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The Verge [cryptocurrency] hack, explained • The Abacus
Daniel Goldman on a cryptocurrency hack where a hacker began spoofing the time on "blocks", suggesting they'd happened earlier than they had:
<p>The algorithm that Verge [the crryptocurrency, unrelated to the tech news website] uses to calculate the current difficulty [of mining] is known as Dark Gravity Wave; it involves taking a weighted average of the rate of block confirmations over a moving two-hour window. It’s a bit complex, and the details don’t really matter here — what matters is this: mining difficulty is a function of recent block frequency, and running calculations on block frequency naturally involves looking at blocks’ timestamps.

And hence the problem: if enough faulty timestamps are getting created, all bets are off. And this is what the hacker did — examining the blockchain data reveals that throughout the duration of the hack(s), every other block was submitted with a timestamp roughly one hour before the present time, tragically confusing the protocol’s mining adjustment algorithm. If the protocol were sentient and fluent in English, it would be saying something like “Oh no! Not enough blocks have been submitted recently! Mining must be too difficult — let’s make it easier!” Since timestamps were continuously being spoofed, the protocol continuously lowered the difficulty, until mining got laughably easy. To give a general idea, the average difficulty in the hours before the initial attack was 1393093.39131, while during the attack, it got as low as 0.00024414, a decrease in difficulty of over 99.999999%. Lower difficulty in submitting a block means more blocks get submitted— in this case, roughly a block every second.
The cleverness of this attack is in how it circumvents the barrier of mining difficulty instead of attempting to burst through it. If the security provided by mining power is a gate surrounding the network — a gate that’s far too strong to break through and too high to climb over — this hack gets past it by finding a way to lower it so close to the ground that it can be stepped over.

If it isn’t already obvious, this is, in and of itself, bad news.</p>

Yeah, it was obvious. It's also obvious that there's no obvious way to fix this (though it's more complicated just than this; there's also an algorithmic attack). Anyone determined enough can do the exact same hack again - though the hacker here clearly got a lot of ducks in a row.
Crypto  hacking 
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