Bitcoin is a one-way hash function
Understanding that Bitcoin is a one-way hash function should make sense because a hash function cannot be reversed. Once you figure that out, it’s hard to go back to thinking otherwise. The Secure Hash Algorithm or SHA-256 puts Bitcoin in a different lane, where you can share your bitcoin address without risking the security of your funds. But there is so much more.
A one-way hash function is a mathematical function that generates a fingerprint of the input, but there is no way to generate the original information twice. The genius around a secure hash function is something I’ll get to, but Bitcoin and all of its creation is akin to scrambling an egg. It is a one-way function; once the egg is cracked, the yolk cannot be placed back into the egg and sealed. Once the yolk is cooked in a hot skillet, the scrambled egg cannot be turned back into a yolk. The Bitcoin algorithm is no different. The codebase is essentially frozen in cyberspace and still works without an administrator leading its creation.
In the past, the process of commerce and money was complicated and plagued with ethical dilemmas. Africans regarded cowries and glass beads as revered money, so Europeans flooded the market with these beads. The implications were vast. The increase in counterfeit pearls has degraded the value, making it easier to manipulate for trade. The Romans cut pieces of existing coins in circulation and then used the remaining cuts to mint new coins.
The coins were getting smaller and smaller. Yet the empire continues to expand. Prices have risen as the purchasing power of money has fallen. Which eventually, over time, collapsed the Roman economic system. America is doing the same on a larger scale by increasing the money supply via the money printer, although the dollar was not pegged to a gold-backed currency after the Nixon shock. This encourages an increasingly weak currency where printing worthless paper notes is just as damaging.
The first century of the Enlightenment was born from the separation of Church and State. The second century of enlightenment will emerge following the separation of money and the state. History has shown that any monetary currency that is diverted, removed, manipulated or altered will always be operated by human hands. Bitcoin removes these motives that have corrupted emperors, politicians, investors, and bankers, easing the path to serfdom. The hash function of SHA-256 and RIPEMD-160 helps to completely remove exposure and input levels via public and private keys.
Every part of the hash function plays a vital role, from managing Bitcoin addresses to supporting the proof-of-work process. RIPEMD-160, which is short for RACE Integrity Primitives Evaluation Message Digest, is used to help transform public keys into bitcoin addresses. There are five Ripe Message-Digest functions, but 160 are used in the Bitcoin network because they are highly secure and functional. RIPEMD-160 is used in the Bitcoin standard, which creates an alternative to long public addresses. This is a more robust version of the RIPEMD-128 algorithm, which produces 128-bit output. The process of constructing the hash function is difficult, especially since it must accept strings of arbitrary length as input.
How it all works under the hood is that a 65-bit private key is formulated which generates an uncompressed public key. This public key is basically your bitcoin address, but it’s a long string of numbers after it’s initially created. Padding is implemented to reinforce and prevent length extension attacks. For ease of use, the key is shortened or compressed with RIPEMD-160 up to 20 bits. This is where a compressed function comes in. The protocol uses a checksum to check for errors via SHA-256, which hashes twice to validate that the address is secure and correct.
Using RIPEMD-160 when creating Bitcoin addresses reduces address space. This means that instead of having to type very long addresses, they are reduced to a more manageable length. This process is a one-way function. Each public and private key is mathematically unique and cannot be duplicated, only shortened and compressed.
Bitcoin uses the SHA-256 hash function in its proof of work process. Proof of work is considered the original cryptocurrency consensus mechanism. Bitcoin is the original and best example of this mechanism. At one point, the difficulty adjustment was so low that mining could be done on low-hash computers, like a personal computer. Over time, as the demand for mined Bitcoin increased, the difficulty adjustment to earn one increased.
The difficulty of acquiring Bitcoin has gone beyond what home computing power can accomplish. Mining hardware with ASIC chips is the best choice for mining bitcoin. Currently, there is a lot of competition for the hash rate, which makes it almost unprofitable to mine unless you have a high-end mining rig powered by cheap renewable energy. In comparison, if you’re considering getting into bitcoin mining, remember that you’ll be competing against big, high-end mining companies like Final Hash, Marathon Digital, and Riot Blockchain, Inc.
The interesting part of SHA-256 is the security and ability to encrypt sensitive blockchain information that could otherwise be used to the detriment of the user. This security is immutable and runs on a consistent schedule. Secure hashing algorithms help compile and sort astronomical mathematical equations to earn bitcoin by mining computers. The human intervention of the process is unnecessary and would be downright impossible to achieve with even the best calculators money can buy. A private key is a 256-bit number. A “bit” has a value of 0 or 1 and is the smallest unit of measurement for computer data.
Digital signatures are secured with private keys, which means you can conduct monetary transactions with Bitcoin under the unique bit number of that key. If you don’t have the correct private key, you can’t spend bitcoin or access funds in the blockchain database of keys. Therefore, these private keys must be properly generated and then stored in a safe and secure location. Remember the saying coined by Isaiah Jackson, “No keys, no cheese”.
The possibility of data being revealed from the hash value is so low that it is considered impossible. The combinations of numbers and data eliminate brute force attacks or network hijacking due to their complexity. Moreover, it is also highly unlikely that two data values (known as a collision) will have the same hash. After reading this essay, learning about hash functions when in doubt about Bitcoin’s security and possible exposure to corrupt public or private keys should be a piece of cake.
Those feelings of doubt should be allayed once you realize how well thought out and secure the encryption process is thanks to Satoshi’s genius. The Bitcoin network is designed to take money out of the hands of centralized control and into a decentralized world without permission. The SHA-256 and RIPEMD-160 hash functions make this possible, functionally one-way and secure.
This is a guest post by Dawdu Amantanah. The opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.