Lead maintainer of privacy-centric cryptocurrency Monero (XMR), Riccardo “fluffypony” Spagni, recently revealed a new software upgrade, called Lithium Luna, that intends to prevent ASIC miners from being efficient on the network’s Cryptonight Proof-of-Work (PoW) hashing algorithm.
The move comes following the announcement of Bitmain’s Antminer X3, an ASIC-powered machine designed to mine Monero and other cryptocurrencies based on the Cryptonight algorithm.
On Github, Spagni notes that the upgrade “slightly changes the proof-of-work algorithm to prevent DoS attacks by ASICs.” At the time Bitmain revealed the Antminer X3 to the world, Spangni warned the machine would “NOT work” on Monero. The cryptocurrency’s developers had in the past revealed they would stop any miner from using ASICs by changing their PoW.
The software upgrade Spagni revealed isn’t the end of Monero’s “war” on ASICs, as the cryptocurrency’s developers are set on stopping hardware manufacturers from catching up by releasing bi-annual network upgrades.
The goal is to allow Monero to keep on being mined with consumer-grade laptops, and avoid being taken over by highly-efficient ASICs. On GitHub, Spagni declared:
"I will do everything in my power to help the community prevent the proliferation of centralization-inducing ASICs on the monero network."
Using highly-efficient ASICs, powerful mining centers could attack the network – currently composed of CPU and GPU miners – by creating false transaction histories, double spending coins, and even censoring payments.
ASICs are, however, good for securing the network. Many in Monero’s community expressed their concerns over ASIC-resistance, to which Spagni responded on Twitter that “it might entirely be less secure [without them], but the community has made the hard call, and all we can do is see what happens.
It might entirely be less secure, but the community has made the hard call, and all we can do is see what happens. It’s the same as Monero’s tail emission - maybe that turns out to be unnecessary, or even net negative, but in the absence of strong evidence we must try our best.— Riccardo Spagni (@fluffypony) March 18, 2018
Concerns Over Bitmain And Government Influence
Another factor that likely influenced Monero’s decision to go ASIC-resistance is leading hardware manufacturer Bitmain’s reputation and the distrust many in the community have towards their co-CEO Jihan Wu.
The company has been embroiled in controversy over ASICBoost, which enabled its three mining pools to mine roughly 20 percent faster than others, and over Antbleed, which some believed was implemented by Bitmain to shut down any of its miners at will.
Moreover, late last year, Bitmain launched an ASIC capable of mining a somewhat unknown cryptocurrency, Siacoin. The move, taking into account Siacoin’s hashrate, was seen as a takeover by some. These events saw Monero’s developer deem Bitmain a “bad actor.”
While some can argue that resisting ASICs can be futile in the long run, Monero’s team has revealed that it’s set on resisting this type of hardware until it is widespread, in order to help the network stay safe. Having a group of miners control the network would make way for government bribery and other hostile actions. Their blog post reads:
“This creates a single point of failure. For instance, a government could require these ASIC manufacturers to add a "kill-switch" which allows them to shut down a miner remotely or otherwise control it. This threat has the potential to destroy the whole network. In a similar fashion, governments could require miners to have a license to buy and operate ASICs, thereby confining ASICs to a certain group of licensed people.”