The long-awaited reveal of the private keys connected to a now-defunct alert system built into bitcoin occurred Monday through an email by two Bitcoin Core developers, Bryan Bishop and Andrew Chow.
In the email, the 2 wrote that the rationale for full disclosure of the bitcoin alert keys was to “mitigate the consequences of unknown dissemination and proliferation of the keys.” Further, Bishop and Chow emphasized that these keys would not pose risk to the bitcoin network, explaining that “the bitcoin alert system has been completely retired.”
Retired or not, social media kicked into overdrive once news about this bitcoin secret having finally gone public caught wind.
Part of the chatter was for Bishop himself, who gave an interview the subsequent day after releasing the private keys at a conference in Portugal. He spoke about the vulnerabilities of the retired alert system and why the project to urge obviate the entire system started back in 2016.
‘The disclosure is OK’
While the project started in 2016, one among the explanations behind why the keys stayed private so far was thanks to the danger full disclosure could pose to cryptocurrencies that also use an older version of the bitcoin code.
However, as explained by Pavol Rusnak, CTO of SatoshiLabs, the danger is presently limited to just one cryptocurrency, consistent with a script he ran checking the “sources of all altcoins on GitHub” and finding “only one that also has the alert key present.”
As such, for Bishop, his confirmation of the bitcoin alert system being sufficiently “dead” is reason enough for why “the disclosure is OK” as he explained during a rather exasperated tweet.
But alert systems, generally , aren’t all dead.
In fact, as Bishop and Chow say in their email, developers of cryptocurrencies wishing to use something just like the bitcoin alert system but without an equivalent vulnerabilities of personal alert keys being hijacked can indeed implement “a few very simple fixes,”
Namely, developers have the choice of downloading a recommended patch to “safeguard nodes from the aforementioned issues” accessible on the favored code-sharing website, GitHub.
While a number of the vulnerabilities caused by the bitcoin alert system are addressed through this code update, certain vulnerabilities to developers could only be mitigated by publicizing the private alert keys, which is why to at least one user, the complete disclosure was a “final step” in removing the entire bitcoin alert system once and for all.
Power in secrecy
Part of the rationale for why full disclosure was necessary decreased to the secrecy shrouding the first list of individuals and organizations who held possession of those private keys within the first place.
Indeed, any secret possession of the key would, in theory, open the danger of broadcasting false messages to nodes across the network.
In a tweet posted on Flag Day , Bishop wrote a message coded in one among the bitcoin alert key signatures to challenge Craig Wright to write down a response within the same way, if he indeed had knowledge of this private information only known to a get few at the time.
Despite the open invitation to contradict his claim, Craig Wright didn't respond, much to the dismay of some on Twitter.
In sum, “by broadcasting the values to form them available to everyone, the worth of the keys is meant to be eliminated, since now everyone could feasibly sign messages, the worth of the signed messages becomes zero,” Bishop and Chow wrote.
Or, together observer noted on social media, possession of the alert keys makes everyone Satoshi – kind of .