Battle-Testing Lightning: 26 Schools Start Contest to Secure Bitcoin’s Layer 2

While many see the Lightning Network as the main hope for bitcoin’s scaling issues, it’s unclear whether many developers are actually working to make that a reality.

According to Lightning Labs CEO Elizabeth Stark, there may be as few as 10 total full-time developers focused on implementations of the technology, something that’s kept the network from launching sooner.

Against this backdrop, a group of 26 universities known as the have launched a contest to entice people to evaluate bitcoin’s layer-two technologies, namely Lightning.

Although the prize hasn’t been named yet, the contest looks to entice engineers, students and professors to measure the security and privacy of the network and “collect attack models” that bad actors could use to disrupt payments going over the Lightning Network, a technology which is heralded as a way to scale bitcoin and potentially reduce fees.

This extra boost in scrutiny comes at a time when users and developers are anxious for Lightning to launch for real.

While Lightning Network developers recommend only using the technology on the testnet with dummy coins, a handful of eager users and developers have begun playing around with the technology with real bitcoin. Some of these intrepid testers have even lost a little money in the process. A few companies, such as VPN provider TorGuard, already accept Lightning Network payments.

The competition is inspired by past successful contests to improve the cryptography standards commonly used across the internet to secure data, such as AES and SHA-3, said co-founder and Georgetown University research professor Shin’ichiro Matsuo.

And, he continued, Bsafe’s global test network maintained by the universities will act as a neutral research body to analyze submissions for battle-testing Lightning Network.

Matsuo told CoinDesk:

“We think many enhancements of Lightning Network will come through this competition.”

Submissions for the contest, which is open to anyone, are due in March. Once all the proposals are in, the universities will test all of them on Bsafe’s global test network, culminating in a conference in August where winners will be announced.

Figuring it out

Matsuo said he also hopes the submissions will shine a light on the security and privacy of the technology and how it will interact with the cryptocurrency’s “layer one.”

Because no one can really know how the technology will be used or exploited at scale, this contest could help. By asking for proposals from all over the world, which will be analyzed by academics from a number of different countries and fields, Matsuo believes the competitive atmosphere will help to shed light on what the precise trade-offs are…

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