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Hackernoon logoInside Tron's Steem Takeover Attempt and the Birth of the Hive Blockchain by@TheycallmeDan

Inside Tron's Steem Takeover Attempt and the Birth of the Hive Blockchain

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@TheycallmeDanDan Hensley

Ex-Pro Poker Player turned Crypto enthusiast.

Delegated Proof of Stake (DPOS) is highly misunderstood, and underestimated when used correctly.

I believe HIVE is one of the most anti-fragile and pure DPOS blockchains ever seen. I have always said DPOS chains needed a social element. For Most DPOS chains, the chain users know very little to nothing at all about the block producers or "witnesses" running the chain.

On a social blockchain such as Hive, I know every single block producer in the top 20 (consensus), maybe not by name but by reputation, work added and stories they share. This connection between witness and stakeholder adds tremendous agility, as we have seen with the Steem/Hive split.

DPOS is underestimated because we have never seen a true overtake threat that was met with resistance. Without the social connection, stakeholders lose the ability to communicate with the block producers.

DPOS will generally have some of what I call sleeper voters. People who only vote when they need to, even if incentivized. On social blockchains like Hive, voter participation is much greater, because the social activity grows bonds. DPOS will have many different factions, people who agree and disagree, like and dislike each other, this is where the decentralization comes into play.

It takes an alien invasion like a threat, to bring all "countries" together so to speak. In the case with Steem, Justin Sun getting exchanges to unwittingly vote with userโ€™s funds (locking them for 13 weeks) to overthrow the community elected witnesses.

As one of the largest stakeholders of STEEM, I woke up one morning shortly after Justin Sun purchased Steemit inc to see 30 witnesses at the top ranks I had never seen. All of the new witness accounts were just created, all run on the same server by the same person, Justin Sun; one serious implication and the result would be a chain halt. I wonder if they had the knowledge to restart a complicated chain like Steem if they had to deal with such a big problem. That was/is a threat, for everyone.

Having invested as much as I had I felt this was a threat to my investment, a hostile takeover. In what was later described as an SYBIL attack on the Steem network, Justin Sun, and TRON had forcibly overtaken the network consensus with the help of three of the worldโ€™s largest crypto exchanges, Binance, Huobi & Poloenix (part-owned by Justin Sun.) This action was so completely unprecedented and unlikely, that it was not anticipated as a weakness of the Steem blockchain by the vast majority in the community.

The back story: detailed version.

The back story, TLDR version: The STEEM creators "ninja mined" (mined at an unfair advantage at the start) the majority of the STEEM token supply into existence. This was done in order to avoid legal issues from being classed as a centralized chain and thus considered a security. The creators of the blockchain vowed to never vote with the ninja-mined STEEM, and that they would use it only to develop and further decentralized the ecosystem. Investors invested base on these promises and on the fact that Steemit INC., being a USA company, would have legal issues if they tried to exit scam. What instead happened was the STEEM development fund was sold to TRON, in secret, by Ned Scott. Not even the Steemit INC. team were told about this sale ahead of time, and especially not the community. Most importantly the witnesses were not in the loop either.

On STEEM/HIVE, the DPOS system requires 17 of the top 20 witnesses to hard fork the network for proposal upgrades. To date, 23 hard forks had already successfully been done on STEEM, with the 23rd Rebranding STEEM to HIVE. TRON exploited custodial user funds on exchanges to vote in 20 of their own top 20 witnesses in what was referred to as "sock puppet" witnesses. TRON exploited users' funds to overthrow the very network the users themselves were invested in.

The Steem hostile takeover resulted in most of the Steemit INC. team quitting in protest, such as head of communications Andrew Levine, and blockchain developers Michael Vandeberg, Steve Gerbino and Roadscape. Over 50% of the active DApps on the Steem blockchain have migrated to Hive.

No DPOS blockchain and arguably any blockchain ever have experienced such an attack. The majority stakeholder acting in a hostile manner towards their investment is the ultimate โ€œmoneyโ€ attack scenario we have only dramatized about in the blockchain industry and wider community.

Fooling exchanges to assist with this type of hostile takeover was truly unprecedented.

Bitcoin vs Bitcoin cash was similar in a lot of ways, but DPOS having stake-based voting and STEEM being a social media blockchain with a strong dedicated community made the stakes and human element much higher. It was a fight for the chain's life.

