The Earth is exposed to magnetic field disruptions or changes. Solar winds carry a magnetic field with it which sometimes break through the Earth’s magnetic field, causing disruptions on our planet. Another phenomenon affecting magnetism is the flipping of north and south poles. Alarmingly, the rate of Earth’s magnetic field flipping is now increasing. So, could electronic data, including Bitcoin data stored on magnetic media be erased or damaged by an intense solar storm or a dramatic earth pole reversal?
The Magnetic Field
These risks are worth consideration because a magnetic field burst can completely erase the data stored on magnetic media, such as hard disks or USB pen drives. Indeed, submitting your storage device to a strong magnetic field is one of the most effective means to quickly and completely erase data.
Most likely, your electronic wallet is stored on magnetic media.
In the Information Age, most of the data on which our civilization depends resides in electronic form. Most likely, this data is stored on magnetic appliances, such as disk drives, CD/DVD, tapes, or USB pen drives.
Similarly, data written on Bitcoin’s blockchain is stored on magnetic storage devices. For example, electronic wallets contain the private and public keys necessary to access your bitcoin addresses and sign bitcoin transactions, as well as metadata associated with transactions. Most electronic wallets are stored on hard drives or other magnetic media.
On these magnetic media, storing data is simply the process of orienting magnetized regions. Specifically, “The data is stored digitally as tiny magnetized regions, called bits, on the disk. A magnetic orientation in one direction on the disk could represent a ‘1,’ an orientation in the opposite direction could represent a ’0.’ Data is arranged in sectors along a number of concentric tracks,” explains IBM.
As we can see, storing data depends on the orientation of magnetized regions. Therefore, disorienting these regions would destroy the data. In effect, the most effective method of data destruction is exposing the data stored on a magnetic device to a powerful magnetic field, degaussing. In other words, degaussing leaves magnetized regions “in random patterns with no preference to orientation, thereby rendering previous data unrecoverable.”
Cosmic Radiation Risks to Bitcoins Blockchain Data
So, could a cosmic radiation be strong enough to alter the Earth’s magnetic field as to destroy electronic data?
NASA, when referring to the super solar storm of 2012, in an article titled “Near Miss: The Solar Superstorm of July 2012” affirms, “Extreme solar storms pose a threat to all forms of high-technology.” As a result, the USGS, using 14 observatories, is constantly tracking the Earth’s magnetic field to prepare citizens for magnetic storms, as they can “set our modern infrastructure spinning.”
The Earth’s magnetic field is generated by the flow of molten metal in its core. This magnetic field protects us from much of the solar winds. “The Earth’s magnetic field shields it from much of the solar wind. When the solar wind encounters Earth’s magnetic field, it is deflected like water around the bow of a ship. The imaginary surface on which the solar wind is first deflected is called the bow shock.”
Unfortunately, the protection provided by the Earth’s magnetic field is diminishing. According to the National Geographic, the Earth’s magnetic field “Today it is about 10 percent weaker than it was when German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss started keeping tabs on it in 1845, scientists say.”
Moreover, Earth’s magnetic pole reversals are occurring all the time. NASA warns us “Reversals are the rule, not the exception.”
Therefore, we should hypothesize that these magnetic field disruptions could eventually disorient the magnetized bits that store our civilization’s data on computers and electronic devices all over the world.
If so, let’s hope that miners and others safeguarding Bitcoin and its blockchain data implement preventive measures against these cosmic threats. For example, they could install strong magnetic shielding to protect data storage devices and ensure the implementation of effective data backups.
You should also implement data backup at your end. Your private key protects your bitcoins. This data is encrypted using the SHA-256 algorithm. But in all likelihood, your private key data is in your electronic wallet, which is stored on one of the devices relying on magnetic media. Remember, losing your private key data means losing your bitcoins.
Consequently, you may wish to protect your bitcoin’s private keys using paper storage, such as a paper wallet. The advantage of Bitcoin paper wallets is that they reside off the Internet. So, your data is not only protected from the multiple threats lurking on the Internet, such as viruses and hacking, but also from any eventual solar storm strong enough to alter the alignment of data bits on your magnetic storing device.
How likely do you think it is that a strong solar storm could delete Bitcoin data stored on magnetic media? Let us know in the comments below!
Images courtesy of Pixabay, NASA, and USGS.