The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Digital Currency Initiative has revealed a new “Bitcoin Software and Security Effort” intended to foster research into bolstering the Bitcoin network’s defenses.
The open-source initiative has received support from a diverse group of crypto industry leaders, including Gemini’s Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, MicroStrategy’s CEO Michael Saylor, Square CEO Jack Dorsey, and major European digital asset manager, CoinShares.
In a blog post unveiling the project, DCI said that Bitcoin’s ascent from an “obscure cryptographic toy” to a robust network that “secures on the order of $1 [trillion] of value” was due to the millions of hours invested into building the project by open-source developers.
Coinshares announced a $500,000 donation to the project and chief executive Jean-Marie Mognetti hinted that perhaps other crypto companies should do likewise:
“As a beneficiary of the work of hundreds of developers who secure, upgrade, and maintain the open-source protocols that underlie the Bitcoin network and the applications built on top of it, we believe for-profit firms in the digital asset industry have an obligation to fund independent, neutral development efforts and research that advances the mutual interest of all ecosystem participants.”
The DCI’s four-year research and development program aims to “harden the Bitcoin network and steward the industry's commitment to funding open-source software.”
The blog post noted that, “The objective of DCI’s new program is to contribute neutral, expert resources to improving the robustness of the Bitcoin protocol. Bitcoin’s security is foundational to the underlying technology’s continued evolution, as well as the broad realization of the public-good promises of digital currencies.”
The post listed several key issues that MIT is exploring, including sustaining a senior team of Bitcoin developers, exploring new programming languages, and pre-emptive investigations against possible attacks,
MIT also stressed the need for the network’s security to grow and strengthen alongside increasing adoption, noting the challenge associated with coordinating a decentralized network:
“Unlike traditional assets, Bitcoin is software running on a decentralized network. Bitcoin's security is predicated on the accuracy and robustness of the software and hardware running it, and the actions of those participating in the network.”
In July 2020, DCI researcher James Lovejoy warned that attempted 51% attacks — attempts to capture a majority share of nodes and thus control over the Bitcoin network — may be more plausible than previously thought.
Lovejoy stressed the need for active blockchain monitoring in order to identify 51% attacks targeting proof-of-work blockchains, stating: “You need an active observer to be monitoring the network to check whether or not an attack occurs.”
“Up until now we've been reliant on victims to tell us about whether they've been attacked. As you can imagine, if this results in insolvency or a loss of user funds, victims are often not super interested in revealing when an attack has taken place,” he added.