Spelunking the Bitcoin blockchain

Josh Bressers

Josh Bressers

Speaker Bio

Josh Bressers is the head of Product Security at Elastic. Josh has been involved in the security of products and projects, especially open source, for a very long time. Josh has helped build and manage security groups for many open source projects as well as a number of organizations. Everything from managing vulnerabilities, security development lifecycle, DevOps, security product management, security strategy, and nearly any other task that falls under the security umbrella. Josh co-hosts the Open Source Security Podcast. Josh is also an active member of the Distributed Weaknesses and Filing project which is in the process of leveraging the power of open source for CVEs.
Previous Speaking:
I’ve spoken at many conferences in the past, most of the ones worth mentioning are on youtube

I typically talk about general security topics. Where are we today, how did we get here, how to secure your open source, devops, …


There are few topics that capture the imagination and headlines like Bitcoin. Many of us understand what Bitcoin is and how it works on a technical level. Bitcoin’s blockchain is a bit like art; sometime you just have to see it with your own eyes.
What if we use modern big data tools to store the blockchain data in a format that can be searched, viewed, and explored? Once you can see the data you can start to discover what Bitcoin is and how it works. It stops being ones and zeros and becomes a story we can watch unfold.
We tend to think about Bitcoin in the context of moving coins around. The coins that get mined and traded are certainly interesting but they’re not the whole story. There are plenty of other interesting aspects in the Bitcoin data. Watching the difficulty of the work, seeing how time of day and seasons affect the transactions flowing through the system. Even understanding what some of the upper bounds on what Bitcoin will be able to accomplish are. We can explore this data in a visual way that can be understood.
The most interesting part of Bitcoin isn’t the coin however. It’s something called nonstandard transactions. Most transactions in the blockchain are strings of data that move coins around. But a transaction isn’t limited to only moving around coins, it can be any random string of data. There are a substantial number of transactions that contain unique and interesting strings. Strings that don’t move the coins around, strings that contain messages. Strange things that only the anonymous person who placed it there may ever understand. There are hundreds of thousands of nonstandard transactions in Bitcoin’s blockchain. We have the ability to see them now, it feels like finding a secret note someone left behind.
Let’s spend some time looking at all this data. What can we learn about how Bitcoin works. What are some trends we’re seeing. And most importantly what are some of the secrets the blockchain holds for us to find. The best part is everything we look at is open data and all the tools we use are open source. You can continue the investigation on your own using what you learn in this session as your inspiration and guide.