16 - 31/Mar/2021

Avalanche and Proof of Work and the violence against Asians

(Note: This is only my non-technical understanding of what transpired on the BCHA network over the past couple of days and how Avalanche will work on BCHA. This is not meant to be an official explanation of what happened.)

Over the past couple of days, the BCHA network faced yet another test. The merge mining pool Hathor (aka Zulupool) had been mining two different chain tips resulting in many exchanges closing their deposits and withdrawals to avoid potential losses. Let me explain.

When you have a proof of work blockchain like BCHA (or any other fork of Bitcoin), the chain recognized as valid is the one that has the most accumulated proof of work. But when you are dealing with a minority chain backed by only a tiny fraction of the total hash power available, this makes the network susceptible to 51% attacks.

Normally, a sha-256 chain would have no way to defend itself in this kind of situation. Any attacker with more hash power than the rest of the network combined could suddenly orphan blocks and prevent transactions from being processed as intended.

But this will not be the case for BCHA. With the incorporation of Avalanche post-consensus, the BCHA network is proving itself resilient against such actions. When the network was first launched back in 2020 without post-consensus, a similar attack was performed and it caused the network to be unusable for several days. Eventually the honest actors coordinated in tandem to invalidate the blocks mined by the evil miner and everything was back to normal.

Since then, an alpha version of post-consensus was designed and those who have implemented it are showing how well it works in the wild. While Hathor/Zulupool and explorers like Blockchair continued to follow the wrong chain, ecosystem supporters who implemented this rudimentary form of post-consensus demonstrated how well it can work. Miners like ViaBTC, Mining Dutch and Henhao mining (the good miner), as well as the exchange Coinex, and the Bitcoin ABC, Be.cash and Viawallet explorers all remained on the right chain in spite of what was happening.

How did they to stay on the right chain even if it wasn't the chain with the most accumulated proof of work?

By using Avalanche post-consensus. These honest actors were able to communicate and coordinate through what Antony Zegers of Bitcoin ABC calls a "chatty" process whereby each node talks to other nodes on the other network to determine which chain (or transaction) is the right one. In a way, it's not that different from how actors in the BCH or BSV ecosystem have coordinated to ignore the BTC chain despite it having by far the most proof of work of any sha-256 chain. The difference is that by using Avalanche post-consensus, such coordination can be done in real time and without the need for a hardfork.

Unfortunately, Avalanche post-consensus is still a work in progress and has not been fully deployed. As such, many exchanges stopped allowing deposits and withdrawals as they tried to figure out which chain was the correct one. But once post-consensus is production ready, I believe that the BCHA network will become one of the most secure networks out there no matter how much hash is on the chain.

It will not only make it much more difficult to 51% attack the network but also enable much more secure 0-confirmation payments once Avalanche pre-consensus is implemented. By combining Proof of Work and Avalanche, the BCHA network will have bolstered its immune system to better protect itself against malicious actors while also making the network more reliable and usable for everyday payments.

So what does all this have to do with the violence against Asians?

If you live in the US, I'm sure you've seen all the news reports of the random acts of violence against Asians in major cities around the country. As an Asian-American myself, I've been following the issue and wondering what, if any, solutions could be implemented.

Let me state that I'm not here to talk about the ongoing debate about race in this country. In fact, I think we need to focus less on race and more on culture, but while thinking about the real life violence that people of all colors experience in their daily lives, I couldn't help but make the connection between those real life attacks and the 51% attacks performed on blockchains.

While I can't think of any easy solutions for the real world violence, the engineers at Bitcoin ABC appear to have figured out a solution to 51% attacks in the digital realm. By combining proof of work with Avalanche, the BCHA chain will have the ability to ignore blocks that were secretly mined and unleashed on the network in an effort to create chaos.

But let us not forget that proof of work doesn't just provide security for a blockchain. It is also the mechanism by which new coins are generated and transactions are processed. Throughout Bitcoin's history, miners were incentivized to act honestly rather than to use their computing power to defraud users and "undermine the system and the validity of his own wealth". But what if it was possible to make it so miners have no choice but to act honestly? What if they had to act honestly or not be rewarded at all?

I believe this is what Avalanche post-consensus can achieve for BCHA. And before anyone jumps to say that BCHA is abandoning proof of work, I want to make it clear that this is definitely not the case. Proof of work will still be used to create blocks and process transactions in exchange for mining rewards. The difference is that it will no longer be the only source of network security.

To put it another way, imagine if we lived in a society that was protected by a "hash" army. What happens when a bigger army comes along? In the old paradigm, our society would be overrun and be unable to defend itself against such an attacker. Everyone would now have to live under the attacker's rules. But what if this society had the ability to evade attacks altogether? Rather than having to fall victim to their new masters with bigger guns, they could continue to live by their agreed upon consensus rules because they are protected by a force field that keeps them safe no matter how many guns someone has. Now the hash army can focus on its other job of processing transactions and producing blocks instead of having to worry about fighting off 51% attacks, which also redistributes the power so that miners no longer have a monopoly on security.

Now if only we can figure out a way to make it so that states don't have a monopoly on violence in the real world...

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