50 (400,000 satoshis) to the BitMEXThief node’s onchain wallet
8. Restart the BitMEXResearch node. The node then automatically detects the attempted theft and broadcasts the “justice transaction”, sending the full US$50 (less fees) to its onchain wallet. The would be thief was punished, by losing all the funds inside the channel. Note that the thief attempted to steal US$25, but ended up losing the full US$50.

The above experiment occurred successfully, providing some assurance that Lightning does actually work and if you try to steal, you will be punished.

Network Justice transaction data

After conducting our own justice transaction, we looked at the characteristics of this transaction (Inputs redeemed using the OP_IF branch) and searched for other justice transactions on the Bitcoin blockchain. We identified 241 transactions, which appear to be justice channel closures, dating back as far as December 2017. Mr. Alex Bosworth, from Lightning Labs, has created a tool to identify justice transactions, which may be more robust than our more basic search methodology.

Figure 3 – Number of justice transactions – monthly

(Source: BitMEX Research)

(Note: There is a possibility the data includes false positives)

Figure 4 – Value redeemed in justice transactions – monthly (BTC)

(Source: BitMEX Research)

(Note: There is a possibility the data includes false positives)

The justice transactions we identified had transaction inputs totaling 2.22 BTC, with the monthly total peaking at around 0.67BTC in February 2019, as figure 4 above illustrates. This does not necessarily mean thieves tried and failed to steal 2.22 BTC, as the dis-honest nodes may have punished thieves by a amount larger than the value they tried to steal (we do not know the latest channel state). The 2.22 BTC represents the total funds claimed by honest non channel closing nodes, part of this value is funds originally owned by the dis-honest nodes and part of the value will be the value they tried to steal.

It is also possible that many of the 241 justice transactions do not indicate genuine dishonestly, for instance it could be users testing the system, where the same user owns both lightning nodes in question. For example BitMEX Research is responsible for 5 of the 241 justice transactions, when there was no victim, as BitMEX owned all the nodes and funds.

241 justice transactions, with a value of just over 2 BTC is reasonably small relative to the size of the lightning network. The lightning network statistics website 1ml.com, indicates that there are currently 940 BTC locked up in 32,951 channels. The total number of justice transactions in the last 18 months is therefore only 0.7% of the current number of lightning channels.

Conclusion

In order for the lightning network to succeed as a robust, reliable and scalable payment system, the justice mechanism needs to be effective in deterring and preventing theft. As for the optimal justice rate, this is hard to determine, if it is too high and it shows that successful thefts may be too prevalent and the threat of justice may not be sufficient. If it is too low, it may mean nobody is attempting theft, thereby increasing the risk that users do not monitor their channels. This may lead to increases in the risk of large systemic channel thefts in the future.

For now, at least according to the data we have analysed, there appears to be a reasonable degree of justice on the burgeoning lightning network.

Facebook Takes on ETF Giant Blackrock, with a Fixed Income ETF called Libra

Abstract: In a bold move, social networking giant Facebook, has challenged the traditional finance and ETF industry, with its “Libra coin”, or as we call it the “Libra ETF”. We note that there are many unanswered questions about Libra, which may lack transparency, when compared to traditional ETFs. Another key disadvantage of Libra is that unlike with legacy ETFs, investment income is not distributed to unit holders. We conclude that although Libra has significant disadvantages when compared to traditional ETF products, Facebook’s wide consumer reach with platforms such as Whatsapp and Instagram could give Libra a key commercial advantage.

(Facebook vs Blackrock – The battle for the ETFs)

Overview

The structure of Libra is analogous to the popular Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) model, where unit holders are entitled to the financial returns of a basket of financial assets. The units are tradable on exchanges and a select group of authorised participants are able to create and redeem units using the underlying assets.

As we pointed out in our February 2019 piece, the ETF industry has enjoyed considerable growth in the last decade or so, in particular in the area of fixed income (See figure 1 below). In June 2019, in a bombshell moment for the ETF industry and challenge for the established players such as Blackrock and Vanguard, social media and internet conglomerate Facebook, entered the game. In a direct challenge to Blackrocks’s “iShares Core U.S. Aggregate Bond ETF” (AGG), Facebook announced plans to launch a new ETF, the “Libra ETF”, also focused on fixed income and government bonds.

Figure 1 – Size of the Top Bond ETFs Targeting US Investors – US$ Billion

(Source: BitMEX Research, Bloomberg)

(Note: The chart represents the sum of the market capitalisations of the following bond ETFs: iShares Core U.S. Aggregate Bond ETF, Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF, iShares iBoxx $ Investment Grade Corporate Bond ETF, Vanguard Short-Term Corporate Bond ETF, Vanguard Short-Term Bond ETF, Vanguard Intermediate-Term Corporate Bond ETF, iShares J.P. Morgan USD Emerging Markets Bond ETF, Vanguard Total International Bond ETF, iShares MBS Bond ETF, iShares iBoxx $ High Yield Corporate Bond ETF, PIMCO Enhanced Short Maturity Strategy Fund, Vanguard Intermediate-Term Bond ETF, iShares Short-Term Corporate Bond ETF, SPDR Barclays High Yield Bond ETF, iShares Short Maturity Bond ETF)

Comparing the new ETF structure with the traditional space

In figure 2 below, we have analysed and compared the new innovative Libra ETF to a traditional ETF, Blackrock’s iShares Core US Aggregate Bond ETF (AGG). Our analysis shows that, although the Libra product is new, much of the relevant information, such as transparency of the holdings and frequency of the  publication of the NAV, has not yet been disclosed.

The analysis also highlights that Libra may suffer from unnecessary complexity with respect to portfolio management. The fund appears to be managed by the Libra Association, which consists of many entities in multiple industries across the globe. These same entities are responsible for issuing the ETF and the list of companies is set to expand further. At the same time, the investment mandate is unclear. In contrast Blackrock’s fixed income ETF product has a clear investment mandate, to track the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index, which is managed independently of the ETF issuer.

