What is Antbleed?

A new source of drama has been discovered in the bitcoin world, although this particular incident revolves around a piece of code that has been dormant for some time now. The Antbleed “backdoor” is a firmware “flaw” discovered in Bitmain’s bitcoin and litecoin mining hardware. Even though this code has been in the firmware for quite some time now, it was only recently discovered.

What Is The Antbleed Fuss All About?

A lot of people are stunned by this alleged controversial discovery of a software backdoor in the Bitmain mining hardware’s firmware. To be more specific, this “feature” checks with a central service operated by the company at regular intervals. Every time this check happens, information is transmitted from the miner to the server. This includes the device’s serial number, MAC address, and IP address.

So far, that is nothing out of the ordinary, as Bitmain uses this information to cross-reference sales and delivery records. However, it does appear the remote service will send a reply back to the miner. It is – allegedly – possible this response can be “false”, which would effectively bring all mining operations to a halt. This particular feature has been introduced in July of 2016, according to a leaked pastebin.

It did not take long before people started reporting how this backdoor would allow Bitmain to shut down most of the global hashrate if they wanted to do so. Considering how the company’s miners represent a large portion of the bitcoin and litecoin mining power, that is quite troublesome. Moreover, this tool could – if a nefarious person exploited it – be used to directly target specific miners.

This discovery only came to light recently as parts of the Bitmain firmware have been undocumented for quite some time now. There are several thousands lines of code to sift through, and it looks as if someone stumbled upon this feature by mere chance. Then again, there is no reason to believe Bitmain would use such a feature themselves for whatever reason possible. Then again, this check-in could be susceptible to an attack by third parties, which is not good news either.

The past few weeks have not been easy for Bitmain, as the company was also mentioned in the recent AsicBoost discovery. Although Bitmain is very open about their hardware having a version of this patented technology as part of their firmware, other mining manufacturers have used it as well. It appears someone is trying to single out this particular company for political reasons first and foremost.

In the end, it is good that the knowledge of this code’s existence is out in the open, although its potential repercussions seem blown out of proportion. Bitmain has no reason to use this “kill switch” and bring down global mining power for either Bitcoin or Litecoin. However, other parties may be interested in doing so, although it remains to be seen if anyone will try to take advantage of this flaw anytime soon.

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