This was the alien invasion scenario. At the time of overtaking the network, the highest witness spot had 40million STEEMPOWER backing it (about 11% of the total possible vote.) What happened next was amazing. The sleeper voters woke up! Despite everyone's differences people rallied together to vote in the community witnesses. The vote war raged on and 15 days of battle ensued and at one point the top community witness had 90 million SP backing it (about 25% of the total possible vote!)

We were able to reclaim 10 of the top 10 spots causing a stalemate on the hostile takeover. Considering that TRON via their purchase of Steemit INC held about 20% themselves, this was a significant phenomenon wherein a community rallied together to defend itself against a centralized, hostile foe.

Some ground-level insights into what the attacker did so that others can learn from what is even possible in such an attack.

Justin was losing the voting war halfway through and started offering people $2,500 each month to run a witness node for him on Steem; this is called a bribe attack. Justin also was in discord servers promising anything the users wanted to hear in exchange for votes, even things technically impossible on Steem.

According to my sources, Justin had been buying anywhere from 300-500k Steem per day for the voting war; This is a money attack.

I am a Co-Founder of a dapp called 3Speak that was built on Steem. TRON offered us money, power, users and liquidity. We were asked if we could get people to stop voting for the community witnesses and vote for Justin Sunโ€™s witnesses. We refused.

The vote war raged on; fifteen long and brutal days ensued while the Steem community fought Sun in order to defend the Steem blockchain as long as possible. The community would not compromise with Justin Sun's attempt to centralize the chain. The vast majority of the community banded together to create a new chain resulting in a hardfork called HIVE and was deployed to liberate the community from this hostile takeover.

But the war does not end post-fork, at least not in this scenario. It takes 13 weeks to power down on Steem or to "unstakeโ€™" staked tokens, (like a savings account) which means the entire community still has 13 weeks of "skin in the game" with STEEM before being able to sell their STEEM and be able to rid themselves of their old home that has now been taken over by what is clearly a force for centralization and dictatorship. The ensuing battle demonstrates this clearly: The HIVE price began trading, and for the first time in blockchain history sustained a market cap that was higher than its original chain. A sign and testament to the success of the Hive chain and that the community supported and was, in fact, the driving force behind the new chain.

After a barrage of negative press vs. Justin/Tron for the price of Steem being lower than HIVE, the price of Steem magically starts pumping to surpass the Hive price. When the price of STEEM was higher than HIVE, the top Steem "witnesses" (controlled by TRON) froze whale accounts of several people who are pro Hive allegedly so that they could not dump their STEEM into the market during the artificial price pump. The estimated worth of frozen funds is almost $4 million USD. One chain implodes another chain explodes. Insert HIVE.

Learning and adapting is what this technology does best.

I believe DPOS is one of the most agile and anti-fragile consensus models out there. Very few blockchains could have survived such an attack that Hive withstood. And to show that the true value moves with the community (the token price of HIVE is worth more than STEEM at the start) it shows a high level of censorship resistance of stakehodler value and is a true testament that communities cannot be bought.

Social networks + DPOS is a great combination with robust, agile, and even random events that offer censorship resistance. Hive is winning the war using every tactic in the books, social pressure, migration of the community, projects banding together, and so much more. But its best defense, and this is critical for other chains, was its community.

The way the community rallied together and put its differences aside truly made the migration from Steem to Hive a success. The moral gained in successfully defending and uniting the community gives significant momentum going forwards for Hive to vastly outperform and improve upon its old trajectory as it once was with Steem. You can see this in the rate at which the public Github for Hive is now being worked on, as well as the improvements in the dapps that have moved to Hive.

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Because STEEM did not have any smart contracts or a way to make the social agreement between Steemit INC and the community trustless, there was never a hardcoded way to protect vs an exit scam. The HIVE hard fork looks to solve two things, one by moving the development fund (that was purchased by Tron on Steem and used to do the hostile takeover of the Steem blockchain) to a trustless DAO to fund future development of the Hive platform. Also, there are now new ways to combat vs exchange attacks via a 30 day wait period to vote on consensus when you first powerup.

In order to achieve this, the Hive chain has made several modifications to its underlying protocol which prevents users who power-up (stake their tokens) from voting on witnesses for one month.

Had this solution been implemented into Steem prior to the purchase of Steemit INC. by TRON, the story would have played out much differently, and likely ended in a less traumatic set of events for the Steem (now Hive) community, its stakeholders, businesses, witnesses, dapps, and users.