Perhaps the most significant disadvantage of the Libra product, is that unit holders do not appear to be entitled to receive the investment income. This contrasts unfavourably with Blackrock’s product, which focuses on an almost identical asset class and has an investment yield of around 2.6%. Defenders of Libra could point out that the expenses need to be covered from somewhere and that the Libra’s expense fee is not yet disclosed. However, the ETF industry is already highly competitive, with Blackrock charging an expense fee of just 0.05%. This expense fee is far lower than the expected investment yield of the product, at around 2.6% and therefore the Libra ETF may not be price competitive, a key potential disadvantage for potential investors.

Figure 2 – Libra ETF vs iShares Core U.S. Aggregate Bond ETF (AGG) – Detailed Comparison

  Libra ETF

iShares Core U.S. Aggregate Bond ETF (AGG)

Launch date June 2019 September 2003
IssuerThe Libra Association/Facebook Blackrock
AuM Unknown

US$63.5 billion

Asset class

Fixed Income

Bank deposits and government securities in currencies from stable and reputable central banks

Fixed income – Investment grade government and corporate bonds
Underlying Index Unknown/Not applicable Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index

Portfolio managers

The Libra Association, based in Switzerland will manage the reserve. The investment mandate is not currently disclosed. The current members are as follows:
  • Mastercard
  • PayPal
  • PayU (Naspers’ fintech arm)
  • Stripe
  • Visa
  • Booking Holdings
  • eBay
  • Facebook/Calibra
  • Farfetch
  • Lyft
  • MercadoPago
  • Spotify
  • Uber
  • Iliad
  • Vodafone Group
  • Anchorage
  • Bison Trails
  • Coinbase
  • Xapo
  • Andreessen Horowitz
  • Breakthrough Initiatives
  • Ribbit Capital
  • Thrive Capital
  • Union Square Ventures
  • Creative Destruction Lab,
  • Kiva
  • Mercy Corps
  • Women’s World Banking

James Mauro and Scott Radell, with a clear constrained mandate to track the index

Fees

Unknown

0.05%

Investment yield

Unknown

2.6%

Use of investment income

Unit holders are not entitled to investment income Investment income will:

first go to support the operating expenses of the association — to fund investments in the growth and development of the ecosystem, grants to nonprofit and multilateral organizations, engineering research, etc. Once that is covered, part of the remaining returns will go to pay dividends to early investors in the Libra Investment Token for their initial contribution

Attributable to ETF unit holders

Available exchanges

Currently None

The Libra Association

will encourage the listing of Libra on multiple regulated electronic exchanges throughout the world

NYSE

Creation/redemption basket size

Unknown

100,000 units

Authorized Participants (entities able to create and redeem units)

Authorized resellers, not currently disclosed

Investment Banks

Fund auditor

Unknown

PwC

Information about holdings and Net Asset value (NAV)

Unknown

Full disclosure (Published daily)

(Sources: iShares, Libra)

We have also analysed the two alternatives from a technical perspective. As figure 3 below indicates, the key difference is that control of Libra tokens may in part be managed by digital signatures. As long as no whitelist of addresses is implemented, this may provide some advantages:

  • Pseudonymity
  • A limited amount of censorship resistance
  • Relatively easy integration with cryptocurrency exchanges

However, as we mentioned in our Tether report in February 2018, history has shown that these characteristics can cause platforms to ultimately face a choice between implementing KYC or face being shut down by the authorities. Facebook has already censored politically controversial figures on its main platform, therefore it may appear likely the extent to which Libra ETF units are managed by public private key cryptography is significantly constrained or eventually becomes phased out.

Figure 3 – Technical and cryptographic considerations

 

Libra ETF

iShares Core U.S. Aggregate Bond ETF (AGG)

Consensus system

Not applicable (An ETF does not require a consensus system)

Blockchain

Not relevant (Grouping records of ETF transactions into a chain of blocks linked together by hashing, is inconsequential for ETFs)

Control of units based on digital signature

Possibly:

The Libra Blockchain is pseudonymous and allows users to hold one or more addresses that are not linked to their real-world identity

No

(Sources: iShares, Libra)

Conclusion

Despite the key disadvantage, namely that Libra unit holders are not entitled to the investment income, many industry analysts are carefully examining the impact Libra could have on the traditional ETF industry and existing electronic payment systems.

While our comparison to ETFs is a bit tongue and cheek, it does highlight that the structure of the product has similar attributes to existing financial products. We therefore think it is an appropriate comparison, and if Libra wants to be competitive, it should emulate some of the governance and fee characteristics of traditional ETFs.

However, Libra could attract clients due to integration with platforms such as Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram. If Libra does retain the property of allowing coins to be controlled by private keys, this is an interesting development and the coin is likely to gain share from tokens such as Tether. However, in our view, in the long run, it is likely Libra either disables this feature or makes it technically difficult, such that only a tiny minority of users have these “non-custodial” wallets. If that happens, Libra is nothing more than a high fee ETF.

HDR Global Trading Limited Donates to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Digital Currency Initiative (MIT DCI) In Support of Cryptocurrency Research

We are delighted to announce HDR Global Trading Limited’s support of the MIT Digital Currency Initiative, which conducts research into the development and betterment of the global cryptocurrency ecosystem.

Sam Reed, CTO of HDR Global Trading and co-founder of the BitMEX trading platform, announced the sponsorship:

Our company has always been energized by the potential of cryptocurrency. Our donation into research and development is about ensuring that the network is more robust. A stronger Bitcoin network will be beneficial to all, and we are very excited to be able to aid in its progress.

