The node network in a blockchain is just like the beating heart of the system. It verifies transactions and makes sure the information that is traveling through the network is correct, insofar as it is connected to the information that is stored in previous blocks in a manner that is true to those records. The consensus mechanism through which the nodes decide what is true is like the oxygen this beating heart need to keep the trove of data flowing in a healthy manner through the system. This consensus mechanism is – in theory at least – vulnerable.
If there are enough “malicious” nodes in a network, attackers could manipulate the way in which transactions are broadcast and recorded on a blockchain. Typically, launching such an attack would require simultaneous control over a significant number of nodes on the network. Even if this is improbable Vitalik Buterin is working on a consensus algorithm that makes it even more difficult for attackers to launch these attacks.
The 99% and the 1%
Vitalik wrote a paper titled “A Guide to 99% Fault-Tolerant Consensus.” In it he describes how a new consensus algorithm that would require attackers to take control over 99% of the nodes in the network. Buterin’s solution only requires 1% of the nodes to stay “honest” in order to keep the integrity of the records kept on the blockchain.
Rolling the New Consensus Algorithm Out
The specifics of how this new consensus algorithm would work are complex. Nevertheless, rolling this or any other new consensus algorithm out on an existing blockchain would require a change of the current consensus rules – through a fork – which will inevitably require a qualifying majority of nodes to agree under old consensus rules. Therefore, it could be easier to apply this new consensus algorithm on a brand new blockchain.
Changes on a Blockchain Take a Long Time
Vitalik knows first hand just how hard and how contentious these changes might be, so, although his idea is intriguing, we might not see it applied any time soon. We all remember the contentious DAO fork; all the changes that Ethereum will have to go through to implement PoS are also painfully slow. That “99 Fault-Tolerant Consensus” algorithm is probably some years away, but it will certainly be interesting to see once it is implemented, especially because the introduction of such a revolutionary consensus algorithm is rarely ever seen in the industry.
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