Around eight months ago a group called “Large Bitcoin Collider” (LBC) was formed aimed at cracking bitcoin wallets with hopes of finding a cryptographic collision within the protocol. The LBC server lets anyone download the software and attempt to take a crack at Bitcoin’s underlying cryptography.
Meet the Large Bitcoin Collider
Announced last year on Bitcointalk.org a ‘hero member’ from the forum named Rico revealed an unusual project. Rico detailed the formation of a new group of cryptography proponents looking to brute-force bitcoin addresses and hopefully find a cryptographic collision along the way. The group’s project is a homage to the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s strongest particle collider.
A computational collision or clash occurs when two different inputs from a cryptographic function such as a digest, checksum, or hash value produce the same output. LBC considers itself a “distributed effort” to find one collision of private keys and checks against a list of “known BTC addresses with funds on them.”
The reason the members of LBC started the project is because the current majority believes what they are doing is “impossible” and “that is a gauntlet thrown down,” explains the cryptography enthusiasts. Furthermore, as far as the legality of what they are doing LBC leaves a disclaimer on the group’s website stating;
It may be illegal — depending on the jurisdiction you are in — to actually claim possession of funds found that way. It is also not impossible and actually the pool has already found several private keys.
‘The End of P2PKH but Not Bitcoin’
So far LBC has generated roughly 3500 keys with a minuscule amount of trophies. Of all the cracked addresses LBC has compromised, most of them contain zero bitcoins, but the distributed pool has managed to scrape $68 worth of BTC so far. However, many people believe the addresses cracked by LBC were mere “puzzle” wallets that can be found online which are set up to be easily cracked and emptied by BTC treasure hunters. In a recent interview with the publication Motherboard, Rico believes finding a collision wouldn’t be the end of bitcoin.
“Finding a P2PKH-collision would probably mean the end of P2PKH but not bitcoin,” Rico tells the news outlet by email. “Bitcoin would evolve with new address types. Most certainly it wouldn’t ‘die’ because of this.”
The Attempt to Find a Bitcoin Collision and the Breaking of SHA-1
The attempt to find a cryptographic collision within the Bitcoin protocol has been tried by researchers, cryptographers, and mathematicians both in theory and in practice for quite some time. For instance, there are many discussions concerning this subject across bitcoin-focused forums and social media. A year ago a thread on Reddit revealed a tool that generated partial address collisions. The creator ran the application for a week using a CPU generating an 80-bit collision or half of what is needed to find two private keys. The tool can be found on Github, and an example of the findings had shown 15 characters of an address match and looked like this;
One reason people think a collision is possible within the bitcoin network is due to the recent cracking of SHA-1 cryptographic algorithm by the Google corporation. Many people in the past had theoretically broken the SHA-1 infrastructure, and the cryptography was considered weak by leading security firms. The tech giant revealed to the public this past February that it broke SHA-1 in practice with its project “Shattered”, which disturbed scientists everywhere within the cryptographic research community.
On February 23, 2017, Google announced;
“Today, more than 20 years after of SHA-1 was first introduced, we are announcing the first practical technique for generating a collision,” Google detailed. “For the tech community, our findings emphasize the necessity of sunsetting SHA-1 usage — We hope that our practical attack against SHA-1 will finally convince the industry that it is urgent to move to safer alternatives such as SHA-256.”
Bitcoin’s Encryption is Far More Difficult than SHA-1
With SHA-1 being broken in less than twenty years shows that precautions may need to be taken in the future concerning the cryptography behind the Bitcoin network. There’s no telling when that will be, and many are not concerned because the effort to break bitcoin’s encryption is no easy task. Google’s massive work to compute the Shattered collision was one of the largest computations ever completed. The breaking of SHA-1 took nine quintillion SHA1 computations in total showing no ordinary set up could complete the task.
With Bitcoin, the bar of difficulty to crack one single address is far higher than SHA-1 and would take far more effort than nine quintillion computations. In 2011 the Bitcoin network was processing over fifteen trillion SHA-256 hashes per second. The computational operation to find a collision during this period would take roughly 0.65 billion years, and with the Bitcoin network’s 2017 performance it would take even longer.
What do you think about the Large Bitcoin Collider project? Let us know in the comments below.
Images via Shutterstock, Google, and Pixabay.
Want to create your own secure cold storage paper wallet? Check our tools section.