HDR Global Trading owns and operates BitMEX, the world’s largest cryptocurrency trading platform by volume. HDR Global Trading is proud to support Bitcoin research and engineering that will make Bitcoin stronger, improving Bitcoin’s robustness, scalability and privacy.

In particular, HDR is keen to help support the work of Bitcoin Core developers Wladimir van der Laan and Cory Fields. Their roles have important implications on different parts of the Bitcoin protocol.

The donation is provided unconditionally and without restrictions.

The Bitcoin Cash Hardfork – Three Interrelated Incidents

Abstract: The 15 May 2019 Bitcoin Cash hardfork appears to have suffered from three significant interrelated problems. A weakness exploited by an “attack transaction”, which caused miners to produce empty blocks. The uncertainty surrounding the empty blocks may have caused concern among some miners, who may have tried to mine on the original non-hardfork chain, causing a consensus chainsplit. There appears to have been a plan by developers and miners to recover funds accidentally sent to SegWit addresses and the above weakness may have scuppered this plan. This failure may have resulted in a deliberate and coordinated 2 block chain re-organisation. Based on our calculations, around 3,392 BCH may have been successfully double spent in an orchestrated transaction reversal. However, the only victim with respect to these double spent coins could have been the original “thief”.

Illustration of the Bitcoin Cash network splits on 15 May 2019

(Source: BitMEX Research)
(Notes: Graphical illustration of the split)

The three Bitcoin Cash issues

Bitcoin Cash’s May 2019 hard fork upgrade was plagued by three significant issues, two of which may have been indirectly caused by a bug which resulted in empty blocks. The below image shows the potential relationships between these three incidents.

The relationships between the three issues faced by Bitcoin Cash during the hardfork upgrade

(Source: BitMEX Research)

The empty block problem

Bitcoin ABC, an important software implementation for Bitcoin Cash, appears to have had a bug, where the validity conditions for transactions to enter the memory pool may have been less onerous than the consensus validity conditions. This is the opposite to how Bitcoin (and presumably Bitcoin Cash) are expected to operate, consensus validity rules are supposed to be looser than memory pool ones. This is actually quite an important characteristic, since it prevents a malicious spender from creating a transaction which satisfies the conditions to be relayed across the network and get into a merchants memory pools, but fails the conditions necessary to get into valid blocks. This would make 0-confirmation double spend attacks relatively easy to pull off, without one needing to hope their original payment doesn’t make it into the blockchain. In these circumstances, an attacker can be reasonably certain that the maliciously constructed transaction never makes it into the blockchain.

An attacker appears to have spotted this bug in Bitcoin Cash ABC and then exploited it, just after the hardfork, perhaps in an attempt to cause chaos and confusion. This attack could have been executed at any time. The attacker merely had to broadcast transactions which met the mempool validity conditions but failed the consensus checks. When miners then attempted to produce blocks with these transactions, they failed. Rather than not making any blocks at all, as a fail safe, miners appear to have made empty blocks, at least in most of the cases.

Bitcoin Cash – Number of transactions per block – orange line is the hardfork

(Source: BitMEX Research)

The asymmetric chainspilt

At the height of the uncertainty surrounding the empty blocks, our pre-hardfork Bitcoin ABC 0.18.2 node received a new block, 582,680. At the time, many were concerned about the empty blocks and it is possible that some miners may have reverted back to a pre-hardfork client, thinking that the longer chain was in trouble and may revert back to before the hardfork. However, this is merely speculation on our part and the empty block bug may have had nothing to do with the chainsplit, which could have just been caused by a miner who was too slow to upgrade.

Bitcoin Cash consensus chainsplit

(Source: BitMEX Research)

The chainsplit did highlight an issue to us with respect to the structure of the hardfork. We tested whether our post hardfork client, ABC 0.19.0, would consider the non-hardfork side of the split as valid. In order for the break to be “clean”, each side of the split should consider the other as invalid.

In order to test the validity of the shorter pre-hardfork chain, from the perspective of the Bitcoin ABC 0.19.0 node, we had to invalidate the first hardfork block since the split. We then observed to see whether the node would follow the chainsplit or remain stuck at the hardfork point. To our surprise, as the below screenshot indicates, the node followed the other side of the split. Therefore the split was not clean, it was asymmetric, potentially providing further opportunities for attackers.

Screenshot of the command line from our Bitcoin ABC 0.19.0 node

(Source: BitMEX Research)

The coordinated two block re-organisation

A few blocks after the hardfork, on the hardfork side of the split, there was a block chain re-organisation of length 2. At the time, we thought this was caused by normal block propagation issues and did not think much of it. For example, Bitcoin SV experienced a re-organisation a few weeks prior to this, of 6 blocks in the length. When Bitcoin SV re-organised, all transactions in the orphaned chain eventually made it into the main winning chain (except the Coinbase transactions), based on our analysis. However, in this Bitcoin Cash re-organisation, we discovered that this what not the case.

The orphaned block, 582,698, contained 137 transactions (including the Coinbase), only 111 of which made it into the winning chain. Therefore a successful 2 block double spend appears to have occurred with respect to 25 transactions. The output value of these 25 transactions summed up to over 3,300 BCH, as the below table indicates.

