The riddle of May 7: Bitcoin network attack or simple congestion?

On May 7, the cryptosphere was frozen when the Mempool had a total of 469,000 transactions awaiting confirmation on the Bitcoin network. BTC transaction fees quickly scaled to unsustainable all-time highs for miners. On major exchanges, Bitcoin withdrawals had to be interrupted. Among the users there is discussion about this attack. Why is Bitcoin under attack? What happened to the parent cryptocurrency ecosystem shield? All the details in this article.

BTC transaction fees higher than BTC mining reward

On Sunday the 7th, the bitcoin mempool revealed a staggering number of over 469,000 transactions awaiting verification and confirmation by network nodes. This unprecedented event was made all the more alarming as bitcoin block add fees skyrocketed and exceeded the current reward.

Indeed, while the reward for mining a block of bitcoins has been set at 6.25 BTC since the last halving, the transaction fees for including a new block in the Bitcoin blockchain quickly rose to 6.76 BTC. this Sunday. This peak, not reached for more than two years, left many miners frozen at first.

Very quickly, the Binance exchange reacted by interrupting all Bitcoin withdrawal operations on its platform for almost an hour. With network activity slowing as a result, fees fell, a moment later, below the block reward amount.

A few hours later, the exchange halted bitcoin withdrawals again. It was one of the few times that Binance halted BTC trading twice in less than 12 hours. On the issue, defenders and detractors of Bitcoin speak out.

Bitcoin under attack?

Is Bitcoin now vulnerable to attacks?

Some commentators in the crypto space were quick to pick up on this Sunday’s event. For some, the congestion caused by the record level of requests is symptomatic of a DoS (denial of service) attack. DoS attacks are types of attacks in which hackers congest and overload a network server by sending an excessive volume of requests from the same address.

However, for advocates of the parent cryptocurrency, this congestion was instead caused by the all-time high in Ordinals listings. On Sunday May 7 in particular, against all expectations, the number of registration requests for these digital assets exceeded 4.3 million, according to data from the Dune dashboard. It was a record.

In fact, Ordinals are NFT-like BRC-20 tokens deployed on the Bitcoin network. They were launched in 2023 on an experimental basis and quickly enjoyed strong popularity which justifies the rapid increase in registrations on the network this May 7.

According to some pro-bitcoin analysts such as Dylan LeClair, this wasn’t really a DoS attack, but rather a “pretty obvious” attack vector. Concretely, it was an attempt by a hacker who sought to exploit a flaw in the Bitcoin network. But as you will have noticed, the attempt ended in failure.

Analysts have seen this attack vector as a strategy implemented to drive miners out of the network who are unable to survive a sharp increase in transaction fees. However, reassures Dylan LeClair, “the increase in short-term costs has a negligible impact on bitcoin in the long term”.

Others have also made fun of the “Gang Ordinals” which plays the “big blockers” of the network by obstructing the mempool. They believe that “at this stage, […] they are simply spending money without benefiting from it” and who, “very soon will end up running out of money at this rate”, which makes the impact of their attempt fleeting.

Clearly, this hack attempt, which for many does not make sense, will only have served to further strengthen the reputation of the bitcoin network as a network impervious to cyberattacks.

Why is Bitcoin impossible to hack?

With a market capitalization valued at over $520 billion revealing Bitcoin’s level of dominance in the cryptocurrency ecosystem, it’s no surprise to know that hackers are trying to launch attacks against Bitcoin.

However, to date, no attack against Bitcoin has been successful. Never deactivated or taken out of service, it has always offered an availability rate of almost 100% for almost 10 years, despite the repression campaigns led against the network by many banking and government institutions.

In fact, hacking the Bitcoin network would be tantamount to successfully hacking over 51% of the nodes of this powerful network. Indeed, the network being decentralized, the blockchain is stored in nodes distributed around the world.

For this fact, for the slightest modification to be carried out on this distributed register, all the nodes of the network must agree and validate it.

It is therefore necessary to manage to take control of more than half of the validators of the network before succeeding, theoretically, in overthrowing the network, modifying or deleting the history of transactions. This is called “a 51% attack”, an attack that Bitcoin has never suffered.

Clearly, Bitcoin is not under attack and probably never will be. Even though grassroots crypto users have been somewhat affected by this saturation, the network still remains as tight as it always has been.

BRC-20 tokens are also not a threat to Bitcoin. The strong popularity enjoyed by BRC-20 tokens in recent weeks is proof that the cryptocurrency market is a free market.

In addition, since BRC-20 tokens are deployed on the Bitcoin network, the growth of the BRC-20 ecosystem helps strengthen that of Bitcoin. In summary, hodlers have nothing to fear from the heavy congestion that occurred on the network on Sunday the 7th.

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