The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an agency affiliated with the United States Department of Defense, commissioned an investigation into the real decentralization of blockchains. The investigation was conducted by Trail of Bits, a company specializing in software security research. The report, titled “Are Blockchains Decentralized? or “Are blockchains decentralized?” in French, was published on June 22. It confirms some fears by showing that blockchain traffic is concentrated in the hands of a few players.

    Web3 could be unintentionally centralized

    While the whole point of blockchains and Web3, as well as cryptocurrencies and NFTs, these digital assets that compose it, lies in its decentralized aspect, this is called into question. Promoters of cryptos, and Web3 in general, use this argument to prove the usefulness of the blockchain. The objective of this technology is to dispense with traditional financial institutions that centralize transactions. In order not to have recourse to intermediaries, and therefore to the costs they generate, it is the users who validate the transactions that take place on the blockchain.

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    Research commissioned by DARPA and conducted by Trail of Bits shows a “ unplanned centralization which could concentrate blockchain powers in the hands of a few individuals or groups. ” We believe that the risks inherent in blockchains and cryptocurrencies have been poorly described and are often ignored – even mocked – by those looking to cash in on this decade’s gold rush. » Trail of Bits alarm in sound communicated.

    According to the study, almost 60% of Bitcoin traffic has been concentrated in the hands of three internet service providers over the past five years. Moreover, half of this traffic would be carried by the decentralized browser Tor. For Dan Guido, president and CEO of Trail of Bits, this represents a huge danger. ” Let’s imagine that someone who controls the entire internet in their country starts interfering with that network by slowing down or stopping legitimate blockchain traffic. He could then become the voice of the “majority” in the consensus of what is written on the blockchain at that time. “, he explains in an interview with the American media NPR. A person with this ability would then have the ability to “rewrite history” by preventing certain transactions.

    The survey (PDF) also highlights issues with outdated software. 21% of nodes, i.e. devices using Bitcoin software, are using an older version of the program. The latter would be very vulnerable to cyberattacks.

    Some people point out that this investigation is oriented and is not only carried out for preventive purposes. For Yan Pritzker, co-founder of Swan, a small Bitcoin services company, DARPA would hide the real intentions of the government. It indicates to NPR that ” [Le gouvernement] do some endgame research. Its purpose is to know “How can we get better control of cryptocurrencies” and “How can we build better systems for our control of these cryptocurrencies” “.

    Several big tech names don’t believe in Web3

    This report is not the first to question the decentralization of Web3 technologies. At the beginning of June, a study led by American researchers from Texas universities returned to the not so decentralized or anonymous origins of Bitcoin. The latter found that the leader of cryptocurrencies was based, in its beginnings, on an unequal system, very far from the hoped-for decentralization. On several occasions, a miner accounted for more than 50% of bitcoin’s computing power and could have used it to trick the system into spending the same token for multiple transactions.

    In addition, many players in the tech world have expressed their mistrust of the very young new version of the web. Moxie Marlinspike, founder of encrypted messaging Signal, returned in a press release to the weaknesses of the technologies that compose it. ” Once a distributed ecosystem centralizes around a platform for convenience, it becomes the worst of both worlds: centralized control, but distributed enough to get bogged down over time. I can build my own NFT Marketplace, but it doesn’t offer any additional control over whether OpenSea can see all NFTs in the wallet of people using it (and all other apps in the ecosystem) » he underlines.

    Jack Dorsey, the former co-founder of Twitter now the head of Block, a company specializing in blockchain-related financial services, recently announced his desire to create Web5. Presented as a merger between Web2 and Web3, this new platform should further decentralize the Internet. For this, it will be based on a single blockchain, that of Bitcoin, and will place its users at the heart of decentralized applications. Thus, users will regain ownership of their data and their identity.