HIVE learned from the former mistakes of STEEM and is a truly community-driven, battle-tested & hardened project. One of the oldest blockchains in crypto just got a rebrand and an upgrade. Most of the major projects on Steem that cared for decentralization moved to HIVE, such as 3Speak of which I am a co-founder.

3Speak is a censorship resistance, pro-free speech video hosting platform and when Justin Sun started censoring posts on Steemit.com as well as on the API level where other front ends were forced to censor their content we were forced to play our hand and commit 3Speak to operate exclusively on the Hive blockchain. 3Speak could no longer operate on a centralized blockchain as a censorship-resistant video dapp, where active censorship by the largest stakeholder was prevalent. We require independent block producers (witnesses on Hive) in order to ensure that the possibility of centralization and collusion is minimized to the maximum extent. This is what the Hive blockchain provides for us and our users โ€“ free speech and anti-censorship. Something our users desperately need in this time of censorship and demonetization by the large, centralized media platforms.

Blockchain is code, usually open-sourced, voluntary to run, immutable & the future of how our online world will run. Blockchains adapt and grow to find flaws in governance, it acts like a living organism.

While blockchain is in fact, layer one, what is most important is layer zero, the community. As we saw with the STEEM hostile takeover, the true power of blockchain is combining a strong community foundation with solid code to match. Justin Sun would have been better off forking STEEM, for free, than all the negative press, money lost and headache trying to force a community into a centralized authoritarian vision for the chain.

What happened was that most of the community left, all the top witnesses left, as well as the infrastructure, and a giant brain drain ensued and poured into HIVE. Users were and still are eager to dump their Steem for Hive. We saw out of the gate that HIVE trades at a higher market cap then STEEM and still does three weeks later.

When you have a money attack on a blockchain with a very strong layer zero, the community then gets to leap off the shoulders of the attacker giving the new coin more value. It creates negative sell pressure on the attacker's chain and positive buy pressure on the new community forked chain. (Of course, thatโ€™s only true if the former centralized chain allows it you to send tokens). But in the case of Steem vs Hive, they targeted Hive whale accounts with 2 Million + Steempower. Most users are still cashing out. It's like Justin Sun trying to stop the ocean with a bucket. There is about 250 million Steem out of the ~ 350 million tokens in total are powered up. And currently, 95%+ of their owners have already initiated a powerdown procedure.

As an investor, my Hive + Steem is worth more than my Steem alone was for the last year or so. What this shows is that a money attack on a blockchain with a strong layer zero only serves to enrich the token hodlers.

And most of this money attack on Steem came from a large stake purchase via a cheaply priced, over the counter, the one-time deal between Ned Scott, the former Steemit inc CEO and Justin Sun.

On the Hive blockchain, this type of Sybil attack will not be possible, since the ability to accumulate an equivalent sized stake on Hive to that which Steemit Inc has on Steem will have to be done via open market purchases of HIVE. This would drive the price of HIVE significantly higher and cost the attacked an order of magnitude more to achieve than it did on Steem. It would also enrich the Hive Token Holders and allow them significant resources and time to then set up and move to another fork, while at the same time damaging the reputation and resources of the attacker.

Money attacks boost the attacked tokenโ€™s price by forced buying, and the forked community chain gets sympathy and support from outside sympathizers looking in. This whole element causes a whirlwind effect wreaking havoc on the attacker's coin while finically enriching the new coin and giving it tons of free publicity in the process.

DPOS is a very robust concept and if used correctly, can serve to be very resistant to hostile takeover attacks while proving to be a nice store of value during the attack. The attacks only serve to make an already strong DPOS even stronger.

The Hive community blockchain is now thriving. With over 50-100+ community developers, professional marketers, and people from all backgrounds, (even former Steemit INC. members that quit in protest to the Steem hostile takeover are chipping in here and there on Hive). Hive has become one of the most robust, decentralized and censorship-resistant blockchains on the planet. With renewed vigor, many see the large funded DAO as a foundation in the future, where we know now, in a trustless way, HIVE will always have future funding.

There is nothing a human mind can come up with that can't be built on Hive. It's the perfect host for businesses/gaming, you name it.

The story ended well, we encourage you to join us on Hive! PeakD or Hive.Blog for blogging content & 3Speak.Online for video content.

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