Russian house for sale in crypto

The Russian real estate firm Kalinka Group has announced that once of its clients is selling his luxurious home for bitcoins. The 4200 square foot country mansion is located in the village of Nikolino, situated in a fashionable neighborhood off the Rublevo-Upenskoe highway. According to the Kalinka Group, this is the first time in the history of the Russian real estate market that a client has offered to sell a property for cryptocurrencies.

“Such transactions are still a novelty, even for world real estate markets,” Ekaterina Rumyantseva, the chairman of the board of Kalinka Group, said in a statement. “We are pleased to be pioneers and open new frontiers in business.”

She pointed out that Russian legislation has not yet defined the rules for working with bitcoins, and so far there is no legal definition of the cryptocurrency. Also, as there is no regulatory or legal framework governing the sale, the agency’s service fees will still be paid in the national currency, rather than in bitcoin.

The legal department of the Kalinka Group is currently investigating whether the sale of a property for cryptocurrencies is legal, according to the laws of Russia.

The real estate firm cited China and Switzerland as examples of countries that consider bitcoin to be a tangible asset, which means a transaction is possible under the “barter agreement.”

However, if cryptocurrencies are considered cash in Russia, according to the law on foreign exchange operations, a transaction in BTC would be impossible since the only currency permitted in the sale of Russian real estate is the Russian ruble.

Kalinka Group recognized that volatility is another issue to consider when property sales are listed and transacted in cryptocurrencies. The real estate company acknowledged that bitcoin is much more volatile compared to other currencies, thus, exchanging the payment into rubles can “significantly change the value of the object.”

“The sale of the house in Nikolino will probably become a precedent in the legal practice and real estate market. We [will] carefully study the world experience of conducting such transactions and understand that cryptocurrencies should be described at the legislative level in the shortest possible time because this innovative method of settlement is already able to affect the money turnover in business,” Rumyantseva said.

Kalinka Group added that since bitcoin is volatile, the exact value of the designer-furnished mansion — which has an open-air jacuzzi and a movie theater along with many other luxurious features — will have to be determined at the moment of the sale. At the time of the announcement, the house was listed for 3000 BTC.

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BCH vs BTC mining

For the past couple of days, Bitcoin Cash (Bcash or BCH) has been more profitable to mine than Bitcoin (BTC). This has resulted in miners switching from Bitcoin to Bcash, causing a significant speedup of blocks on the Bcash chain, to the point where several dozens of blocks were found per hour. Meanwhile, the Bitcoin blockchain had slowed down significantly; in some cases only one or two blocks were found each hour.

In the short term, therefore, Bitcoin users were inconvenienced: they had to wait longer for their transactions to confirm, and they had to pay more fees to get them confirmed quickly.

In the longer term, however, this dynamic could make the Bitcoin Cash chain very unstable.

Here’s why.

Theory Versus Practice: Assumptions

It should first be noted that this article makes some assumptions that do not quite (or necessarily) hold up to the full extent in reality.

For example, the article will assume that all (or most) miners mainly care about short-term profits, it will assume that miners can switch between different blockchains at no (or little) cost, it won’t take into account that miners need to wait 100 blocks before they can spend their block rewards, and more.

Perhaps more importantly, the article will also assume that Bitcoin block rewards are more valuable than Bitcoin Cash block rewards. At the time of writing this is the case, by a relatively large margin. Both Bitcoin and Bcash miners are awarded at least 12.5 new coins per block, but BTC is about six times more valuable than BCH. On top of that, Bitcoin blocks contain significantly more fees.

Though while the reality of the situation is more complex, the overall dynamic should hold up — at least until and unless Bcash block rewards become more valuable than Bitcoin’s.

Normal Mining Dynamics

Miners mine to turn a profit, or at least that’s the assumption for this article. They invest resources — time, electricity, hardware, and more — in return for coins.

Mining profitability is determined by the value of the block reward, and the “difficulty” to mine a block. If the difficulty is higher, miners need to invest more resources to find a block. If the difficulty is lower, miners need to invest less.

