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Into the Trenches with Lightning Power as Schools Compete to Scale Bitcoin


Into the Trenches with Lightning Power as Schools Compete to Scale Bitcoin

Many observers view the Lightning Network as the best solution to Bitcoin’s scaling needs, with some developers running the app in real-time and some vendors already accepting Lightning Network payments; a group of universities will compete to test the waters and evaluate the benefits and costs of the protocol.

Lightning Labs CEO Elizabeth Stark has recently admitted that there are only around ten dedicated developers working on the technology’s implementation. This simple human resource issue has inhibited the flight of a sooner, more rapid dissemination of the protocol and been a frustrating reality, dampening optimism in some quarters.

Schools Rise to the Challenge

In an effort to turn this situation around, 26 universities have initiated a contest aimed at evaluating and ultimately improving Bitcoin’s second layer tech, essentially centered on ironing out issues with the Lightning Network. Known as Bsafe, the network of institutions aims to “construct a neutral, stable and sustainable research network for blockchain technology.” Resident professors, engineers, and students alike are all enticed to apply their minds to the issues at hand for an as-yet-unnamed prize.

The primary focus is the resolution of privacy and security concerns when using the network. Participants are encouraged to amass and submit “attack models” which depict ways that fraudsters could potentially disrupt transactional security on the network.

With Lightning feted as a route not only to the critical scaling of Bitcoin but also holds the promise of reduced fees and other valid UX improvements, the race is on.

Launched during a period when the people behind the Lightning Network itself advocates only testnet applications, a blunt confession that they are as yet uncertain of a seamless real-time application, mainstream users and myriad developers are frustrated at the lack of real-world applications to date.

With the official line from Lightning being that only dummy accounts are safe places to play with their app right now, some have still applied the transactional capabilities to real-time dealings, with mixed results. In the fast-paced world of blockchain, some companies are already accepting Lightning Network payments, with Torguard, a VPN provider being among them.

Inspired by other competition-based developments that have, among other things, improved SHA-3 and AES, co-founder of Bsafe Shin’ichiro Matsuo is optimistic this collaboration will do the same.


Matsuo is a research professor at Georgetown University. The neutrality of academic institutions is deemed a safe haven for the collection and interpretation of potential attack models, and Bsafe seems set to take the app through its final tweaking stage to real-world rollout.

Working with the Blockchain model

Speaking to CoinDesk, an energetic Matsuo said, “We think many enhancements of Lightning Network will come through this competition.” The due date for entry submission is March 2018. With a research-focused global test network, Bsafe’s endeavors will come to fruition at a conference due to be held in August 2018, at which time the winners are also to be announced. Anyone can compete, and there is broad optimism that the interest of academia in the resolution of Layer-two tech will yield highly enabling results.

Matsuo is also hoping that broader issues surrounding the whole blockchain concept will become better understood, while specific concerns around privacy and security that are intrinsic to the Lightning Network are resolved.

It is a fascinating arena, in which the tussle to take the brilliance of the blockchain model and marry it into needed “services” of scalability and security, without which cryptocurrency is severely restrained, plays out.

Bringing Standard Security norms to Blockchain applications

It is difficult to predict application or exploitation at scale, and the Bsafe competition will help to shine more light on the future. Bsafe’s strength lies in its global appeal and participation, as well as the diverse nature of participants and their disciplines.

The savvy Matsuo also hopes to emerge from the project with a much better understanding of the benefits and compromises of Layer 2, issues the world at large is currently stewing over.

“Layer-two technologies such as the Lightning Network are needed to enhance the scalability of payments over the Bitcoin blockchain, but they might change the trust model, meaning Lightning Network might not be wholly decentralized,” he said.

Critics most often bemoan the inescapable deconstruct of the blockchain’s intrinsic infallibility in the application of Layer 2 tech, as decentralization has been such a welcome paradigm shift enabled by cryptocurrencies.

All objections aside, but all parties included nonetheless, Bsafe has a moment of intense, productive interest without vested interests or business dynamics pushing the agenda.

Disclosure of all research

With the neutral and practical principal aim of summarizing the Lightning Network’s strengths and weaknesses for building and remedy, “all of the evaluations” will be an open-source facility for interested parties to pick through after the prizes have been awarded in August. For Matsuo, this is only the beginning, as he imagines not only more competitions like this but also a growing number of participants.

In his own words:

“With 26 universities and growing, doing this type of open competition gives us a neutral result to compare that kind of technology. We already have this for cryptography, but for Bitcoin and blockchain, we need a more neutral way of analyzing the technology.”

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