Successful attack against Ethereum!

Today, a successful and potentially devastating attack was carried out against the Ethereum network. The attack is a work of a genius, so much so that we are tempted to believe that it was just an unlucky coincidence, because nobody is that smart. It is a combination of multiple software bugs, but also social engineering on multiple levels.

The overture was the hacking of a popular virtual organization, The DAO. A significant portion of all the existing Ethers were stolen. This is bad in itself, but poses no threat to the Ethereum network as such. A temporary drop in exchange rate was to be expected, but nothing fatal. If anything, it could have been beneficial, teaching us a good lesson in prudence. However the attack set far bigger things in motion, perhaps unknowingly to the attacker himself.

The Ethereum community was in turmoil. With so many people involved in The DAO itself, and even more fearing a loss of trust in the whole Ethereum platform, people demanded action. Prominents of the Ethereum Foundation were quick to please the crowd, and promise the money to be taken back. The course of the discussion was all set. Soft or hard, when, should we give the Ethers back or burn them, and at what exchange rate? These were the questions, doubtful voices descended.

The hack, despite being a small tremor, started the avalanche of bad memes. For The DAO token holders, admitting recklessness and losing a lot of money was not an acceptable thought. Its developers downright risked losing their respect and reputation for life. Some of the Ethereum developers were endorsing The DAO. This further reinforced the notion that proper care was taken, and it is really not the software’s, nor the investors’ fault. But this leads us to an inconvenient realization. If innocent people can be screwed over, the infrastructure is not safe enough. And if a large number of people leaves the game, Ether might lose a lot of its value. Not to mention it might perish, making everyone involved a loser. This, again, could not happen. Reality can not be this way. Reality must be rewound, and we all need to forget about this.

The meme avalanche was the attack that I’m referring to in the title. It threatened the network in the last few weeks. As more and more minds were captured, the impossible started to seem possible. We were promised that the network is designed to prevent any interference with it. Anyone attempting to bribe or coerce miners, is doomed not only to fail, but also to lose money. It is very unlikely that anyone can coordinate an attack of the necessary scale, so went the theory. However, this assumption breaks down if we consider the possibility of large scale entanglement in human behavior. Unfortunately, human beings are known to be prone to unconditional alignment with group behavior. This was put to a test today.

Today, the Ethereum blockchain was split to a hacked one and a safe one. The hacked one is a result of a software “error” deliberately put in it by programmers, downloaded by miners, all of them infected with malicious memes. As the network is dependent on human action, and humans were possible to hack, thus the network was hacked, no matter how safe its design was. As of now, the safe chain seems to be essentially dead. The attack was successful, and the Ethereum network has been diverted. Today we have learned again that there is no protection against dangerous memes. We need to meet these memes head on, there is no other way out.

Successful attack against Ethereum!

The Second Library of Alexandria

Disclaimer

This story might not be true. It is written from a narrow field of view of a single individual. As point of views work, the proportions of this image can be greatly distorted, and parts might be hidden. Readers aware!

Scope

The greatest tragedy of human culture happened in our lifetime, and most of us don’t even know about it. For most people, the internet is a place where there are content providers, and there are us, consumers. We are, as with all services and products, at the mercy of producers and shopping mall owners. They decide what we can buy and what we can’t. But it wasn’t always that way. There was a short time period, maybe a decade when all information was stockpiled, distributed and available to anyone free of charge. Any piece of art or collection of knowledge was in the reach of every one of us, at all times. That was the library of human culture, unfiltered, inclusive, decentralized and unlimited.

And then it crumbled and never restored.

