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Behind the hype and tumult of the markets, researchers have
been quietly producing a series of exciting results about Bitcoin and
cryptocurrencies. In this paper we’ll explain why computer scientists
should pay attention to these developments.
First, every machine with a Bitcoin private key effectively serves as
a bug bounty that can be redeemed irreversibly and anonymously. These
strong monetary incentives for attackers have exposed the inadequacy
of current security practices and spurred new designs. These will
likely have lasting positive impacts on security overall. Second,
predicting the behavior of cryptocurrency participants has exposed
limitations of game theory and mechanism design. However, as a
real-world system that’s relatively "closed" and tractable, modeling
Bitcoin's stability is an ambitious yet feasible goal. Third, Bitcoin
has validated the concepts of secure global logs and globally
distributed consensus as primitives, with an array of applications
ranging from immediate, such as certificate transparency, to
speculative, such as decentralized prediction markets.
Dr. Narayanan is an assistant professor at Princeton's Center for
Information Technology Policy. He received the first NSF grant for
cryptocurrency research (link is external), and has taught a Bitcoin
and cryptocurrencies class for Princeton undergraduates (link is
external), with a MOOC and textbook forthcoming. His research in
cryptocurrency has included transaction privacy (link is external)and
prediction markets (link is external).