This post contains my first thoughts following the reading of FX Thoorens' article How a state can hack Bitcoin. I recommend giving this one a read first.
In his article, FX distinguishes between two very different attack vectors on Bitcoin:
- the mathematical part of the protocol
- the human factor.
FX then highlights how the mathematical part is an unpreignable Citadel, but how the human constituents of the network still are very frail blockhouses. A State willing to “hack” Bitcoin shoud therefore aim at the Human Factor, mainly by meddling with the incentives of the protocol.
The State begins by making Bitcoin legal tender (does it ring any bell?). And then …
Because holding one’s own keys can be stressful and dangerous if not done properly, the State will provide free custody of the funds for its citizen.
Because transacting on Bitcoin is inefficient and can be costly (especially for small amounts), the State will provide a custom Layer 2 network.
Some people might even fall under the impression that State sanctionned wallets and services are better, because they are by definition completely integrated withing the regulatory and insurance framework.
That’s how the State, as FX depicts, manages to get hold of tons of bitcoins, in exchange for IOUs on its centralized and opaque L2. The Endgame.
FX then lists countermeasures, and the first in his list is particularly appealing to me: education. Because the whole attack scheme imagined by FX relies on one assumption: the people believing their government’s fallacies. That’s precisely where Bitcoin Maximalists1 come at hand: they unequivocally hammer out the same speech over and over again.
One should always own their own keys2.
Bitcoin is incredibly efficient. To move small amounts quickly (which Bitcoin doesn’t do very well, depending on what your definition of “quick” is), solutions such as Lightning, local federations or even Chaumian mints all have a role to play. From their multitude will come our salvation.
Bitcoin defines its own Law. One must embrace it and refute the power of the State over cyberspace3.
I wouldn’t say a State could hack Bitcoin this way. To me, it would only partially subvert it. There will always be true bitcoiners and cypherpunks to use real bitcoins and never bend to tyranny. That being said, I also find FX’s scenario pretty accurate. Such attacks may already have begun and, if not, they will in the coming years. The Battle for Information and Truth is ours to fight. All of us.