The Library

Maybe it was an idea, maybe the last piece of the technology puzzle was put in place. Either way, the beginning of the new millennium coincided with the birth of peer-to-peer file sharing. The classes of information sources and information consumers seemed to end once and for all. It took a while for natural selection to take its course, but the de facto winner was soon announced, and its name will forever remembered as eMule.

eMule was not a beautiful piece of software. It was not the most beautiful piece of technology either. What it was, is a vast library of everything. At that time, it seemed natural to me, after learning that the allegedly Hungarian animated movie “Time Masters” was, in fact, French, made by the filmmaker René Laloux, it was just natural that I can, out of curiosity, find and download his other works with a few minute of effort. Or when I found out that “moresca”, the closing piece of Monteverdi’s Orfeo, is a type of dance music, and that led me to the discovery of Nuova Compagnia di Canto Popolare, an Italian folk band from the 70’s, which I could also download. Goes without saying that downloading Monteverdi operas performed by Concertus Musicus wasn’t a problem either.

It did not matter how obscure was the piece of work you were interested in. It was there. Books. Music. Movies. Programs. For if anyone on the wide world, any single person using eMule was in possession of it, you could have it too. There was no board of black suits making the decision. It was this simple: is there at least one person willing to allocate the disk space necessary. If there was, the information was preserved and available for anyone.

It is impossible to overemphasize the relevance of niche. Human civilization thrives under the condition of diversity. For its very basis is division of labor, as they usually say, but more accurately it should be called division of activity. We all do what we do the best, and enjoy the best. Or, in the worst case, suffer the least. Everyone has their own way, different from everybody else’s. Not only this offers the most beneficial, meaningful and interesting way to spend our time here. But also provides flexibility to the entire human race. Should circumstances change in a way that we need new solutions, most likely we can find it just by looking around. Somebody somewhere already discovered it. An entire sea of alternative lifestyles and worldviews awaits us to tap into. The world needs all kinds of minds, Temple Grandin warned us. And all kinds of minds want all kinds of culture, art and entertainment. To deny this would be denying water from a plant, or the opportunity of flying from a bird. Uniformity, phalanx, vanity and decay follows.

This Second Library of Alexandria provided platform for every thought, every way of self expression, every story, without prejudice.

The Destruction

The attack was swift and ruthless. A large number of fake servers showed up. They served invalid search results to any query. They served invalid files to any download request. Legit traffic was dwarfed by the noise generated by all these hostile computers. There were a lot of them. This attack was not done by hacker kids, nor actual hacker groups. There is no pride in taking down a file sharing network by brute force. It was not clever, it was not interesting. Nobody ever claimed the trophy. It was a coordinated attack carried out with malicious intent and considerable resources.

Of course there were attempts to isolate the black servers. But as the system was designed, only those users that researched and found the solution, were able to defend themselves. Most users was not knowledgeable enough, some of them didn’t even understand what’s happening. By the time the flames were finally put out, the network shrank to a fraction of its size. Many people left, to never return.

Who did it is subject to speculation. But the only logical explanation I can come up with is that the Content Industry was behind all this. Which one of the big record labels, Hollywood studios, or whatever alliance of them hired the hitman, remains a mystery. But it makes little difference, The Second Library of Alexandria was set on fire. It was not protected. We watched it going down in flames, helplessly.

It was all hubris, wasn’t it? We had this Great Library, and we didn’t think of protecting it.

Aftermath

The Library is still open. You can visit it, as you can visit the Great Pyramids or the many cathedrals in Europe. A handful of monks wander around. In their hands, half-burnt pieces of pages from past books, dug out from under the ashes. The Library is there, but its function in the human society is over.

Even more interestingly, suspiciously perhaps, a new Library was never built. Today, file sharing is done through Torrent, a protocol maybe technologically more advanced, but conceptually inferior. With eMule, you could share your actual files. Whatever you had, and wanted to share, was available to the world. With Torrent, you need to make a special package, and manually register it to search engines. The quality is deemed important, and enforced by the gatekeepers. Variety is sacrificed for comfort and the ease of choice. Niche content is nowhere to be seen.

Today we live in a world in which you don’t have to pay for the summer blockbuster. But the Big Studios still tell you what to watch. The dark ages returned.

The Second Library of Alexandria