Problem Set 1: Bitcoin Transactions

Due: Tuesday, 15 September at 8:29pm


The goal of this assignment is for everyone in the class to understand how keys, addresses, and transactions work in bitcoin. In addition, this assignment should help everyone get up-to-speed with the software tools (including the Go programming language) we will use in later assignments.

Collaboration Policy

For this assignment, everyone should submit their own assignment and should writeup their own answers to the questions as well as execute all the required transactions with your own keys.

You may, and are encouraged to, discuss all of the problems with anyone else you want (both on-line using the course web site or any other means you choose, and in person), and it is okay to share code with others so long as you understand everything in all of the code you use.


Submit your answers as a single PDF file using this link. The name of your file should be <your email ID>-ps1.pdf. (In addition to the PDF file you submit, you may submit a separate spend.go file with your code for question 11, or incorporate that code into the PDF submission.)

Your submission should include clearly marked answers for all the problems (highlighted in yellow).

Blockchain Sleuthing

You should have received some bitcoin at the address you submitted in the registration form. (If you did not receive any bitcoin, contact the course staff right away!)

From that transaction, you have an address that was used to send you the bitcoin. For these questions, your goal is to figure out what you can about the way bitcoin was distributed to the class. For these questions, manual sleuthing should be sufficient (although ambitious students may find ways to automate this).

Problem 1. Answer the following questions about the transaction where you received the bitcoin. If you received more than one transfer, include all the transaction IDs).

a. What is the transaction ID?

b. What was the transaction fee for the transaction? (Give your answer in BTC, as well as current approximate US dollar value.)

c. What was the total value of all the transactions in the block containing your transfer? (Note: provides this info conveniently, although you could compute it yourself)

d. How long did it take from when the transaction was received until it had 3 confirmations? (Include an explanation of how you estimated this in your answer.)

Bitcoin advocates often taut its “anonymity”, but bitcoin transactions are actually publicly visible.

Problem 2. See how much can you figure out about the way bitcoin was transferred to students in the class, starting from your transactions.

a. Identify the bitcoin addresses of what are likely to be other students in the class (you could potentially find all of them, but it is enough to find 3).

b. Trace back the source of the bitcoin as far as you can. Bonus points if you can figure out from which exchange the bitcoin was purchased and when.

c. (Bonus) Can you learn anything about where the send of the bitcoin is located geographically? (In this case, you have external information to know I’m in Charlottesville, but what could you learn about the sender’s probable location just from the information in the blockchain?)


  • Start by looking at the transaction that sent bitcoin to your receiving address. You can search for this by searching for your recieving address at,,, or many other sites that provide information about the bitcoin blockchain.

  • You can go forward, by following what happened with the “change” from that transaction.

  • You can go backward, by following transactions to the sending address.

Problem 3. Suppose a malicious developer wanted to distribute a bitcoin wallet implementation that would steal as much bitcoin as possible from its users with a little chance as possible of getting caught. (a) Explain things a malicious developed might do to create an evil wallet. (b) How confident are you your money is safe in the wallet you are using, and what would you do to increase your confidence if you were going to store all of your income in it?

Getting GOing

You are free to use any programming language and open source bitcoin libraries and openly-licensed code you want for this assignment, but must follow the license requirements of any code you use and credit this code in your submission.

The directions we provide use the BTC Suite library for bitcoin, implemented in the Go.

Most of you do not have any experience using Go, but it is not a difficult language to learn coming from experience with Java (which all of you have), and although its not my favorite programming language it is a language that nearly everyone finds enjoyable to use and it is becoming widely used in industry (especially at Google, where it was developed). The main reason we are using it for this, though, is because the BTC library is the best bitcoin library we are aware of, and it is written in Go.

If you are comfortable learning a new programming language by diving right into moderately complex programs and figuring out things as you go, you should be able to jump right into this assignment. If you prefer a more structured introduction to Go, there are many tutorials available, including the Tour of Go. The Go by Example site is very helpful. For more documentation, visit

Obtain the Starting Code

Install Go. Start by downloading and installing Go. The latest version is go1.5, which is the version you should use.

Make sure to create a directory to contain your workspace and set the GOPATH environment variable to point to that location (these commands are for the Mac OS X shell and the bash shell on Linux):

$ mkdir go_workspace
$ export GOPATH=$Home/go_workspace

Install BTCD. Follow the directions to install btcd from btcsuite.

Setting up git. Before continuing with this assignment, you should set up git and your github account and follow the directions there to set up your private repository containing the starting code for ps1. (It may seem like overkill to use git for this assignment since you will not need to write much code or work with teammates on this one. But, it is good to get experience using git and will become necessary to work effectively with teammates for later projects.)

Once you have finished setting up your ps1 repository, it should contain the files:

  • keypair.go: code for generating a bitcoin key pair (including its public address).
  • spend.go: code for generating a bitcoin transaction.

Elliptic Curve Cryptography

The btcsuite library includes, btcec, an implementation of the ECDSA digital signatures algorithm using the secp256k1 elliptic curve used by bitcoin.

Examine the btcec.go code. For example, you should be able to find the y2 = x3 + 7 curve in this code.

Elliptic curves for cryptography needs really big numbers. The modulus for the secp256k1 curve is found on line 929:


This should be the value 2256 - 232 - 29 - 28 - 27 - 26 - 24 - 1.

Problem 4. Verify that the modulus used as secp256k1.P in btcec.go is correct. You can do this either using math/big, Go’s bit integer library to do computations on such large numbers, or by computing it by hand. (For your answer, just show how you verified the modulus. Including a snippet of code is fine.)