List of transactions in the orphaned block (582,698) which did not make it into the main chain

Transaction ID

Output total (BCH)

1e7ed3efb7975c06ca46598808e17c6f42c66a085fcb65356dc090e3c434d874

Coinbase (not counted)

0cdd5afff40831199d78ac55116a94aaf4ea7d53e599ac44962c29861ef9f05e

79.9

1907e59313a5c2607f706e8439feb613ed3ff89530d17bd9deced7113928df79

358.9

27553ff15a9d58b10b33da69bef3ccd570c007fc0d695cf8b88817cfc4d49065

65.2

2ff74d9b244469dcd87f9c853b70f9bc72d4116c662ee12783a1c32a6825d45e

196.3

357e31bcf17b4d557954b2d69b7169559a64605a628c4bb9eb11adbd416967d1

117.4

3801dc4ee11ccaeda243ac287ee5e40afb0f07dc0ba26f534ea52f4bfde0d3da

161.2

83e6065dd31ef706f6a90669e460000741820c4dcb753290bd2b003a9f853211

71.2

8950cae069562893aa3583b75fd14f2aaef4f0db72292bd05e11f915ca38cd86

107.8

8e10f1f85d9707ca974ddabd9cb8188d0b890586781ef4161a9133dadefbe0e6

72.0

8fc0b3665f4734b56686ffec83f6b23000720af90102e20f39d9dddb5f1f5c25

183.0

99bd320fb7e3fc487b393c3b9afbc6a7bc765d7f9df5902201a70d3cb8fc5a63

57.8

a38b43f85cc592c4bd69b2b1f0f865df6d36f3b89dfa6119780197369e48192a

177.8

b091bf34d72444ff1669dd13b6c912d8801b94aad8a92d162a9680d46d4b727f

89.2

bd8ee13735dcbdad983fe9624c5b3fd3d257b15a62b269ddb40bb4be9d4a15cb

100.5

beae5bc9137beebddea6f5fbc6fe79b77f6d59f2aa2a5da675ccc39b2b2f8cb6

166.3

c47d1c18c39d28df21ce0e3c34021295658b56c7e669af3aebe685cea32462dc

210.3

c8031b2fd429d9e2838dccc7fa0631788139443a7609958c5d2ce195aec97f8a

85.7

cf3af954a7c3b327107aa42498ec31924075bd926a61428352695a696af8d6c4

114.8

cf8f47928c37bc24c88ff8ff8ea3c84419d4cedc907e74d113e681b055c566dc

162.0

dff4537328f2568db5b7f0fa81a57024fdeb9da23a432a893fb48eca1ab63079

115.9

e1398e628da1258db08f969efdade13e6daac6a53e5b43121dab3604c605af29

69.9

e926ce8ca0192b3ea7f971d93eec3f651e8a35839a76101512cb8c37f98caa89

126.8

e9e0482d61300d3b3d6a9340f9ee66bd6d098328cd7ced50416bb28eb8dc796e

307.4

ebc4392b27056b84a0337638f1257031172d842c148f9ffa10e80afc4080d8a1

           82.7

f81267d65855040bf08bb5291a87733555067041ab611cd4e874368c8c1a2c2a

111.9

Total

3,391.7

(Source: BitMEX Research)

As the above table shows, the total output value of these 25 double spent transactions is 3,391.7 BCH, an economically significant sum. Therefore, one may conclude that the re-organisation was an orchestrated event, rather than it having occurred by accident. If it occurred by accident, it is possible there would be no mismatch between the transactions on each side of the split. However, assuming coordination and a deliberate re-org is speculation on our part.

We have provided two examples of outputs which were double spent below:

Example of one of the double spent UTXOs – “0014”

(Source: BitMEX Research)

The above table illustrates what happened to a 5 BCH output during the re-organisation. The 5 BCH was first sent to address qzyj4lzdjjq0unuka59776tv4e6up23uhyk4tr2anm in block 582,698. This chain was orphaned and the same output was eventually sent to a different address, qq4whmrz4xm6ey6sgsj4umvptrpfkmd2rvk36dw97y, 7 block later.

Second example of one of the double spent UTXOs – “0020”

(Source: BitMEX Research)

What happened to the above outputs shares characteristics with almost all the funds in the 25 double spent transactions. Most of the outputs appear to have been double spent around block 582,705 on the main chain, around 7 blocks after the orphaned block.

The SigScript, used to redeem the transaction inputs, starts with “0020” or “0014”, highlighted in the above examples. These may relate to Segregated Witness. According to the specification in Segregated Witness, “0014” is pushed in P2WPKH (Pay to witness public key hash) and “0020” is pushed in P2WSH (Pay to witness script hash). Therefore the redemption of these inputs may have something to do with Segregated Witness, a Bitcoin upgrade, only part of which was adopted on Bitcoin Cash.

Indeed, based on our analysis, every single input in the 25 transactions in the orphaned block 582,698 was redeemed with a Sigscript starting “0014” or “0020”. Therefore it is possible that nobody lost funds related to this chain re-organisation, other than the “attacker” or “thief” who redeemed these SegWit outputs, which may have accidentally been sent to these outputs in the first place.

As part of the Bitcoin Cash May 2019 hardfork, there was a change to allow coins which were accidentally sent to a SegWit address, to be recovered. Therefore, this may have occurred in the incident.

Allow Segwit recovery

In the last upgrade, coins accidentally sent to Segwit P2SH addresses were made unspendable by the CLEANSTACK rule. This upgrade will make an exemption for these coins and return them to the previous situation, where they are spendable. This means that once the P2SH redeem script pre-image is revealed (for example by spending coins from the corresponding BTC address), any miner can take the coins.

(Source: https://github.com/bitcoincashorg/bitcoincash.org/blob/master/spec/2019-05-15-upgrade.md)

It is possible that this 2 block re-organisation is unrelated to the empty block bug. However, the split appears to have occurred just one block after the resolution of the bug, therefore it may be related. Perhaps the “honest” miners were attempting to coordinate the spend of these outputs directly after the split, perhaps to return them to the original owners and the empty block bug messed up their timing, allowing the attacker to benefit and sweep the funds.

On the other hand, the attack is quite complex, therefore the attacker is likely to have a high degree of sophistication and needed to engage in extensive planning. Therefore, it is also possible this attack may have been effective even without the empty block bug.

