In a tremendously complex and technical document, the Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin laid out plans for a blockchain consensus algorithm which can survive a 99% attack. This means that a blockchain can be designed where only 1% of miners are needed to be honest for it to keep running. Currently, almost all blockchains require at least 50% of miners to provide truthful information. If this number falls to 49%, it leaves most blockchains vulnerable to malicious attacks. If Vitalik’s information is accurate, this will allow for highly reinforced blockchains to exist, as well as bringing us closer to solving the infamous Byzantine Generals’ Problem.
How does a 1% consensus algorithm work?
To create a consensus algorithm which can sustain an attack from 99% of its miners, Vitalik states that you need to have special nodes which can observe (or at least listen for) dishonest behavior. These nodes would need to detect inconsistencies between the times that information is published to the blockchain. Double-spends often take slightly longer (or occasionally slightly quicker) for their data to get passed to the blockchain, if nodes were created to detect for this then they could set in motion parameters to prevent it.
The high-profile Ethereum programmer Conrad Barski took to Reddit to offer a much more succinct explanation. He states that “Usually, all blockchain consensus [algorithms] care about is what the validators (i.e. miners) of a chain do. Vitalik is proposing that if an independent observer of the network traffic (i.e. just the blockchain client a user is running, not a miner/validator) watches what’s happening in real time and pays attention to when messages appear, they can detect ‘foul play’ by miners performing a 51% attack and this can provide additional safety guarantees that can protect against such an attack.” He further notes that this is somewhat similar to how merchants are already checking for 51% attacks themselves, only Vitalik’s version is more large-scale and complex.
A future-proof Ethereum
If Vitalik finds a way of implementing this 1% consensus algorithm, then it will make Ethereum the most robust cryptocurrency to exist. It would also fully eradicate 51% attacks. Whether this will actually happen is hard to say— this isn’t the only tech innovation that the Ethereum team are interested in so it might not take priority. For a few years now, the Ethereum developers have been working towards moving the coin over to a proof-of-stake consensus algorithm under the name of Serenity. Vitalik has been cagey about how long this will take, but major progress was made when the Casper hybrid consensus algorithm was released.
The Ethereum team clearly have huge plans for the future, and with the release of information regarding a 1% consensus algorithm, it looks like they will continue to move the technology forward and set trends in the industry.
Kai is a cryptocurrency copywriter and professional trader. He can often be found investigating various cryptocurrencies, whitepapers, and blockchain technologies. Kai has been a professional writer for 5+ years, and has invested in 50+ different coins and tokens. He also currently studies Law and Philosophy at university.