Bitcoin’s Lightning Network has recently been under attack. However, it would appear that the attack is not malicious in nature. Rather, the surreptitious ”bitPico” group recently took to Twitter, taking full responsibility for the attack, and claiming that it is part of a Lightning Network ”stress tool” designed to improve the Bitcoin network.
The bitPico group first reached notoriety last year, when it claimed that it would go through with implementing the SegWit2x hard fork. This statement came after that the SegWit2x initiative had been abandoned even by it’s most vocal supporters, due to a lack of agreement among the crypto community. Although the bitPico group never executed the SegWit2x fork, it would now appear that bitPico’s efforts have been refocused on improving the Lightning Network.
According to a recent tweet from the bitPico team, the bitPico stress tool has been used to execute a DoS (Denial of Service) attack on the Lightning Network. This explains why several developers have recently had trouble with sudden crashes, as well as terminated transactions. It also serves as an explainer as to why developers have seen lightning nodes attacked, without any ensuing attempt at theft. These previously perplexing details now appear wholly logical, as the bitPico team argues that the only goal of their stress tool is to help identify weaknesses in the Lightning Network.
This comes at a pivotal time since the Lightning Network is gaining users every day. The Lightning Network is intended to facilitate cheaper and swifter Bitcoin payment transactions, but it is still in its infancy. Furthermore, since Lightning Labs launched the beta of its LND software, users are now sending real payments of real funds using the Lightning Network. Identifying and correcting any weaknesses or exploits in the Lightning Network should, therefore, be undertaken sooner rather than later, to ensure that the network’s security is ready for mass-adoption. The bitPico team’s attacks are, in essence, simply alerting developers of any potential flaws in the Lightning Network framework.
Although this attack from bitPico will most likely end up making the Lightning Network safer, stronger and more resilient to attacks, it should be noted that not all attackers are as altruistic in nature. Legitimate, malicious DoS attacks are not uncommon, which is why the work of actors such as bitPico is so important to highlight potential exploits. However, despite the fact that any DoS, both benevolent and malicious in nature, is slowing down and even terminating transactions for those actually using the network, it is vital that such actions are undertaken as soon as possible. This increases the likelihood that the Lightning Network will be thoroughly tested – and therefore ready for mainstream adoption – as soon as possible.
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