Conclusion

There are many lessons to learn from the events surrounding the Bitcoin Cash hardfork upgrade. A hardfork appears to provide an opportunity for malicious actors to attack and create uncertainty and therefore careful planning and coordination of a hardfork is important. On the other hand, this empty block bug, which may be the root cause of the other 2 incidents, could have occurred at any time and trying to prevent bugs like this is critical whether one is attempting to harfork or not.

Another key lesson from these events is the need for transparency. During the incidents it was difficult to know what developers were planning, the nature of the bugs, or which chain the miners were supporting. Open communication in public channels about these issues could have been more helpful. In particular, many were unaware of an apparent plan developers and miners had to coordinate and recover lost funds sent to SegWit addresses. It may have been helpful if this plan was debated and discussed in the community more beforehand, as well as during the apparent deliberate and coordinated re-organisation. Assuming of course if there was time to disclose the latter. It may also be helpful if those involved disclose the details about these events after the fact.

The largest concern from all of this, in our view, is the deliberate and coordinated re-organisation. From one side of the argument, the funds were stolen, therefore the actions were justified in returning the funds to their “rightful owners”, even if it caused some short term disruption. However, the cash like transaction finality is seen by many, or perhaps by some, as the only unique characteristic of these blockchain systems. The ability to reverse transactions, and in this case economically significant transactions, undermines the whole premise of the system. Such behavior can remove incentives to appropriately secure funds and set a precedent or change expectations, making further reversals more likely.

For all those in the Bitcoin community who dislike Bitcoin Cash, this could be seen as an opportunity to laugh at the coin. However, although Bitcoin Cash has a much lower hashrate than Bitcoin, making this reversal easier, the success of this economically significant orchestrated transaction reversal on Bitcoin Cash is not positive news for Bitcoin in our view. In some ways, these incidents contribute to setting a dangerous precedent. It shows that it may be possible in Bitcoin. Alternatively, this could just illustrate the risks Bitcoin Cash faces while being the minority chain.

Initial Exchange Offerings

Abstract: In this piece we present data on a relatively new phenomenon, Initial Exchange Offerings (IEOs). The ICO market is down around 97% in Q1 2019 (YoY), based on the amount of capital raised. In this relatively challenging climate to raise funds, some projects have changed the “C” in ICO to an “E”, perhaps in an attempt to assist with raising capital. At least for now, to some extent, this appears to be working, with almost $40m having been raised so far this year. However, we remain sceptical about the prospects for long term investors.

Overview

We consider an Initial Exchange Offering (IEO) as the issuance and sale of a token based on public-private key cryptography, where participation in the issuance occurs exclusively through one trading platform or exchange. This piece provides a basic overview of the largest IEOs and tracks various IEO token metrics, including investment performance.

ICO market

First we briefly look at the ICO market. As the following chart indicates, the market has dried up following a massive boom in 2017 & 2018.

Funds raised by ICOs – US$M

Source: BitMEX Research, icodata.io
Notes: Data as at 25 April 2019

As the below chart illustrates, the investment returns of the 2018 ICOs has been poor, many of the projects are down around 80% from the ICO price, if the coin even trades at all. Peak to trough, project token prices typically declined much further than this.

Top ten ICOs by funds raised in 2018 – Investment performance data

ICO Name
Funds raised – US$m
Return based on average ICO price
EOS
4,234
(4%)
Telegram
1,700
Coin not listed
Dfinity
195
Coin not listed
Bankera
150
(87%)
t0
134
Coin not listed
Basis
125
Returned capital to investors
Orbs
118
(64%)
PumaPay
117
(93%)
Jet8
33
(99%)
Unikoin Gold
32
(88%)

Source: BitMEX Research, tokendata.io
Notes: Data as at 25 April 2019

Changing a “C” into an “E” – The IEO market

Perhaps in an attempt to address some of the concerns about the poor investment returns and the lower levels of enthusiasm for ICOs, IEOs appear to have gained in popularity. Below is a list of the major IEOs and the main exchange platforms involved.

List of IEO token sales

CoinIEO DateIEO issue amount vs total coin supplyReturn vs first exchange trade priceReturn vs IEO price
US$m raised in IEO
Binance
Gifto21/12/20173.0%(90.5%)142.2%
0.4
Bread26/12/20177.9%(84.2%)164.6%
0.8
Fetch.AI02/03/20196.0%(55.0%)203.6%
4.1
BitTorrent03/02/20196.0%54.8%433.9%
7.5
Celer24/03/20196.0%(29.4%)82.0%
4.5
Matic24/04/201919.0%Ongoing
Binance Total
17.3
Huobi
TOP26/03/20197.5%10.2%357.0%
3.3
Newton16/04/20192.0%(23.0%)197.0%
4.8
Huobi Total
8.1
Bittrex
VeriBlock02/04/20193.3%(30.9%)(33.0%)
7.0
RAIDCanceled
OKEX
Blockcloud10/04/20195.0%(43.1%)599.7%
2.5
BitMax
Dos Network11/04/201914.2%(55.1%)74.2%
1.7
Kucoin
MultiVAC03/04/20196.0%(30.5%)20.0%
3.6

Source: BitMEX Research, IEO Launchpad websites, Coinmarketcap
Notes: Data as at 25 April 2019

The number of IEOs taking place has intensified in recent months, as the model is proving somewhat successful. Smaller exchange platforms are attempting to replicate the model, as the long list of IEOs below illustrates.

