Can Internet Shutdowns Really Disrupt Cryptonets?

In the early hours of October 18, several regions in Europe, America and Asia were left without internet due to the “cutting” of several undersea internet cables, causing a chain reaction of connectivity problems at worldwide. France, Italy and Spain, in particular, faced major outages, with many experts saying vandals were to blame for the same.

According to Jay Chaudhary, CEO of Zscaler – an American cloud security company – there is no doubt that nefarious third-party agents were to blame for the severed cables that caused packet data loss as well as latency for various websites and apps, adding that despite their best efforts, authorities have been unable to identify those responsible for the attacks.

Also, it is worth mentioning that in the last couple of days, many internet cables have been cut in and around the UK. For example, on October 20, an undersea submarine cable was severed near the north coast of Scotland. While multiple reports have suggested foul play by rival government agencies – with the tense geopolitical situation in Europe amid the Russian-Ukrainian war – there is no hard evidence to back up these claims.

That being said, it is worth digging deeper into how events like these can potentially affect cryptocurrencies, especially from a network resiliency and security perspective.

Internet shutdowns and their effects on digital assets

To understand how internet outages, such as the one highlighted above, can affect cryptocurrencies, Cointelegraph reached out to Nikolay Angelov, head of blockchain for cryptocurrency lending institution Nexo.

He started by saying that the regions affected by the recent cable disruptions (mainly France) account for just over 3% of Bitcoin nodes globally and just under 3% of Ethereum validators, adding that the decentralized nature of these two largest digital asset networks thwart the effects of these attacks since the flow of transactions goes to nodes with internet access and connection to the blockchain. He then added:

“Not to detract from the severity of the incident, but such localized events cannot have a lasting effect on cryptocurrencies, as blockchain transactions may still be validated by other active nodes. in other words, almost every bitcoin node has to lose its internet connection for the bitcoin blockchain to take hold of. Granted, that was a huge inconvenience, but a temporary one at that.

On a somewhat similar note, Nukri Basharuli, founder and CEO of Super Protocol – a trustless, permissionless cloud infrastructure – told Cointelegraph that while people need to understand that decentralization is not a silver bullet: if you pull out the plug, you will feel the consequences. Web3, by its very design, is very resistant to failures emanating from cable cuts. He pointed out that apps hosted on a decentralized network with their users won’t even notice if some of their nodes go offline.

“Such scenarios occur all the time where nodes are constantly turning on and off while the stored data remains intact and fully accessible. The network will automatically reconfigure itself in order to provide the best quality service possible,” a- he added.

Some concerns exist

According to Victor Ionescu, co-founder and CTO of decentralized exchange Hashflow, when analyzing incidents like these, the main thing to worry about is decentralization of infrastructure versus decentralization of stakeholders. of the network.

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Elaborating, he noted that as adoption ramps up, many software companies will continue to use reusable frameworks to run nodes, provide blockchain data feeds, and other related tasks. He added:

“These companies that consolidate their infrastructures could encourage the centralization of their networks. For example, if all Ethereum validators were to run in an AWS Region, the down region could block the network. This problem is less prominent in Bitcoin, but I expect mining hubs to become targets over time.

Daniel Nagy, chief scientist and vice president of the Swarm Foundation – the organization behind the decentralized storage and communication system Swarm – told Cointelegraph that such events could only be consecutive to blockchains. high-density blocks of transactions such as Solana. “The majority of networks below 100 TPS have enough redundancy to not be affected in any way by the loss of a cable in the Internet backbone infrastructure,” he noted.

That said, it’s worth pointing out that we are currently living in a technologically advanced era, a time when vulnerabilities associated with wired Internet connections may soon be a thing of the past thanks to the advent of innovations like Starlink, which help counter acts of vandalism.

Implications for the security of failures on digital assets

Herbert Sim, an advisor at Solidus AI Tech – an AI infrastructure provider – told Cointelegraph that the only way major outages can have an effect on a digital asset is if a large mass of computers that make up the network are affected at the same time, something extremely rare and difficult to achieve, adding:

“Major blockchains have millions of users worldwide. What this means, in essence, is that unless this type of failure simultaneously affects millions of computers in different parts of the world at once, it has no chance of affecting the security of digital assets.

Likewise, Angelov believes that these outages pose security risks to cryptonets, primarily in theory rather than in practice, as most blockchains are able to adjust their performance to reflect geographic power outages and/or or Internet by reducing their mining difficulty when the number of active nodes decreases due to said outages.

“This, in turn, can pose network security risks, as transaction verification is performed by fewer nodes or validators, but as mentioned above, a large number of nodes must be affected for this to happen. happen, which is currently not the case. Transaction processing times are less likely to be affected, because in the case of Bitcoin, its blockchain is designed to reduce mining difficulties when the hashing power decreases in order to maintain a constant number of transaction blocks,” he said.

Providing a technical view of the matter, Basharuli asserts that when it comes to security, connectivity issues such as the one mentioned above could potentially open an angle of attack for malicious actors, an angle where they could mimic the behavior of nodes that have come out of the grid. and convince others that certain transactions are valid. “Again, making such an attack impossible is part of the Design 101 rulebook for decentralized networks,” he added.

To counter these issues, Basharuli says developers could take advantage of the latest technologies available in the market (such as IntelSGX) designed to make confidential computing possible. He ended by saying:

“Confidential computing protects data the moment it is processed, leaving no entry point for the malicious actor to accommodate it, or even gain insight into what is going on inside. of the system.”

Ionescu thinks that as a result of these outages, the ability to attack a statistically significant number of validators could pose problems for specific networks. A concerning factor is the fact that the majority of the infrastructure for many projects is in the cloud and the cloud provider space is split between two or three major players. Among these players, certain locations are generally favored by developers because of their proximity to the development hub.

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For example, developers on the east coast of the United States tend to prefer servers in Virginia. The use of cloud data centers thus tends to be distributed in correlation with the locations of development teams. Also, large-scale network partitions are not something developers have in mind when designing systems. “Network connectivity is a luxury we take for granted. In reality, we need a truly decentralized cloud infrastructure, but the technology is not there yet,” he said.

The future is decentralized, and rightly so

One of the most fascinating aspects of blockchain technology is that it fixes some of the biggest flaws of traditional computer networks, namely the lack of decentralization. In this regard, Sim believes that as long as we continue to concentrate the power of different networks on a few computers, failures will always have an effect on them. “Because blockchain is distributed across so many computers around the world, it is immune to it. This is why you rarely, if ever, hear of a blockchain crashing,” he concluded.

Therefore, as we head into a future potentially affected by internet outages and other similar issues, it stands to reason that more and more developers will continue to understand the true potential of blockchain technology and evolve. in a decentralized direction.