Digital Currency Initiative at the MIT Media Lab Launches New Bitcoin Software and Security Effort with Industry Leaders

Photo by Tina Rolf on Unsplash

Thanks to millions of open source developer hours over the past 12 years, and a burgeoning and supportive ecosystem, Bitcoin is no longer an obscure cryptographic toy. It is now an open-source financial network that secures on the order of $1T of value.

As the use of Bitcoin grows, and as it becomes more deeply embedded into our societies, the security of the network must grow and strengthen alongside it. Yet, as a common good, there is no one single Bitcoin protector or guardian to take on this formidable task. By design, there is no central command. And while this…

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The last decade has seen an explosion of digital currencies, and in recent years leading economists, central bankers, and policy makers have joined technologists and entrepreneurs in exploring this new frontier. The potential benefit and design choices of Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDC) are being debated in conferences, white papers, and meetings across the globe. But while much is being discussed, there is little code to show for it.

We at the Digital Currency Initiative are excited to begin a collaboration with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston to develop a hypothetical CBDC. As a team dedicated to open-source software…

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We shared an account of how Cory Fields, a Bitcoin Core developer at the MIT Digital Currency Initiative, found and disclosed a chain-split vulnerability affecting Bitcoin Cash. (This has been patched; the Bitcoin Cash codebase no longer has this vulnerability).

This post adds a bit more context about what makes the cryptocurrency space overall so interesting (and dangerous) when it comes to vulnerabilities and describes some proactive measures that can be taken to aid in their detection, disclosure and mitigation.

Facilitating responsible disclosure

Cory’s description of the frustrating process of submitting an anonymous responsible disclosure report is quite common. Natalie Silvanovich from Google’s…

Hackathon participants from the #L2Summit at the MIT Media Lab

Last weekend we held a Layer 2 Summit at Fidelity Labs and the MIT Media Lab. This post is based on my opening statements from the conference and is about what Layer 2 is, why it’s important, and what I learned at the summit.

I think the most pressing issue in cryptocurrency and blockchain technology right now is, how are we going to achieve the original vision of blockchains as open, decentralized networks while scaling to reach a billion people? …

Last month, Ethan Heilman, Tadge Dryja, Madars Virza, and I took a look at IOTA, currently the 8th largest cryptocurrency with a $1.9B market cap. In its repositories on GitHub, we found a serious vulnerability — the IOTA developers had written their own hash function, Curl, and it produced collisions (when different inputs hash to the same output). Once we developed our attack, we could find collisions using commodity hardware within just a few minutes, and forge signatures on IOTA payments. We informed the IOTA developers, they patched their system, and we wrote a vulnerability report.

Foreign Currency and Coins” by bradipo is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I’m excited to share that Robleh Ali, formerly manager of Digital Currencies at the Bank of England, has joined the MIT Digital Currency Initiative. At the DCI, Rob will deepen and expand the research he led at the Bank of England into how to issue digital fiat currencies. The aim of Rob’s work is to determine how blockchain and distributed ledger technology can lay the foundation for a new financial system which is simpler, more resilient, lower in risk, and more open to all.

Until the emergence of Bitcoin, the structure of the financial system mirrored the older, analog structure…

By oompa123 [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

We’re excited to share with you information about our new hire, Tadge Dryja, and his leading work exploring solutions for scaling blockchain networks. Tadge, a co-author of the Lightning Network paper and the former CTO of Lightning Labs, recently joined the DCI as an open-source developer and research scientist. Tadge is working with students and other researchers at MIT on implementing and deploying usable software for the Lightning Network, and is helping others understand how this technology can be extended to enable efficient payments throughout the internet.

Tadge’s appointment is line with the DCI’s commitment to foster the development of…

Many of us work in technology because we think it is the best lever we have to effect change in the world. For example, the internet and its underlying protocols have changed our lives immeasurably. In combination with free and open source software like Linux, this has empowered low-cost communication and global collaboration. This technology allows me to publish this blog post, and a few seconds later anyone around the world can read it, and perhaps more importantly, can contribute to the discussion.

But the full potential of the internet has yet to be realized. Instead of an interoperable data…

In May, I had the opportunity to give a TED talk about cryptocurrencies. You can find the transcript of the talk below, and you can watch it here:

I want to tell you about the future of money. Let’s start with a story about a culture that lived in Micronesia in the early 1900s, called the Yap. The reason I want to tell you about the Yap is because their form of money is really interesting — for money they used limestone disks, called “Rai” stones. They didn’t actually move them around or exchange them the way we spend…

Cryptocurrencies and their underlying technology provide a way for people to transfer value and make payments without using a trusted intermediary like a bank or credit card company. But at the MIT Media Lab, we’re interested in more than just payments: this technology has the potential for far-reaching changes across industry and government by enabling open, decentralized data platforms. So when we heard about the BerkleeICE Open Music effort, we knew this was a good application for the research being undertaken by the MIT Media Lab Digital Currency Initiative.

One of the biggest problems the music industry faces today is…

Neha Narula

Director, Digital Currency Initiative at the MIT Media Lab. I work on scaling applications and platforms for the internet.

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