As the Bitcoin Cash Hash War rages on, developers of the ABC fork have made an unannounced and controversial change to their chain; checkpoints. While this will help secure the ABC chain against attacks by hostile miners who favour SV, it is undeniably a move toward centralization – and one made without ceremony or community input.
The case for checkpoints
Crypto is still a young space, and as the ongoing hash war shows, it is sometimes cold and bloody. Proof of Work chains, like Bitcoin and all its forks, have a built in weakness to 51% attacks. If a hostile player is prepared to burn enough money, they can mine empty blocks on your chains (Blocks with no transactions – slowing down the network), or even execute 51% attacks.
It is now a whole week since Bitcoin Cash forked into BCHABC and BCHSV, and most exchanges are still not allowing deposits or withdrawals of either fork.
While community consensus appears to be settling on ABC as the ‘real’ Bitcoin Cash, Craig Wright – who in the past has fraudulently claimed to be Satoshi – has made it clear he is prepared to finance the hash war for a long time to come. And Fake though he may be, as an early Bitcoin investor he has a lot of money to burn through.
To shore up the ABC chain against attacks by SV supporters and projects like Sharkpool, proponents of the more popular fork have decided to implement checkpoints. That is, eschewing some decentralization in order to have a trusted authority declare certain blocks ‘official’, and set in stone. Honest miners on the network will then acknowledge chains that incorporate those blocks over chains that do not, eliminating the possibility of 51% attacks.
The move is controversial, with many critics of Bitcoin Cash calling it a surrender of Satoshi’s cherished vision of decentralization. However, while it’s a matter of opinion whether checkpoints is the best way to go, there is precedent for it. Litecoin made use of checkpoints in the early days – with Charlie Lee coming to ABC’s defence:
“1/ In the early days of Litecoin (2011), there were threats of 51% attacks. To keep Litecoin secure, I utilized checkpoints. Checkpointing is a centralizing feature as it relies on the developers deciding which is the right chain. But for the beginning of a coin, it made sense.”
Even Bitcoin (BTC) used checkpoints in the very early days, a decade ago. Like BTC and LTC, the main BCH project is at a vulnerable stage, and checkpoints make sense. The people who have been in the space since the beginning know this, but newer entrants might need a reminder that much of the outrage at moves like this is theatre in the bigger war for community support.