I just sent this email to several of the top mining pools; I'm also putting it here to get wider feedback from "the mining community":
I'm writing to the top mining pools to see if you will support Bitcoin Improvement Proposals 11, 12, and 13: https://en.bitcoin.it/wiki/BIP_0011 https://en.bitcoin.it/wiki/BIP_0012 https://en.bitcoin.it/wiki/BIP_0013
I think they are critical to making Bitcoin more secure for people who have never heard of GPG or AES. They don't solve the wallet security problem, but they put in place low-level mechanisms that will allow higher-level services that DO solve the "computer virus stole my bitcoins" problem. Once multi-signature transactions are supported by the network, Bitcoin wallets can be coded to contact "Wallet Protection Services" to get a second signature/authorization before coins can be spent (details of exactly how the Wallet Protection Service and the client communicate will be in future BIPs). They will also make it possible to create escrow services that cannot spend the bitcoins in escrow among other interesting use cases.
This same feature might be used to keep your pool's bitcoin balances more secure, also-- you could run your own Wallet Protection Code on a separate machine that (perhaps) required manual intervention before providing a second signature on pool payouts if some unusual payout activity was occurring because somebody managed to break your security and get access to the pool's wallet.
I'm proposing extreme caution rolling out support for multi-signature transactions, and, especially, supporting the OP_EVAL feature that allows more secure bitcoin addresses-- and that is why I'm asking you whether or not you're willing to patch your mining pool software sometime in the next two months to support the new 'standard'
I've already written an implementation for Bitcoin 0.5 that will soon become a PULL request.
The new features are backwards-compatible with existing miners and clients, but we do have to be careful when rolling out OP_EVAL because an attacker could create non-standard transactions and try to split the block-chain.
Here is the timeline I've proposed in BIP 0012 :
Now until Jan 15, 2012 : miners update their software, start including CHECKMULTISIG and OP_EVAL transactions in blocks they mine, and indicate support by including the string "OP_EVAL" in the blocks they produce.
Jan 15, 2012: we assess support for the new feature by looking at the percentage of blocks that contain "OP_EVAL". If a majority of miners are not supporting it, then deployment will be delayed or cancelled (a setting in bitcoin.conf controls the switchover date, with the default being Feb 1, 2012).
Feb 1, 2012: assuming there was majority support on Jan 15, OP_EVAL is fully supported/validated.
Questions I have for you:
Is there anything I can do to make it easier for you to support these new features? For example, would patches against an earlier version of bitcoind be useful? (if so, what version?)
Is the timeline reasonable?
Questions you might have:
What happens if you don't support these new transaction types but a majority of other miners do?
If you do not put non-standard transactions in your blocks, then nothing will happen.
If you DO put non-standard transactions in your blocks, then you would be vulnerable to an "invalidate blocks under the new rules" attack, where somebody sends you a transaction that is valid under the old interpretation of the OP_EVAL opcode (which is a no-op) but not valid under the new rules. Your miner would put that transaction in blocks that you mine, and all of your blocks would be rejected by the majority of miners.
What happens if you DO support these new transaction types but a majority of other miners do not?
All transactions that you put into blocks will be valid under both the old rules and the new rules, so there is no danger that blocks you create will be rejected by the network. There IS a danger that the rest of the network will accept a block under the old rules that you consider invalid under the new rules; that is why I am proposing that we evaluate acceptance of the new rules on January 15.
Can you support one of the BIPs but not all of them?
Yes-- supporting CHECKMULTISIG as a standard transaction type (BIP 11) can safely be deployed right now, there is no danger of a block-chain-split, etc.
BIPs 12 and 13 will let users (or mining pools) use short bitcoin payment addresses to have bitcoins go directly into secure, multi-authentication-required-to-spend wallets.