Other IEOs with limited data available

Coin IEO Date Platform
Coin Analyst07/07/2018Exmarkets
SID Token15/11/2018Exmarkets
Rebglo01/12/2018Coineal
Aerum01/01/2019Exmarkets
TerraGreen21/01/2019Exmarkets
Verasity01/03/2019Probit
Percival05/03/2019Coineal
Decimated06/03/2019Exmarkets
Menapay15/03/2019Exmarkets
Linix16/03/2019Probit
Levolution18/03/2019Coineal
WeGen18/03/2019Probit
Spin Protocol19/03/2019Probit
CharS20/03/2019Probit
Windhan Energy21/03/2019Exmarkets
HUNT23/03/2019Probit
KIZUNA GLOBAL TOKEN25/03/2019Coineal
PUBLISH26/03/2019Probit
ZeroBank31/03/2019Coineal
REDi03/04/2019Probit
VenusEnergy04/04/2019Exmarkets
Bit Agro05/04/2019Exmarkets
XCon06/04/2019Coineal
YellowBetter08/04/2019Bitker
Link by BlockMason09/04/2019BW
GTEX Gaming Platform12/04/2019Coineal
AlienCloud16/04/2019IDAX
Evedo16/04/2019Bitforex
PantheonX18/04/2019BW
NUVO19/04/2019Probit
Grabity19/04/2019BW
Farm2Kitchen22/04/2019Exmarkets
Cryptobuyer23/04/2019Coineal
Airsave Travel01/05/2019Exmarkets

Source: BitMEX Research, IEO Launchpad websites

With respect to all but one of the tokens, investors have earned strong positive returns based on the IEO price. However, after the tokens begin trading, the investment returns have typically been poor. This is illustrated by the below chart, which rebases the token price to the IEO issuance price.

IEO Investment performance since launch (IEOs in 2019)

Source: BitMEX Research, IEO Launchpad websites, Coinmarketcap
Notes: Data as at 25 April 2019

US$38.9m has been raised so far by IEOs in 2019 (up to 25th April). Binance has been the most prolific IEO platform by a considerable margin.

Top exchange platforms by IEO funds raised – US$m

Source: BitMEX Research, IEO Launchpad websites, Coinmarketcap
Notes: Data as at 25 April 2019

The proceeds from IEOs can be relatively small, however on average only 4.4% of the total token supply is made available in the sale. Therefore, there are opportunities for project teams to make considerable profits from selling coins they granted to themselves. The 2019 IEOs were priced at a level which implies a total market capitalisation of US$907.7m, based on the disclosed total token supply.

Top exchange platforms by IEO token market capitalisation at IEO price – US$m

Source: BitMEX Research, IEO Launchpad websites, Coinmarketcap
Notes: Data as at 25 April 2019

Conclusion

While exchanges, traders & subscribers may have done very well from IEOs thus far, we are less confident on the outlook for long term investors. However, this is simply a high level analysis – we have not looked into any of the individual projects in detail.

Disclaimer

Any views expressed on BitMEX Research reports are the personal views of the authors. BitMEX (or any affiliated entity) has not been involved in producing this report and the views contained in the report may differ from the views or opinions of BitMEX.

The information and data herein have been obtained from sources we believe to be reliable. Such information has not been verified and we make no representation or warranty as to its accuracy, completeness or correctness. Any opinions or estimates herein reflect the judgment of the authors of the report at the date of this communication and are subject to change at any time without notice. BitMEX will not be liable whatsoever for any direct or consequential loss arising from the use of this publication/communication or its contents.

If we have made any errors in relation to particular projects, we apologise and are happy to correct the data as soon as possible.

The Schnorr Signature & Taproot Softfork Proposal

Abstract: We summarise and provide context for a recent Bitcoin softfork upgrade proposal, which includes a new digital signature scheme (Schnorr), as well as a complementary upgrade called Taproot, which adds new capabilities that extend Bitcoin’s smart contracting capability. The upgrades are structured to ensure that they simultaneously improve both scalability and privacy. Other than increased complexity, there are no significant downsides to the proposal, and the most controversial aspect of it is likely to be the lack of other anticipated features. We conclude that although many will be enthusiastic about the upgrade and keen to see it rolled out, patience will be important.

(Source: Pexels)

Overview

On 6th May 2019, Bitcoin protocol developer Pieter Wuille posted a softfork upgrade proposal to the Bitcoin developer mailing list, called “Taproot”. If this proposal is accepted, it is likely to complement the Schnorr signature softfork upgrade, which Pieter posted in July 2018. The benefits of these proposals are related to both scalability (efficiency) and privacy. Scalability and privacy enhancements now appear somewhat interrelated and inseparable. Removing details about transactions, ensures both that transactions are smaller (improving scalability) and that they reveal less information and are therefore potentially indistinguishable from transactions of different types, thereby improving privacy.

Schnorr Signatures

The Schnorr signature scheme was patented in 1991 by Claus Schnorr and the patent expired in 2008. Although the Schnorr scheme is said to be stronger, a variant of it, the Digital Signature Algorithm (DSA) scheme was more widely adopted, as the patent for this scheme was made available worldwide royalty free. However, Dr Schnorr himself always maintained that DSA should be covered under his patent.

When Bitcoin was launched, in 2009, it therefore used a variant of DSA, Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm (ECDSA) for its digital signature scheme, due to its widespread adoption. However, the original Schnorr signature scheme was always more simple and efficient than DSA, with less burdensome security assumptions. After 10 years of experience of Bitcoin usage, it is becoming more apparent that these efficiency advantages could be important. Therefore it seems sensible that Bitcoin should migrate over to the Schnorr signature scheme.

The main benefit with Schnorr signatures, is that multi-signature transactions appear onchain as a normal single signature transaction. Using Schnorr signatures, multiple signers can produce a joint public key and then jointly sign with one signature, rather than publishing each public key and each signature separately on the blockchain. This is a significant scalability and privacy enhancement. This implies that Schnorr signatures result in significant space savings and savings to verification times, with the comparative benefits getting larger as the number of signatories on a traditional multi-signature transaction increase.

Schnorr signature space saving estimates

We have tried to calculate the potential Bitcoin network capacity increase this aggregation feature of Schnorr multisig can provide. However, due to the large number of assumptions involved, our 13.1% capacity increase figure below should be considered as a very approximate estimate.