Notably, what doesn’t actually matter for profitability in the short term, is how many other miners (by hash power) are mining on a particular chain. If many miners are, for example, mining on the Bcash chain, it just means that all these miners find Bcash blocks faster for a while.

This situation does self-correct over time, when the difficulty adjusts. On both Bitcoin and Bcash, difficulty adjusts once every 2016 blocks, which is “supposed” to happen every two weeks. If these 2016 blocks are found in less than two weeks, difficulty adjusts upwards, so the next 2016 blocks will be harder to find. If these 2016 blocks are found in more than two weeks, difficulty adjusts downwards, so the next 2016 blocks will be easier to find.

These adjustments happen relative to how much faster or slower blocks were mined than they were “supposed” to, but it can increase or decrease fourfold (x4 or x0.25) at most.

Bitcoin Versus Bcash

Now, since one Bcash block reward is currently worth about seven times less than one Bitcoin block reward, Bcash can only be more profitable to mine if its difficulty is more than seven times lower. (This has been the case for the past few days.)

But if that occurs, something interesting happens. From the very moment that Bcash is more profitable to mine, it immediately becomes more profitable to mine for all miners. In this hypothetical, all miners would immediately abandon the Bitcoin chain, and instead mine Bcash exclusively.

Of course, this can’t go on forever. If there are so many miners on the Bcash chain, the 2016 blocks will be found extremely fast. (This has been the case for the past few days.) As such, the next difficulty adjustment comes very fast too; potentially within a day or two. (This just happened.) Importantly, because that’s much too fast, the difficulty now adjusts upward by a lot: probably fourfold. (This just happened.)

That’s where Bcash’s problems start.

At this point, Bcash’s difficulty is so high that Bitcoin is once again the most valuable chain to mine on. As such, after a lull of about two days, all miners should now switch back to mining Bitcoin.

Bitcoin’s difficulty, meanwhile, was already pretty high. Once all those miners switch back, the 2016 blocks may or may not be found a bit faster than usual. But nothing out of the ordinary.

As such, even after the 2016 Bitcoin blocks are found, not much changes. Bitcoin would still be more profitable chain to mine. Profit-maximizing miners would therefore all continue to mine on Bitcoin only.

And once the next difficulty period is over, once again, nothing will change. Bitcoin would still be more profitable for all miners.

Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the equation, no miners would mine on Bitcoin Cash whatsoever. It’s not as profitable to mine. The Bcash blockchain should freeze in its tracks.

Bcash’s Solutions

Bcash does have solutions for this problem — sort of.

First off, Bcash implemented an emergency re-adjustment scheme to deal with situations like these. If, within a time-frame of twelve hours, fewer than six blocks are found, difficulty adjusts downward by 20 percent. This can help get difficulty down to normal levels quicker.

But that’s not a perfect solution in itself. For one, it does still require at least six blocks to be found, and probably more to get difficulty back to normal. This means that miners still need to mine on the Bcash chain at a loss, against their short-term interests. Furthermore, miners that are unfriendly toward Bcash could — somewhat ironically — mine on this chain just enough to prevent such a re-adjustment.

And even if some miners do mine on the Bcash chain toward a difficulty adjustment, it would just set the exact same dynamic in motion after a while. The Bcash chain would be more profitable to mine for a couple of days, after which it should freeze in its tracks. Then these miners would have to, once again, mine at a loss to keep the chain alive, only to set the same dynamic in motion again. And again.

Interestingly, this scenario could potentially benefit miners at large, especially if they coordinate. While some miners do need to mine against their short-term interests to reach the required difficulty adjustment, once that difficulty adjustment is reached, all miners get to sweep up massive amounts of block rewards within a day or two.

As long as there are buyers for these coins, such a stop-and-go cycle could be very profitable in the long term.

Other Solution(s)

This is not a new science.

Namecoin, one of the first altcoins, faced similar problems in 2011. After a sudden jump in hash rate, its chain got stuck, and it took months for ideologically motivated miners to work toward a next difficulty adjustment. This cycle repeated a couple of times, at which point Namecoin fixed the problem by “merged mining” the coin with Bitcoin. All Bitcoin miners can now automatically mine Namecoin using the same hash power, without needing to switch between chains. Many Bitcoin miners do.

