Ethereum Miners Plot 51% Collusion

“This is a show of force. It’s a show of: hey miners can coordinate,” says Michael Carter (pictured) of Bits Be Trippin, a youtube miners channel.

That follows rumors some miners plan to concentrate 51% of the hashrate on Ethermine, the second biggest ethereum mining pool which has vocally come out against the now approved EIP1559.

“There is a call to arms/force projection taking place on April 1st of many home and mid size miners moving hashrate over to for 51 hours to show a coordinated move of hashpower that has been dismissed by the Ethereum Core Developers as their efforts to pay as little as possible to secure ethereum’s network is well within the risk boundry on making changes to the monetary (fee) structure for ethereum,” Carter says.

He says the devs and the investors and the dapp developers are detached and there has to be a ‘compromise’ with Carter further stating:

“That pool is not gone attack the network. There’s no incentive for them to attack the network. What it is showing is that if you have a misalignment of incentives, you can get the network into a position where a would be attacker could put a price point out there, pay a lot more for that hashpower that just got kicked off, and now you have a situation where you could have a double spend or a block reorg.”

So these, influencer miners we’ll call them, are seemingly planning to facilitate a potential 51% attack of ethereum as a show of force with the aim of demanding a compromise which entails either kicking out some other miners, the asics miners, or inflating ethereum by increasing the block reward.

Numerous miners online have vocally opposed the above, with this ‘protest’ against a proposal by Vitalik Buterin having numerous defenses if a would be attacker thinks about 51% attacking the second biggest decentralized network.

The first line of defense would be a DDoS to a grinding halt of ethermine if it gets anywhere near 51% of the network hashrate.

Now of course we don’t condone such action as DDoSes are illegal, but when a now long forgotten pool (ghash?) got 51% of bitcoin’s network back in 2014, a ddos successfully halted any further gain in its hashrate and gradually led to its downfall as miners moved away from the pool. And that was with an ‘innocent’ gain of 51% just because this pool was very good at what it was doing.

Since then, miners presumably have ddosed each other, so they probably got their defenses up, but we would be surprised if ethermine maintains their ability to stay online in a situation where there’s effectively a declaration of war on coders.

That’s especially the case as bitcoiners would have no choice but to join in defense as a successful 51% attack of eth would be far too close to home, and if they do – not that eth really needs it as it already has plenty of skilled women and men – it is unlikely even a state actor can win, let alone youtubeers.

The second line of defense is the complete decimation of their position as the compromise these miners want is kicking out asics. Yet, the successful defeat of ProgPow now finds vindication as those against it warned of emboldening precisely this sort of behavior.

Any serious move towards what they suggest therefore would incentivize the promotion of asics so any even verbal threat by miners, let alone attempted coordination, could easily be counteracted by bricking their gear.

The third line of defense is the speeding up of the merger. No one wants that because security is paramount. Yet there have already been demos and prototypes and if all else fails, then there may well be no choice.

The chances of failure however are probably 0.1%. Not zero, because nothing is certain, but these systems are designed to withstand even a state level assault, which in bitcoin would be as easy as bricking asics, while in eth you might need a combination of defenses.

Assuming however these are just disgruntled miners who are ‘innocently’ attempting a ‘negotiation’ regarding protocol matters, it is perhaps worthy to explain why this reduction in eth’s supply is not a misalignment of incentives, but part of the ‘unspoken’ design of ethereum’s monetary policy.

The bitcoin halvening occurred in 2016, while an ethereum block reduction was implemented in 2017 and later in 2018.

Since then, bitcoin has had another halvening last year, while ethereum has seen its inflation technically increase due to the launch of staking, but practically it remains unchanged as the staking reward is locked for some time and it even translates to a decrease due to all the new locked eth.

There has however been nothing like the bitcoin halvening, but when eth devs refused to lower the block reward after delaying the difficulty bomb yet again in 2019, we came up with the theory that they’re following bitcoin’s monetary policy but just a year behind based on their actions until that point.

The approval of EIP1559 coincides with strengthening this theory as it would amount to an effective halvening of eth’s new supply too.

As such, although it is not a perfect comparison, where it concerns incentives arguments miners would be making just the same old and boring arguments that no one would be receptive to because there have been many bitcoin halvenings which were preceded by doom speculations and ended up in boom.

Carter above is saying the same old thing about the block halvening reducing hash and making the network less secure to the point of a potential 51% attack.

In 2016 bitcoiners had to listen to how there could be a hash spiral that ends in a yet another bitcoin is dead, with none of it happening of course because what is dead can never die.

So whether eth should follow bitcoin’s monetary policy can be an interesting debate to have, but the main point is that devs are not doing this haphazardly depending on what mood they have for breakfast.

They are presumably doing it, perhaps even unconsciously, because bitcoin has shown it to work and therefore why should eth diverge.

There is therefore no negotiation or compromise to be had. Perhaps a test of whether ethereum can withstand disgruntled miners, but the suggestion that there can be a show of force that would make ethereans kneel is an interesting proposition which must have only one outcome or there is no eth.

In addition miners need to be careful in their calculations because there are some who would like PoW ethereum to continue alongside PoS, not necessarily because that is better but because the two networks have different designs and for some, variety is always desirable.

A minority PoW eth network however would have no leg to stand if it is perceived to be fully controlled by miners because then it wouldn’t be a neutral network, but a self-serving one.

Thus if miners disagree with the incentives as implemented by the full consensus of developers and the wider community – except for some miners – then those miners are fully free to design a new network with the incentives they please and so compete in the marketplace of ideas.

Attempting to impose one’s will however by a show of force only risks making ethermine a has been pool as has happened many times in this space and will continue to happen due to the nature of Proof of Work which is ruthless in its punishment of mis-management of one’s mining activity.

That said, there is no evidence ethermine endorses this plan, but if it plays out on their pool then one can easily compare it to ghash which at some point even went as far as temporarily stopping new hash from coming to the pool and still became history.

And they did so because the wholistic incentives are complicates. Miners thus need to think very carefully of whether they want to test them.

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