Open Source Chips Could Make Bitcoin Mining More Transparent – Latest News, Breaking News, Top News Headlines

Key facts:

The code of the chips used in miners and wallets cannot be publicly audited.

Projects like Topic Square, Libre-SOC and Betrusted are creating chips whose code is verifiable.

“Do not trust, verify” is one of the most iconic slogans of the Bitcoin community. The phrase, which has become a kind of mantra for cryptocurrency users, points to a much more transparent and open technological and financial market. But, while this principle has been applied in the audit of smart contracts, blockchain networks and financial applications, there is a niche from which the entire ecosystem feeds that is still a black box.

Chips, those integrated circuits that make the operation of hardware wallets or ASIC miners possible, remain an enigmatic piece for the cryptocurrency industry. Created by third parties outside the community, they are devices surrounded by business secrecy and nondisclosure agreements (NDAs). Likewise, they constitute a fundamental element for the operation of cryptocurrencies, since without these structures it would be impossible to mine a blockchain or store cryptographic assets outside the Internet.

It is because of this reality that, from the Bitcoin Core developer email, a disturbing question has arisen: “Is it really a good idea to blindly trust these chips?” Developer Luke Kenneth Casson recently raised the question. However, it is a discussion that has been around for years in conventions, forums and inside crypto companies. In an industry where transparency and security is its calling card, then each of its constituent elements should be faithful to this principle.

Kenneth, who identifies himself as a security and technology researcher, explains in his email that one of the objectives of the ecosystem has to be the incorporation of chips developed in an open and totally transparent way. This proposal would also subject mining ASICs, an industry that has been dominated by a few brands – such as Bitmain – and that has come under fire for a lack of transparency.

chi9ps transparent bitcoin mining

chi9ps transparent bitcoin mining

Chips are what make it possible for mining equipment to be generated, so they are one of the central pieces for the confirmation of blocks in Bitcoin. Source: geralt /

According to Luke Kenneth, ASIC chips could be subjected to public audits and “formal mathematical proofs of correctness.” This, nowadays, is impossible, since companies that manufacture miners use standard chips created by world-class companies, such as TSMC. These devices are evaluated under Common Criteria certifications, which are usually non-public tests and in predefined scenarios. In this sense, there is a great margin of error or vulnerability in the chips. Without adding that, in addition, users must trust that mining companies and suppliers are honest, and not malicious actors.

A more transparent and secure Bitcoin chip alternative

Although the outlook looks dark, there are initiatives that are trying to turn the situation around and propose an alternative to traditional chips. Among the companies that are dedicating themselves to this niche is SatoshiLabs, the firm in charge of the manufacture of Trezor purses.

Through a new brand, introduced as Tropic Square, the company took its first step into the world of integrated circuits at the end of 2020. As described on its website, the idea of ​​Tropic Square is to introduce “a storage chip cryptographic, non-volatile, physically insured ”.

In this way, they launched their first product called TASSIC; name that is not more than the abbreviation of Integrated Circuit of Secure, Transparent and Authenticated Storage. The promise of this new device is that digital data can be handled privately, with a manageable cryptographic key and a unique digital identity that the user will have access to.

audit bitcoin mining

audit bitcoin mining

The idea is to bring to the market a chip that is truly auditable by the public, whose code can also be used for future developments. Source: blickpixel /

TASSIC supports SHA2 family hashes – including the Bitcoin mining algorithm – and Blake2. The website also notes that it has a voltage detector, improved entropy compared to standard chips, and an 8-pin package. The MicroSD card is also incorporated into its operation.

Likewise, It is stated that they want to create “digital trust” for which the project is open source to motivate their audit. In another official Trezor statement, explaining in detail the operation of TASSIC, it is pointed out that the idea of ​​the company is to allow others to study, modify, distribute and build around its software. In this way, they hope that they will improve the chip technology for the cryptocurrency market.

