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The Large Bitcoin Collider Is Generating Trillions of Keys and Breaking Into Wallets

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For nearly a year, a group of cryptography enthusiasts has been pooling their resources on a quixotic quest to brute-force crack one of bitcoin's cryptographic algorithms for creating wallet addresses. This is thought to be impossible today, but if they succeed, at least one element of bitcoin's cryptography will be instantly obsolete.

It's probably due to the scope of the challenge that the project is called the Large Bitcoin Collider, after the Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest particle accelerator. But instead of new physics, the Large Bitcoin Collider is hunting cryptographic collisions—essentially proving that a supposedly unique and random string of numbers can be duplicated. More on collisions and their ramifications for bitcoin later, but along the way the LBC is using its computing power to try and bust open bitcoin wallets owned by other people, and potentially taking the coins inside.

Read More: The Great Physical Bitcoin Robbery

The basics are this: bitcoin addresses containing funds can be accessed by private keys, which are generated at the same time as the address. Technically, a number of private keys could work with any given address, but you'd need a huge amount of computing power to brute force your way through enough possibilities to find any of them. The LBC attempts to accomplish this by recruiting the computing power of anyone who's willing to download and run their software.

Finding a private key that works with an existing wallet is a fast-and-loose version of "cracking," and gives the attacker access to all the funds inside. But when someone in the LBC pool finds a working private key, do they get to keep the coins?

"In principle yes, although there is a process defined where—if someone appears with an alternate key—the pool members consider him the owner of the address," "Rico," the pseudonymous lead of LBC, told me in an email. He would only tell me that he's a computer programmer "past his 40s," who lives in Europe.

As for the legality of all this, LBC advises participants with a rather laissez-faire attitude.

"Depending on your jurisdiction, this may be considered theft and is therefore illegal," the site's FAQ states. "However, there are many jusrisdictions [sic] where you could perfectly legally claim 5-10% of the value found. So you should consider if you want 100% and become a criminal or if you get 10% and still be a law abiding citizen."

The LBC has been working for just under a year. So far, Rico claims, the project has generated over 3,000 trillion private keys and checked them against existing bitcoin addresses to see if they work, and has found three that do and contain bitcoin. They've found over 30 private keys in total, some of which are for so-called "puzzle" addresses that are suspected to have been generated as easy bait for crackers.

"This project has been called many things: Impossible, illegal, pointless, cool, etc."

Cracking wallets may seem malicious on the surface—and if an LBC participant knowingly steals funds, it might just be—but it also has research value. Bitcoin security researcher Ryan Castellucci has done work cracking wallets as a proof-of-concept in order to model attacker behaviour and defend against it.

"The thing that disappoints me about this is that they're only checking addresses that have a balance instead of all addresses that have ever been used," he said in an interview over the phone. "For research, it's much more interesting to check all addresses that have ever been used, because that will show you if there've been weak addresses created in the past and if they've been cleaned out by attackers."

But cracking wallets is just one part of the LBC's mission. The other is to find a genuine cryptographic collision, which would mean it's possible to generate inputs that, when put through the bitcoin address hashing algorithm, generate an identical pair. If it were ever to happen, bitcoin would have to use a new cryptographic algorithm for addresses. This would be similar to Google creating a collision with the once-popular SHA-1 cryptographic algorithm, which ended its usefulness for good.

Read More: I Broke Bitcoin

"Finding a P2PKH-collision [one cryptographic method of creating bitcoin addresses] would probably mean the end of P2PKH but not bitcoin," Rico explained, regarding the ramifications of finding a collision. "Bitcoin would evolve with new address types. Most certainly it wouldn't 'die' because of this."

Castellucci also urged caution when it comes to getting all riled up about the LBC's search for a cryptographic collision in bitcoin.

"To effectively find [a collision], you would have to find some way to generate [keys] much, much faster than is currently known to be possible," he said. "Unless they find some sort of breakthrough in cracking techniques, the brute force strategy they're using poses no threat to anybody's bitcoin." 

"Someone could play the lottery three weeks in a row and win every time," he explained. "That theoretically could happen, but it's safe to assume it won't." Castellucci isn't alone in this belief. Others, on the /r/bitcoin subreddit for example, have been much less kind and called the LBC "pointless." But that hasn't deterred Rico.

"Since it's inception [around] 8 months ago, this project has been called many things: Impossible, illegal, pointless, cool, etc.," Rico wrote.

"I think there is more waiting to be uncovered by the LBC—including a collision," he continued. "So with that in mind we really do not care much about what 'someone on Reddit' said."

Motherboard is nominated for three Webby Awards for Best Science YouTube Channel , Best Drama , Best Tech/Science Podcast . Please vote for us!



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kleer001
13 days ago
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Square the number of grains of sand on the earth, you're still a billion billion times less than the number of bitcoin addresses.
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fxer
13 days ago
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My offline buttcoin walletz!
Bend, Oregon

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Monastic

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Click here to go see the bonus panel!

Hovertext:
Anyone caught complaining about today's comic's accuracy will be compelled to wear a tonsure.

New comic!
Today's News:
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kleer001
25 days ago
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Truth
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Too True to Be Funny

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[Content Note: Misogyny; predation.]

In case you missed it, Saturday Night Live aired a digital short this weekend called "Girl at a Bar," and it was pretty amazing. It's not really a comedy sketch so much as it is a straight-up documentary about lots of progressive women's experience with an enormous number of men who purport to be feminist allies.


