‘Experimental’ Early-Morning Attack Temporarily Diverts 0.8% of Ethereum Nodes

An attacker fraudulently added hundreds of blocks to the Ethereum chain with invalid proof-of-work, but only a small percentage of nodes were affected.

AccessTimeIconSep 14, 2021 at 3:27 p.m. UTC
Updated May 11, 2023 at 5:10 p.m. UTC
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An attack on the Ethereum blockchain early Tuesday morning temporarily diverted a small percentage of the network’s nodes to a non-canonical chain.

Ethereum’s mainnet is now operating normally, and the attack is unlikely to be replicated at a larger scale, according to Ethereum researcher and Go Ethereum software client developer Marius Van Der Wijden.

The attack was first flagged by Alex S. of Flexpool on the Ethereum R&D Discord shortly after 3 a.m. Eastern time. “Anything wrong with the mainnet again?” he wrote, referring to a chain split that occurred on the network in late August.

He noted that some of his nodes were recording the “highest block” of the chain at a block number that technically did not exist, as it was set at a sum greater than the “current block.”

Researchers speculated in Discord that the cause was a peer publishing a version of the chain with invalid proof-of-work.

Van Der Wijden told CoinDesk the attack was “experimental” in nature.

“Someone published an invalid chain that was rejected by most clients. ~25% of Nethermind clients accepted the invalid chain,” Van Der Wijden wrote. “Judging from ethernodes, ~20 nodes were affected or 0.8% of the network. I don’t think it was a directed attack against nethermind, but rather someone experimenting and validating their experiment on the live network.”

Tomasz Stańczak, founder of Ethereum infrastructure company Nethermind, posted on Twitter that a public statement would be forthcoming.

Van Der Wijden noted that due to the nature of the attack, it is unlikely that a similar exploit could scale to a degree to have a major impact on the network. Ethereum is validating blocks normally.

Van Der Wijden also noted that a diversity of clients is key for the health of the network, particularly as it prepares for a transition to a new proof-of-stake consensus model.

“Especially with the switch to proof-of-stake, client diversity is extremely important as a well-balanced distribution of clients greatly decreases the probability of creating an invalid chain,” he said.

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Andrew Thurman

Andrew Thurman was a tech reporter at CoinDesk with a focus on DeFi.


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