Cryptocurrencies, in particular bitcoin, are continuing to rise in popularity and value. The total value of all Bitcoins currently in existence is now more than £112billion. There are therefore many aspects of bitcoin that can be formulated into successful dissertation topics. We have created 8 dissertation topics that are original and exciting, yet manageable, so if you fancy tackling the subject of bitcoin for your dissertation feel free to opt for one of these topics.
The proof of work procedure within the bitcoin protocol is implemented as a hash grinding process – a hash function is started from a random data string and evaluated repeatedly until the prescribed number of bits matches the pre-determined target. This procedure essentially relies on the hash function being resistant to collision attacks. In recent years, significant progress was made with such attacks, and it is conceivable that a sufficiently resourceful individual would find a practical collision attack on SHA. Obviously it would not be published, but would it spell the end of bitcoin? This project will find out.
In the early days the bitcoin mining process (repeated hash function evaluation) was run on CPUs. The fairly compact nature of the SHA hashing function then allowed the process to be ported to massively parallel GPU architectures, with ATI cards being particularly powerful. From there, the community moved on FPGAs, and eventually custom silicon arrived – application specific integrated circuits (ASICs). Current bitcoin mining hardware is optimised to a squeak. There not much else can be done there, apart from process shrinkage and electrical efficiency improvements. This project will explore the territory beyond ASICs.
The sheer number of bugs recently discovered in RSA key pair generation hardware and software suggests that not all bitcoin account numbers (essentially public keys used to verify blockchain messages) are secure to factorisation. At that point, the obstacles become economic – given current price of the unit of computing power, is a particular wallet worth cracking? This project will explore the economic side of factorisation attacks on the bitcoin protocol and suggest ways of securing wallets in the economic (rather than mathematical) sense by making it unprofitable, rather than impossible, to attack.
The macroeconomic parameters of the bitcoin protocol (the fixed total number of bitcoins, the adaptive proof of work difficulty level, the exponential reduction in the mining returns) appear to be designed to make it exponentially harder to mine bitcoins and therefore to drive their value exponentially up. Satoshi Nakamoto must have understood that when he was designing bitcoin. At the moment, the protocol remains robust (even if rather slow) and it is not inconceivable that it will keep going. This project will do the economic modelling.
Bitcoin relies in the central ledger – the blockchain – that is synchronised between millions of client and miner computers. The evolution of the blockchain is determined by consensus – the version agreed upon by 51% of the miners is the current version. This is a potential vulnerability: in the event of prolonged network fragmentation, two versions of the blockchain can diverge significantly, with financial transactions being acted out in real life. If the networks are then reconnected, the community would be faced with a disruptive need to abandon one of the branches. This project will examine the implications.
The process of mining bitcoins relies on computationally intensive tasks that are, according to current civilian mathematics, impossible to avoid. It is, however, entirely possible that a technologically advanced individual or an organisation would be able to find a vastly more efficient algorithm for solving the same class of problems – discovering a collision attack on SHA, for example, would be sufficient. Such an organisation could then command more than 51% of the bitcoin community hashing power, which would give it the right of veto on any blockchain transaction. This project will explore the implications.
Bitcoin is notoriously easy to steal – just a string of alphanumeric characters (encoding the private RSA key) gives an individual complete control over the account attached to that key. Those strings are very easy to steal, and stolen they have been – many times, involving sums in the hundreds of millions of pounds at the current exchange rates. The situation got so bad that bitcoin exchanges had to put special measures in place to prevent their own staff from stealing their bitcoins. This project will examine possible ways of making cryptocurrencies harder to steal.
Terrestrial gold is useless on Mars – the cost of lifting a kilogram of gold from the Earth’s gravity well, propelling it all the way to Mars and landing it safely exceeds the cost of that kilogram of gold. Almost any terrestrial goods or services are thus worthless to a Martian because they cannot be transported. This raises the interesting question of how to set up interplanetary currencies that must, as all currencies, at least theoretically be supported by material goods. One possibility is cryptocurrencies. The trade over vast interplanetary and interstellar distances would be in in formation, and it is only right that an electronic currency should be involved. This project will examine the possibilities.
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