Video Description: A young thin white woman is at a crowded bar, speaking into her cellphone. She leaves a message for a friend, telling her she'll wait for her at the bar. She takes a seat at the bar and looks around for her friend. A young thin white man in a checked button-down shirt and grey hoodie asks her if the seat beside her is taken. "I'm not like a gross guy trying to hit on you or anything," he assures her. "Believe me, I know this place is filled with skeezy guys."

"I think the whole world is," she responds. "I think one is our president," he says. She laughs and tells him not to remind her. They introduce themselves and he compliments her t-shirt, which reads "The Future Is Female." He opens his button-down to show he's wearing the same t-shirt. She says, "On behalf of all women, we thank you so much for your support."

He asks her if she'd maybe want to hang out sometime. She politely says, "No thank you." To which he responds by yelling, "Okay, bitch! I wear this shirt and you won't even let me—" Another young thin white guy interrupts him by yanking him away. He takes the guy's seat. "What a nightmare!" he says. She agrees. He asks her if she's okay and she says she's fine.

He asks her if she's from "around here," then quickly adds, "Sorry, I didn't mean that in, like, a skeevy, where-do-you-live sort of way." She says she's from D.C. and he says he was just there for the Women's March. He says he rented a bus and went down with a bunch of people: "It was honestly one of the best days of my life."

She says he's very nice and he asks if she wants to come to his place. "Oh, uh, no thank you," she responds politely. "Bitch," he says. "What?!" she exclaims. He jumps up and humps at her: "I freaking marched for you and you won't get down on this?!" She cried out, "Eww!" and another young thin white guy removes him and takes his place.

"Guys like that," he says, "are why we need a woman in the White House. Enough of us men, right? We had our shot." She chuckles. He says he worked for Hillary, and she says she loves Hillary. "Hey, can I ask you a question since we both love Hillary?" he asks. She says sure. "Would you wanna look at my balls?" he says. "Eww no!" she exclaims. "Bitch," he says, pointing at her. "What?" she says. "Bitch," he says, pointing at her. "What? she says. "PLEASE!" he yells. "BUT IT'S NOT FAIR!"

Another young thin white guy tells him to move along and then takes his place. This guy is wearing a crocheted pussy hat and a vest covered in feminist buttons. "I'm so sorry about my fellow man," he says. She doesn't even have time to respond before he asks if she follows Kamala Harris on Twitter. "Yeah I do," she says. "Do you wanna eat my butt?" he asks. "No!" she says. "BITCH!" he screams.

Her friend, a young fat white woman, shows up and removes him and takes his seat. She says she's so glad to see her. "I love you." "You do? Touch my tit!" "No!" "BIIIIIIITCH!"

* * *

The end is weak, although I get the attempt at absurdity.

It will never cease to be amazing to me how dudes who wrap themselves in feminism in order to prey on women, and who feel entitled to attention and sex from women in exchange for little else than bragging about their supposed feminist credentials, imagine themselves to be somehow different from pick-up artists who use some other collection of deceits in order to try to bed women on false premises.

I don't know if any of my closest male friends, including my husband, have ever said: "I'm a feminist." If they have, it's been rare enough that I don't remember it. They don't have to say it. They show me, by making themselves trustworthy and practicing feminism, every day.

[Related Reading: Feminism 101: Helpful Hints for Dudes, Part 8.]
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kleer001
34 days ago
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Ewww who talks to strangers?
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Shit Is Fucked Up And Bullshit

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Florida edition.

As punishment, four corrections officers — John Fan Fan, Cornelius Thompson, Ronald Clarke and Edwina Williams — kept Rainey in that shower for two full hours. Rainey was heard screaming "Please take me out! I can’t take it anymore!” and kicking the shower door. Inmates said prison guards laughed at Rainey and shouted "Is it hot enough?"

Rainey died inside that shower. He was found crumpled on the floor. When his body was pulled out, nurses said there were burns on 90 percent of his body. A nurse said his body temperature was too high to register with a thermometer. And his skin fell off at the touch.

But in an unconscionable decision, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle's office announced Friday that the four guards who oversaw what amounted to a medieval-era boiling will not be charged with a crime.
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kleer001
36 days ago
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Superman where are you now?
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sirshannon
36 days ago
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Sounds like 4 guards are going to get promotions!
skorgu
39 days ago
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Of course.

Pitch

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You might not have expected a poem, but I'm persnickety like Golem. Your eyes are important to me, laughing at my comics that are free. They'll always be I assure you of that, but there's something you can do to help me get fat. You see, I'm unemployed at the moment, making comcs and letters, trying to a get a job and don the fetters. But how I wish to be free and drawing every day, but I can't for lack of green, that crisp rich monae. So I implore you to be my savior, to pledge one dollar a month and fuel my wild behavior. A dollar isn't much if you think on it hard. You may even forget about it, but for me I'll be its bard. I'll sing it praise every minute, and use it for my comics to daily commit. You're the one I'm speaking to now, so I hope against hope you'll hear my vow: Always will I make things as funny as I can. I thank you deeply, man to woman or man.

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kleer001
48 days ago
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Worth 5$ a month
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Camera production graph (1933-2016) compared to smartphones

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This graph will give you an idea of why smartphones are killing the camera industry (based on CIPA data):

Via Petapixel

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kleer001
50 days ago
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Doesn't anyone use powers of 10 anymore?!
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jepler
51 days ago
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it's like one of those infographics of how far it is from the earth to jupiter.
Earth, Sol system, Western spiral arm
stefanetal
51 days ago
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Puts my 2 DSLRs in perspective. And yes, I just did get an iPhone Plus for in part the camera. See where this is in five years. My 5DIII did go to Europe last summer and got no use.
Northern Virginia
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