The problem that Namecoin had to face is also a key reason why Litecoin’s creator, Charlie Lee, decided to implement the Scrypt mining algorithm in Litecoin, another early altcoin. He realized that a secondary cryptocurrency should not compete with Bitcoin for hash power on the SHA256 algorithm at all, exactly because of the instability that would result. By picking an entirely different algorithm, miners can’t hop from one chain to another, thus resolving the problem as well.

And many other altcoins, like Ethereum, have much faster difficulty readjustment schemes. While this may technically still require miners to mine at a loss in some cases (and could have other detrimental effects), this situation should resolve within hours or days — not weeks or months.

If Bitcoin Cash chooses to adopt any of these solutions, the coin will probably require another hard fork. Or, of course, its block rewards will have to become more valuable than Bitcoin’s…

Thanks to Litecoin creator Charlie Lee for information and feedback.

The post Why Bcash Mining Shouldn’t Affect Bitcoin Much (But Bitcoin Mining Could Ruin Bcash) appeared first on Bitcoin Magazine.

A Cryptographic Design Perspective of Blockchains: From Bitcoin to Ouroboros

How does one design a blockchain protocol? Back in 2013, while in Athens, I set out to design a non-proof-of-work-based blockchain protocol motivated by the debt crisis in Greece, looming bank liquidity problems and the increasing discussions about the possibility of having a parallel currency. The new protocol had to be based on proof of stake to make sure that it can run even on cellphones and be secure independent of any computational power existing that is external to it.

Very soon it became clear that the problem was going to need much more than a few months’ work. Fast-forward three years to 2016: I was at the University of Edinburgh and had joined forces with IOHK whose CEO, Charles Hoskinson, was poised to solve the same problem. The protocol, “Ouroboros” as it would be eventually named, was there but the core of the security proof was still elusive when my good friend Alexander Russell visited me.

Together, we tackled the problem of proving the security of the system. Whiteboards were filled over and over again until we felt we mined a true gem: a clean combinatorial argument that enabled us to argue mathematically the security of the scheme. 

Diving Into the Mindset of a Cryptographer

Security is an elusive concept. Take a system that is able to withstand a given set of adverse operational conditions. When can we call it secure? What if it collapses in the next moment when it is subjected to a slightly different set of conditions? Or when it is given inputs different from any that have been tried before?

Security cannot be demonstrated via experiment alone since attacker ingenuity can rarely be completely enumerated within any reasonable timeframe. Cryptographic design, thus, has to somehow scale this “universal quantifier”: the system should be called secure only if it withstands all possible attacks.

In response to this fundamental problem, “provable security” emerged as a rigorous discipline within cryptography that promotes the co-development of algorithms and (so-called) proofs of security. Such proofs come in the form of theorems that, under certain assumptions and threat models that describe what the attacker can and cannot do, establish the security of cryptographic algorithms. In this fashion, modern cryptographic design pushes the “burden of proof” to the proposer of an algorithm.

In the world of academic cryptography, gone are the days when someone could propose a protocol or algorithm and proclaim it secure because it was able to withstand a handful of known attacks. Instead, modern cryptographic design requires due diligence by the designers to ensure that no attack exists within a convincing and well-defined threat model.

This approach has been a tremendously powerful and inspiring paradigm within cryptography. For instance, the notion of a secure channel has been studied for more than 40 years. This is the fundamental cryptographic primitive that allows the proverbial Alice and Bob to send messages to each other safely in the presence (and possibly active interference) of an attacker. Today’s provable security analysis, even using automated tools, has unearthed attacks against secure channel protocols like TLS that were unanticipated by the security community.

Back in 2009 though, the blockchain was a concept that was presented outside regular academic cryptographic discourse. A brief white paper and a software implementation were sufficient to fuel its initial adoption that expanded rapidly. In retrospect, this was perhaps the only way for this fringe idea to ripple the waters of scientific discourse sufficiently and force a paradigm shift (in the sense of Thomas S. Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolutions”) in terms of how the consensus problem was to be studied henceforth.

