#CyberSecurityPulse: Guess Riddle... How Is Information Stored In a Bitcoin Address?

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

As we have seen in previous post on ElevenPaths blog, the OP_RETURN field of a Bitcoin transaction is used to store a small portion of information (up to 80 bytes) that is usually used to timestamp information taking advantage of the fact that the Bitcoin network is distributed and replicated throughout the network. Numerous projects are used to create use cases to certify that something has happened as the Proof of Existence project, validate academic certificates or even publish the orders to execute the infected nodes inside a botnet. However, did you know what was the technique used before 2013 to store information in the blockchain?

In this sense, the Bitcoin addresses were used (and still are used). At the end, an address does not stop being a text string encoded in Base58Check that contains useful data of up to 20 bytes in length relative to the hash of the public key associated with the address. Knowing this, small quantities were sent to these arbitrarily generated addresses, and therefore, no known private key. This has the consequence that the balance sent to those addresses for which the private key is not available will not be able to be spent, but at least it guaranteed that the operations will be stored in the chain of blocks.

Knowing this, we propose a challenge. Go to the next transaction and try to identify the address that starts with '15g'. Next, check if it is a valid address (it should be because it is in the blockchain of Bitcoin!). And then try to decode it from Base58 to hexadecimal. And finally, decode it from hexadecimal to ASCII characters. Would you know what information was stored in that transaction issued five years ago?

The way to store information in a blockchain has evolved over time based on the needs of developers. But also here many times the debate goes from being technical to philosophical. The new functionalities have also generated much debate about the way forward since the adoption of these new features have implications that may question the original meaning of some projects. Consensus is not always possible.


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