Ether.camp, an organization that hosts hackathons and is leading the development of Ethereum Studio, is accused of rewarding $50,000 in prize money to a cheating team in a competition it hosted.
Virtual Accelerator 2016 was an event hosted by ether.camp to discover innovative startups maximizing the potential of Ethereum in unique areas or fields. Artchain, an Ethereum startup which manages art assets on the Blockchain, accused ether.camp of rewarding $50,000 to a cheating team after garnering sufficient information regarding transactions and the public voting system.
Public voting system
The event relied on a unique public voting system to ensure that only verifiable human voters can vote for their favorite startups. The value of a vote was increased by at least 10 to 20 times with a verified Twitter or Facebook account.
On top of social media verification, the team behind ether.camp developed a system in which voters are required to initiate an Ethereum wallet and submit a vote for their favorite startups using an Ethereum transaction as a vote. Each transaction in the Ethereum network is paid for with gas, an execution fee for every operation made on Ethereum. Thus, for human voters to vote, they had to be provided with gas in order to make the transaction.
Throughout the event, administrators of ether.camp frequently changed the voting system by turning the gas on or off. On Dec. 22, 2016, ether.camp switched off the gas for the first time, making votes extremely difficult for the public.
Gas switched off
The logic behind this action is ambiguous, as it is difficult to understand why the administrators of an event would switch off the gas to discourage the public to vote. Under normal circumstances, event organizers would try to ease the voting process so that more people will vote.
Regardless, the event continued and as the competition went further, some startups, including Coindash.io, which Artchain is alleging for cheating, experienced a massive surge in unknown votes. This is especially unusual as it was a period in which the gas was switched off and voting was more difficult.
“On 21.12.2016, Coindash.io claimed to be experiencing around 4,000 ‘unknown votes’ from bots in its favour which were then removed by the hack.ether.camp team, taking them from around 12,000 to 8,000 votes on the final evening of the competition,” said Artchain.
In response, the ether.camp team permanently switched off the gas for the duration of the competition, as Roman Mandeleil, the ether.camp organizer believed the public voting system was being attacked by bots.
Similar to the Dec. 21 incident, Coindash.io coincidentally began to receive many fake votes in coordinated sequences. This pattern was unusual as the vote count began to spike as soon as the gas was switched off. Normally, when the gas is switched off, the vote count should decrease. However, for Coindash.io, and only for this particular startup, the vote count drastically increased.
“We allege the use of a bot which hijacks or manipulates real facebook accounts to vote simultaneously being piloted in the final stages of this competition by analysing nonverbal data to identify fraudulent voting practices.”
At this point in time, it is difficult to conclude whether Coindash.io cheated in the competition and whether ether.camp acted as an accomplice as the organizers declined to respond.