Attacking Bitcoin Is Costly, And Pointless

A 51% attack on the network would have no practical purpose - even trying to destroy Bitcoin.

The cost of attacking Bitcoin has never been higher.

New research aims to quantify the cost of attacking the Bitcoin and Ethereum networks.

Lucas Nuzzi, Kyle Water, and Matias Andrade published the paper, "Breaking BFT: Quantifying the Cost to Attack Bitcoin and Ethereum". These looked at the cost of conducting a 51% attack on Bitcoin by deploying large amounts of hashrate, and an attack on Ethereum that involves controlling more than a third of validators.

Accumulating ASICs And ETH

In Bitcoin's case, successfully attacking the network would require deploying an enormous amount of hashrate. (At the time of writing, network hashrate is around 600 million TH/s, so another 600 million TH/s would be required to 51% attack the network.) This, in turn, requires purchasing or manufacturing ASICs in sufficient number, and significant electricity costs. The limited number of mining rigs for sale means it would be extremely difficult to acquire them, and the laws of supply and demand would push the price up dramatically. Another option is for a nation-state or well-resourced corporation to manufacture them.

The writers estimate that either way, this could cost up to $20 billion, plus electricity costs.

For Ethereum, a successful attack requires accumulating a very large amount of ETH, and would take around 6 months due to the measures in place to stop significant new stake being deployed all at once.

That would cost over 34B USD. The attacker would have to manage over 200 nodes and spend 1M USD on AWS alone.

No Way To Profit, No Way To Destroy

One of the most important findings of the report, however, is that there is simply no point in attacking either network, even if the necessary resources could be deployed.

Tweet screenshot
Attacking Bitcoin and Ethereum would not be profitable.

The final scenario is a nation state seeking to destroy Bitcoin or Ethereum, potentially on ideological grounds. But this, too, is unrealistic. This would require a sustained attack. While the costs of that might be absorbed by a well-funded party, miners can indefinitely retaliate with counter-measures that keep pushing up the cost for the attacker.

The result? If you can't beat them, join them.

This is the first empirical evidence of Nash Equilibrium in Bitcoin and Ethereum where adversarial actions become unattractive when compared to other strategies, such as honest participation in the network or abstention from attacking.

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