Cryptocurrencies are continuing to rise in popularity and value since the creation of bitcoin seven years ago. Since then, ethereum has been developed, launching officially in 2015. It is now the world’s second largest cryptocurrency on the market and has a total value of around £34billion. We have created 8 dissertation topics that are original and exciting, yet manageable, so if you fancy tackling the subject of ethereum for your dissertation feel free to opt for one of these topics.
1. Cryptographic attacks on ethereum’s ethash protocol.
Most cryptocurrencies use some version of hashcash proof of work algorithm for mining. While the more standard versions are known (to civilian mathematics) to be secure, the more esoteric “custom” proof of work functions do not yet have such guarantees. One example is the ethash protocol used by etherium. If the history of cryptography is an indication, any new algorithm must be treated as suspect until it is proven to be secure. This project is about cryptanalysis of ethash – the aim I to either find a vulnerability, or to demonstrate that the function is secure.
2. ASIC resistance of ethereum – a speed of light problem?
In the early days of cryptocurrencies, the proof of work functions were just that – proofs that a complicated hashing procedure was accomplished. As the area evolved, highly specialised hardware (application-specific integrated circuits, ASICs) appeared that greatly increased the entry barrier for a casual (as opposed to highly specialised) miner. The designers of etherium have recognised the problem and created a memory-heavy proof of work algorithm that defeats common ASIC design strategies. Memory latency is determined by the speed of light. This project will explore the implications.
3.Economics of cryptographic attacks on the ethereum protocol.
Cracking a cypher has never been impossible, only impractical. A typical statement in popular literature is that “it would take longer than the age of the universe” to guess a password by brute force. As more and more sophisticated cryptanalysis methods are developed, the matter of cracking a given instance of a cypher might no longer be impossibly hard, but merely expensive. A good example is 768-bit RSA keys that can currently be factorised at the cost of a few hundred dollars’ worth of computing power. The economics of this process has not been investigated, and this project is about the analysis of economic incentives that exist within the “black hat” wing of the cryptocurrency community.
4.Is ethereum just a bitcoin copycat?
Etherium differs from bitcoin in ways that could be considered cosmetic – there is a different proof of work function, a different signature algorithm, a different way of address generation, minor adjustments in block rate, and evolutionary improvements (or bug sources, to a cynical eye) of the general logistics. Theoretically, one could even write a script that could create new cryptocurrencies by varying cosmetic parameters and giving the auto-generated code a fancy new name each time. How much is genuinely new and why would anyone need more than one cryptocurrency. This project will explore these topics.
5.Denial of service attacks: ethereum vs bitcoin
Denial of service is one of the cheapest and the most disruptive attacks on the modern Internet landscape – DOS is routinely deployed by a variety of agents, from disgruntled individuals to nation states. In the context of cryptocurrencies, a denial of service attack would aim to stop the blockchain propagation. In the case of bitcoin, the blockchain has proven quite resilient to attempts to create a jumbo block (many attempts have been made). It is hard to say whether this is by accident or design, but the problem exists for all cryptocurrencies. This particular project will evaluate DOS resilience of etherium.
6. “51% attacks” on the protocol: ethereum vs bitcoin.
The term “51% attack” refers to the propagation policy of the bitcoin blockchain, where an entity commanding more than 50% of the total hashing power effectively holds the right of veto on which blocks get accepted into the blockchain. This 50% boundary has always been fuzzy – finding a block is a probabilistic process, and so having over 50% of hashing power does not actually guarantee a veto. Similar considerations apply to other cryptocurrencies, and this project will evaluate etherium, where the proof of work function is very different, and designed to be immune to ASIC processing and thus to concentration of hashing power.
7.Too easy to steal? ethereum vs bitcoin.
Cryptocurrencies are famously easy to steal. A significant design objective is therefore the resilience of a particular cryptocurrency to being pinched by adversaries or (as people suspect is mostly the case) one’s own employees. Bitcoin is absolutely proverbial for its volatility, but other cryptocurrencies exist that rely on strategies like multiple signatures to make sure that a single rogue individual cannot irreversibly transfer funds. Etherium has its own history of dramatic heists, and this project will explore that cryptocurrency specifically from the theft resilience point of view.
8. Block rate limitations: ethereum vs bitcoin.
One of the biggest and the most irritating limitations of bitcoin is block time: at ten minutes per block, the transaction rate of the bitcoin network is nowhere near the rates expected of major financial transaction systems like VISA. However, the block rate is central to the bitcoin protocol and cannot be easily changed. More recent cryptocurrencies have so far addressed the problem by simply increasing the block rate: a cosmetic solution at best. In particular, etherium has a greater block rate and a different block generation mechanism. This project will explore the implications and provide recommendations on solving this thorny problem.