As the shift settled though, a principled approach became direly needed. The newly discovered design space appears to be vast and the avenues of exploring it too numerous. The “burden of proof” needs to return to the designer.

Blockchain protocols need to become systematized, as they have gradually become one of the dominant themes in distributed consensus literature. The blockchain is not the problem; it is the solution. But in this case, one may wonder, what was the problem?

In 2014, jointly with Juan Garay and Nikos Leonardos, we put forth a first description of “the problem” in the form of what we called a “robust transaction ledger.” Such a ledger is implemented by a number of unauthenticated nodes and provides two properties, called persistence and liveness. Persistence mandates that nodes never disagree about the placement of transactions once they become stable, while liveness requires that all (honestly generated) transactions eventually become stable. Using this model, we provided a proof of security for the core of the Bitcoin protocol (a suitably simplified version of the protocol that we nicknamed the “bitcoin backbone”).

Given this proof, a natural question a cryptographer will ask is whether this protocol is really the best possible solution to the problem. “Best” here is typically interpreted in two ways: first, in terms of the efficiency of the solution; and second, in terms of the relevance and applicability of the threat model and the assumptions used in the security proof.

Efficiency is a particular concern for the Bitcoin blockchain. With all its virtues, the protocol is not particularly efficient in terms of processing time or resource consumption. This is exactly where “proof of stake” emerged as a possible alternative and a more efficient primitive for building blockchain protocols.

So, is it possible to use proof of stake to provably implement a robust transaction ledger? By 2016, with our Bitcoin backbone work already presented, this was a well-defined question; and the answer came with Ouroboros: our proof-of-stake-based blockchain protocol.

Ouroboros

The unique characteristic of Ouroboros is that the protocol was developed in tandem with a proof of security that aims to communicate in a succinct way that the proposed blockchain protocol satisfies the properties of a robust transaction ledger. Central to the proof is a combinatorial analysis of a class of strings that admit a certain discrete structure that maps to a blockchain fork. We called “forkable” those strings that admit a non-trivial such structure, and our proof shows that their density becomes minutely small as the length of the string grows.

With this argument, we showed how there is an opportunity for the nodes running the protocol to converge to a unique history. The protocol then dictates how to take advantage of this opportunity by running a cryptographic protocol that enables the nodes to produce a random seed, which, in turn, is used to sample the next sequence of parties to become active. As a result, the protocol facilitates the next convergence step to take place; in this way, it can continue ad infinitum following a cyclical process that was also the inspiration for its name. Ouroboros is the Greek word for the snake that eats its tail, an ancient Greek symbol for re-creation.

Having the protocol and its proof in hand gave us the unique opportunity for peer review, i.e., asking fellow cryptographers to evaluate the construction and its associated security proof as part of the formal submission process to a major cryptology conference.

Peer reviewing at the top cryptology venues is a painstakingly rigorous process that goes on for months. Papers are first reviewed independently by at least three experts, and afterward a discussion for each paper rages on as the three reviewers, as well as other members of the scientific committee, get involved and try to converge on the intellectual merits of each submission.

As a result of successfully passing this rigorous peer review process, Ouroboros was accepted and included in the program of Crypto 2017, the 37th annual cryptology conference. Crypto is one of the flagship conferences of the International Association for Cryptologic Research (IACR) and is one of the most exciting places for a cryptographer to be, as the program always contains research on the cutting edge of the discipline.

Furthermore, Ouroboros will be the settlement layer of the Cardano blockchain to be rolled out by IOHK in 2017, making it one of the swiftest technology transfer cases from a basic research publication to a system to be used by many thousands in just one year.

While all this may seem like a happy conclusion to the quest for a proof-of-stake blockchain, we are far from being done. On the contrary, we are still, as a community, at the very beginning of this expedition that will delve deep into blockchain design space. There are still too many open questions to solve, and new systems will be built on the foundations of the research that our community is laying out today.

The views expressed in this op ed are those of its author, Aggelos Kiayias , and do not necessarily reflect those of Bitcoin Magazine or BTC Media.

Ouroboros image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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