Savings estimates based on UTXO count

Estimated current multi-signature usage by UTXO count
5.9%
Effective network capacity increase assuming 100% Schnorr adoption
13.1%

(Source: BitMEX Research calculations and estimates, p2sh.info)

(Notes: The estimates ignore the impact of Schnorr’s smaller signature size and only include the benefits of joining the public keys and signatures. The capacity increase was estimated by using p2sh.info related to multi-signature usage and applying a savings multiple to each multi-signature type (ranging from 50% to 85%). A network wide capacity increase was estimated by assuming the UTXO usage proportion was typical of blockchain usage and applying a higher weight to larger multi-signature transactions. Unspent P2SH outputs were allocated to multi-signature types in proportion to the spent outputs. This figure should only be considered as a very approximate estimate. Data as at 07 May 2019 )

The above estimated capacity increase can be considered as small, however one should consider the following:

  • Economic usage of multi-signature technology is far more prevalent than by merely looking at the UTXO count. Around 21.5% of all Bitcoin is stored in multi-signature wallets, a far higher figure than the 5.9% adoption by UTXO count
  • Multi-signature adoption is growing rapidly, as the below chart indicates. While at the same time new systems like the lightning network require multi-signature adoption and with Schnorr signature making multi-signature systems more powerful, adoption is likely to increase

Bitcoin stored by P2SH address type – chart shows strong growth of multi-signature technology

(Source: p2sh.info)

Therefore, although based on the current usage of the network, according to our basic calculation, even 100% Schnorr adoption only results in a 13.1% network capacity increase, in the long term the potential space savings and network capacity gains are likely to be far higher than this.

Merkelized Abstract Syntax Tree (MAST)

MAST was an idea worked on by Bitcoin protocol developer Dr Johnson Lau in 2016. Dr Lau has written for BitMEX Research in the past, in his February 2018 piece entitled The art of making softforks: Protection by policy rule. The MAST idea is that transactions can contain multiple spending conditions, for example a 2 of 2 multi-signature condition, in addition to a time lock condition. In order to avoid putting all these conditions and scripts into the blockchain, the spending scripts can be structured inside a Merkle tree, such that they only need to be revealed if they are used, along with the necessary Merkle branch hashes.

Graphical illustration of MAST spending conditions

(Source: BitMEX Research)
(Notes: The diagram is trying to illustrate a transaction structure assuming MAST was used in conjunction with Schnorr. In the above construction funds can be redeemed the cooperative way if both Bob and Alice sign, or in an uncooperative way after a timelock. The above is supposed to illustrate the type of structure which could be required when opening and closing lightning network channels)

Based on the above design, it can be assumed that only one spending condition will need to be revealed. For example, to spend the output, all the signers need to do is provide one Schnorr multi-signature and the hash at the top of the right hand side of the Merkle tree (Hash (1 & 2)). Therefore despite the existence of a Merkle tree, in the majority of cases, where everything goes as planned, only a single signature and 32-byte hash is required. More concisely, in order to verify a script, you need to prove that it is part of the Merkle tree by revealing other branch hashes.

However, the disadvantage of this structure is that even in normal optimal circumstances, when the single key and script on the top left of the Merkle tree is provided, one still needs to publish another hash to the blockchain (Hash (1 & 2) in the above diagram), using up 32 bytes of data. This weakness also reduces privacy, since third parties can always determine if more complex spending conditions exist, as the top branch of the Merkle tree is always visible.

Taproot

As far as we can tell, the origins of the Taproot idea are from an email from Bitcoin developer Gregory Maxwell in January 2018. Taproot is similar in construction to MAST, except at the top of the Merkle tree. In the case of Taproot, in the cooperative or normal scenario, there is an option for only a single public key and single signature to be published, without the need to publish evidence of the existence of a Merkle tree. An illustration of the Taproot transaction structure is provided below.

Graphical illustration of Taproot spending conditions

(Source: BitMEX Research)

(Notes: The diagram attempts to illustrate the same spending criteria as the MAST diagram above)

The tweaked public key on the left (or address) can be calculated from the original public key and the Merkel root hash. In the event of a normal or cooperative payment, on redemption, the original public key is not required to be onchain and the existence of the Merkle tree is not revealed, all that needs to be published is a single signature. In the event of a lack of cooperation or abnormal redemption, the original public key is revealed along with information about the Merkle tree.

The benefits of Taproot compared to the original MAST structure are clear, in the cooperative case, one is no longer required to include an extra 32-byte hash in the blockchain or the script itself, improving efficiency. In addition to this, the transactions looks “normal”, just a payment with a public key and signature, the existence of the other spending conditions do not need to be revealed. This is a large privacy benefit, for example when opening a lightning channel or even doing a cooperative lightning channel closure, to an external third party observer, the transaction would look exactly like a regular spend of Bitcoin. The transaction could be structured such that only in an uncooperative lightning channel closure would the existence of the Merkle tree need to be revealed. The more different types of transactions look the same, the better it is for privacy, as third parties may be less able to determine which types of transactions are occurring and establish the flow of funds. A long term objective from some of the Bitcoin developers may be to ensure that, no matter what type of transaction is occurring, at least in the so-called cooperative cases, all transactions look the same.

The confusion over Signature aggregation

The potential scalability benefits of reducing the number of signatures needed on the blockchain are large and therefore the concept tends to generate a lot of excitement. Schnorr signatures do provide the capability to aggregate signatures in multi-signature transactions, which should be a significant benefit to Bitcoin. However, the inclusion of this and the existence of other signature aggregation related ideas, has lead to some unrealistic expectations about the potential benefits, at least with respect to this upgrade proposal. As far as we can tell, for this particular upgrade proposal, the only aggregation benefits are in the form of joining signatures in multi-signature schemes, not for multiple inputs or multiple transactions.