The SatoshiLabs directive points out that at present “the level of protection cannot be verified” of the chips used in ASIC miners and wallets. And they have even found themselves in the situation, as a manufacturing company, of not being able to inform its users of chip failures due to non-disclosure agreements (ADAs) made with suppliers. In this sense, they consider that the current integrated circuit industry only protects large companies, while hiding information from customers.

bitcoin network security attacks

bitcoin network security attacks

Although SatoshiLabs did not specify it, they have confirmed that some chips on the market that they have wanted to work with are vulnerable to hacker attacks and not secure enough to store money. Source: B_A.

As if that were not enough, they point out that many of these chips tend to have problems, since they are subjected to security tests in predefined scenarios and with limited groups of people. However, it is in the daily use of these devices that vulnerabilities often appear and cyber hackers often take advantage of it. The developers of Tropic Square believe that if these chips were subjected to public audits they would be much safer, and users could be confident that their operation is optimal.

Tropic Square isn’t the only company working on open source chips today. Luke Kenneth himself, who has proposed the move for more transparent chips in the Bitcoin mining ecosystem, is also involved in an initiative that is working on fast, secure and reliable chips. Called Libre-SOC, the project tries to provide services from complex devices – such as computers and miners – to smaller objects – such as clocks.

Betrusted, a private communication system, has also signed up for the move to create transparent chips. The company published the code of its project, and points out that it can be reviewed or used by anyone who has an interest.

What impact could open source chips have?

In a system where companies and the powerful have always had the possibility of hiding uncomfortable or beneficial information, initiatives that are aimed at releasing software code are revolutionary. According to SatoshiLabs, they hope that their transparent chips will motivate the formation of a community that collaborates to improve these technologies.

Likewise, with public information at hand, the user has greater power and choice. This could pose a sea change in the Bitcoin mining industry, for example, as ASIC equipment would no longer be black boxes that mine to become open devices. Owners will be able to find out what is inside their machine, as well as the chip code and electronic map could be verifiable.

In this way, it would be much more difficult for a manufacturer or hacker to perform hash rate thefts. Users could also find out if manufacturing companies do not have control over their ASIC chips or conduct spying without their consent. That is, everyone could verify the reliability of the devices they use, and not simply blindly trust these signatures.

Projects like Tropic Square also raise other interesting ideas. For example, It is noted that the company will focus on the security of the chip in its different stages of life. In this sense, data on its manufacture, deployment, execution and even when the device is turned off will be provided. In this way, the corruption of the equipment in any of these points will be avoided.

secure distribution cryptocurrency bitcoin

secure distribution cryptocurrency bitcoin

In addition to being open source, TASSIC has been designed as a product whose manufacture can be monitored and its distribution is safe. Source: Tropic Square.

The company has also suggested the possibility of using tamper-evident packaging to distribute its chips. In addition, it will use advanced packaging that prevents it from being opened at the time of transport, thus reducing exposure to chip hacking. In this way, the product will not only be safe by its public code, but from its conformation to disposal in the final equipment.

If these chips can be incorporated into the mining market for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, it would greatly contribute to the transparency of the ASIC equipment.. The release of the chip code, in turn, would help the reputation of the companies in this ecosystem that have been singled out on certain occasions for the lack of public data when manufacturing this equipment.

Power within this market would also be distributed, since companies would no longer be the only ones in control of their devices, but users and developers would have access to the material they work with to know if it is reliable or to generate a sector more competitive.

However, one of the weaknesses of this proposal is financing. While large companies like Trezor are taking safe steps towards the conformation of their open source chips, more modest initiatives like Libre-SOC calculate the possibilities of being a profitable and viable business.

According to the email from Luke Kenneth, chip manufacturing is very expensive, especially those (7nm) that are being used in latest generation ASICs. Because of this, these initiatives are behind the search for financial support to make a more diverse chip market a reality.

The collaboration of different developers, companies and enthusiasts on these projects is essential to create products that work and satisfy the majority. In this sense, interested bitcoiners will have to think of ways that these chips are a sustainable reality, and that the industry actually comes to adopt them within their mining, to see real changes in the long term.

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