The newest version of the primary Bitcoin wallet software, Bitcoin Core 0.16.3, has been released as of 18 September 2018. This new version eliminates a critical double spend bug that had the potential to crash all Bitcoin Core versions that have the bug. Bitcoin Core is the wallet software used to run 94% of Bitcoin’s full nodes, so upgrading to the new version is important for the health of Bitcoin’s network.

Apparently, since Bitcoin Core 0.14.0, a bug was accidentally introduced where someone could spend the same input twice in a single transaction. Were this broadcast to the network, every Bitcoin Core client receiving the transaction would crash. This bug could not be exploited by anyone, however, only by a miner who finds a block. If a miner double spends in a block they would surrender their 12.5 Bitcoin mining reward, a significant sum of money worth nearly USD 80,000. However, a bad actor willing to lose that much to harm the network could crash 90% of Bitcoin’s full nodes.

The only full nodes that wouldn’t crash were those running the latest version or versions earlier than 0.14.0, or a type of full node software that is not Bitcoin Core. As of this writing on 19 September, only about 1,250 Bitcoin nodes have upgraded to Bitcoin Core 0.16.3, which helps the situation, although it remains a critical problem. There are fewer than 10,000 Bitcoin full nodes and if this bug were to be exploited, especially now that people know about it, it could cause that number to plummet to about 2,000 full nodes.

Although it is worrisome that this critical bug existed in the Bitcoin Core wallet software for so long, it has never been exploited and is now fixed. There is some controversy about this situation, with some people saying it shows the weakness of Bitcoin Core, although it actually demonstrates how the Bitcoin Core team can respond to bugs and fix them in a timely fashion.

 

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