Summary table of signature aggregation ideas


Included in softfork proposal
Combined public key and signatures in multi-signature transactions – Included as part of Schnorr
Yes
Joint signature for multiple inputs in a transaction
No
Joint signature for multiple inputs in multiple transactions (Grin coin has some capabilities in this area, using Mimblewimble)
No

(Source: BitMEX Research)

Conclusion

In our view, the benefits associated with this softfork are not likely to be controversial. This softfork appears to be a win-win-win for capability, scalability and privacy. The largest area of contention is likely to be the absence of the inclusion of other ideas or arguments over why to do it this particular way.

That being said, many are likely to be excited about the potential benefits of these upgrades and keen to see these activated on the network as fast as possible. However, when it comes to Bitcoin, and in particular changes to consensus rules, the need for patience cannot be overstated.

Bitcoin Cash SV – 6 block chainsplit

Abstract: On 18th April 2019, the BitMEX Research Bitcoin Cash SV node experienced 2 block re-organisations. First a 3 block re-organisation, followed by a 6 block re-organisation. In this brief piece, we provide data and graphics related to the temporary chainsplit. The chainsplit appears to be caused by large blocks which took too long to propagate, rather than consensus related issues. Our analysis shows there were no double spends related to the split.

Chainsplit diagram – 18 April 2019

Source: BitMEX Research
Notes: The above image indicates there were two valid competing chains and a non-consensus split occurred at block 578,639. Our node followed the chain on the left until block 578,642, then it jumped over to the right. About an hour later, it jumped back over to the left hand side. The chain on the left continued, while the chain on the right was eventually abandoned.

Chainsplit transaction data

Number of transactions
Main chain (within 6 blocks)
754,008
Fork chain
1,050,743
Overlap (within 6 blocks)
753,945
Eventual double spends
0

Source: BitMEX Research

Based on our analysis of the transactions, all the TXIDs from the forked chain (on the right), eventually made it back into the main chain, with the obvious exception of the coinbase transactions. Therefore, it is our belief that no double spends occurred in relation to this incident.

Timestamps of the blocks related to the split – 18 April 2019

Local ClockBlock TimestampHeightHashSize (MB)Log2 Work
11:39:4711:39:19578,638 000000000000000001ccdb82b9fa923323a8d605e615047ac6c7040584eb24193.187.803278
12:04:5112:04:37578,639 0000000000000000090a43754c9c3ffb3627a929a97f3a7c37f3dee94e1fc98f8.687.803280
12:28:0112:20:36578,640 00000000000000000211d3b3414c5cb3e795e3784da599bcbb17e6929f58cc0952.287.803282
12:43:4212:29:39578,641 0000000000000000050c01ee216586175d15b683f26adcfdd9dd0be4b1742e9e42.187.803285
12:59:2712:51:40578,642 00000000000000000a7a25cea40cb57f5fce3b492030273b6f8a52f99f4bf2a876.287.803287
13:05:1812:32:39578,640 000000000000000007ad01e93696a2f93a31c35ab014d6c43597fd4fd6ba959035.587.803282
13:05:1812:33:16578,641 0000000000000000033ed7d3b1a818d82483ade2ee8c31304888932b7729f6920.187.803285
13:05:1812:41:38578,642 00000000000000000ae4a0d81d4c219139c22ba1a8a42d72b960d63a9e1579141.087.803287
13:05:1912:56:37578,643 00000000000000000590821ac2eb1d3c0e4e7edab586c16d5072ec0c77a980dc0.887.803289
13:19:3613:14:22578,644 0000000000000000001ae8668e9ab473f8862dc081f7ac65e6df9ded635d338e128.087.803291
13:21:5613:18:07578,645 0000000000000000049efe9a6e674370461c78845b98c4d045fe9cd5cb9ea634107.287.803293
14:12:5413:15:36578,643 0000000000000000016b62ec5523a1afe25672abd91fe67602ea69ee2a2b871f23.887.803289
14:12:5513:43:35578,644 000000000000000003e9d9be8a7b9fc64ef1d3494d1b0f4c11845882643a64391.387.803291
14:12:5514:01:34578,645 0000000000000000052be8613e79b33a9959535551217d7fdacc2d0c1db1e6720.087.803293
14:12:5514:06:35578,646 00000000000000000475ab103a92eb6cb1c3c666cd9af7b070e09b3a35a15d660.087.803296
14:27:0914:24:37578,647 0000000000000000062bade37849ade3e3c4dfa9289d7f5f6d203ae188e94e4f77.087.803298

Source: BitMEX Research

If one is interested, we have provided the above table which discloses all the relevant details of the blocks related to the chainsplit, including:

  • The block timestamps
  • The local clock timestamps
  • The block hashes
  • The block sizes
  • The total accumulated PoW up to each block

With the above details one can follow what occurred in relation to the chainsplit and create a timeline.

Conclusion
Our primary motivation for providing this information and analysis is not driven by an interest in Bitcoin Cash SV, but instead a desire to develop systems to analyse and detect these type of events on the Bitcoin network. Systems are being developed on our website, https://forkmonitor.info, to help detect chainsplits, caused either by poor block propagation or consensus related issues. This event on Bitcoin Cash SV is good practice for us.

As for Bitcoin Cash SV, the block sizes were particularly large during the period of the re-organisations. On the forked chain, the last two blocks were 128MB and 107MB respectively. On the main chain many of the blocks were over 50MB. Therefore, in our view, it is likely the large sizes of the blocks were the root cause of the re-organisations, as miners couldn’t propagate and verify these large blocks fast enough, before other blocks on different chains were found.

As for the implications this has on Bitcoin Cash SV, we have no comment. We will leave that to others.