Generating a Key Pair

We have provided code in keypair.go that generates a bitcoin key pair. You can try running this by running go run keypair.go (or you can compile it with go build keypair.go and then run the resulting executable keypair). It will print out the generated private key and corresponding public bitcoin address. (Try running it a few times to see that it produces a different key pair each time.)

Keys for ECDSC are generated by choosing a random private key, k, and finding the corresponding public key by “multiplying” it by G, the generator point. (Multiplication here is not standard multiplication, but multiplication on the elliptic curve, as discussed in Class 3.) The point G is defined by lines 912-3):

secp256k1.Gx = fromHex("79BE667EF9DCBBAC55A06295CE870B07029BFCDB2DCE28D959F2815B16F81798")
secp256k1.Gy = fromHex("483ADA7726A3C4655DA4FBFC0E1108A8FD17B448A68554199C47D08FFB10D4B8")

The resulting point is the public key. It is easy to derive the public key from the private key, but believed to be hard to learn anything useful about the private key from the public key. The belief that it is hard to reverse the elliptic curve multiplication is based on the assumption that it is hard to compute discrete logarithms, which is not proven, but underlies much of modern cryptography.

The code for generating a new keypair is in keypair.go:

func generateKeyPair() (*btcec.PublicKey, *btcec.PrivateKey) {
   priv, err := btcec.NewPrivateKey(btcec.S256())
   if err != nil {
       // There was an error. Log it and bail out
   return priv.PubKey(), priv

The important work is done by the NewPrivateKey function.

Problem 5. What are all the things you need to trust if you are going to send money to the key generated by running keypair.go? You should assume that you are an ultra-paranoid multi-billionaire who intends to transfer her entire fortune to the generated address.

Generating a Vanity Address

Anyone can have a bitcoin address like 1H7tu2qUAyyr5aX1WA17eyvbetAGyqxfKZ or 1L3iGYBD5wbiki2SYUT5wmupy4TTgmEBg3, but suppose you want a bitcoin address that includes the name of your cat or your birthday.

Problem 6. Define a function, func generateVanityAddress(pattern string) (*btcec.PublicKey, *btcec.PrivateKey) where pattern is a regular expression. It should return a valid key pair where the corresponding public address matches the pattern.

You should be able to use your function to generate an address that includes the digits of pi in sequence: generateVanityAddress("3.*1.*4.*1.*5.*9.*") or contains dave without any adjacent letters (generateVanityAddress("[0-9]dave[0-9]")) in its public bitcoin address. In deciding how vain you want to be for the next exercise, think about how the running time scales with the number of strings that match the target pattern.

Problem 7. Use your generateVanityAddress function to create your own vanity address. Its up to you to decide what to put in your vanity address, but it should be clear that your address is not a typical random one. If you are extra vain, create a address where your name appears at the beginning (after the initial 1). (Note that uppercase ‘O’ and ‘I’ and lowercase ‘l’ are not used in any address, so if your name includes these letters you will have to be creative.)

Problem 8. Is your vanity address more or less secure than the first address you generated?

There are on-line services that produce vanity addresses, like You should contemplate briefly whether using such a site is more vain or stupid.

Bitcoin Transactions

Having an address is not much fun without any funds!

You should have received some money to the address you submitted in PS0. For these questions, you will need to have actual money to transfer, so be careful to make small transfers for these questions in case something goes wrong. (In the event that you do lose all of your bitcoin, you can get a new transfer to an adress of your choosing by explaining to me what you have learned about software development and or best practices. It is not necessary to buy your own bitcoin, even if you lose all of the original transfer.)

Problem 9. Make a small (e.g., 1 mBTC) transfer from your wallet address to your vanity address. You can do this using your MultiBit wallet. Find the transaction in the blockchain (you can do this by searching for your vanity address at or You will need the transaction ID for the next exercise. (For your answer, just provide the transaction ID.)

Once you have located the transaction that sends bitcoin to your vanity address you should notice several things.

Your wallet most likely send bitcoins to your address and back to a new address. We call this second address the ‘change’ address. Notice that each output has an ordered position. This index (known as the vout) along with the transaction ID lets us uniquely identify transaction outputs. This is important if you want to use those outputs in a new transaction.

Problem 10. Transfer some bitcoin from your vanity address to someone else in the class (you can use one of the addresses you identified in Problem 2). To do this you can run spend.go in ps1. You can provide the parameters needed for the transaction at the command line (it is not necessary to modify the code).

If done correctly the script should look this when executed:

> go run spend.go \
      -privkey "f3942c1e1...87" \
      -toaddress "19WmbY4nDcjAEv6wb5rcd5E6MutVMXBZzy" \
      -txid "9070329c2850d9b1dadeaa8683039b273beb58a27812172e31e397cf19fd5ca0" \
      -vout 0
Here is your raw bitcoin transaction:
The sending api responded with:

I’ve left out most of my private key, since posting your private key on the web is not a very smart thing to do!

Notice that when the command above is run with these parameters it only works once. If you try to run it again you should get an API error since the input transaction has already been spent.

Problem 11. The provided spend.go code sends the full amount of the input transaction (less the network fee) to the destination address. Modify the program to add an -amount <value> flag that takes the amount to transfer in satoshi. If the amount available in the specified transaction output (less the network fee) exceeds the amount to send, your program should print an error message. Otherwise, it should send the requested amount to the toaddress, and send the change back to your address.

Try using your modified spending code to send a small amount to another address, and do another transaction to check that the change you receive back is still spendable.

Problem 12. (Bonus) Try to double spend the same bitcoin. Figure out as much as you can about what happens when the double spend transactions are attempted. See if you can get a transaction to appear on the list of double spends. See how close you can get to obtaining two verified transactions spending the same coin (e.g., can you achieve two transactions with at least one confirmation each?)

Please don’t try to actually rip anyone off; only attempt double spending with your own addresses (or those of willing classmates). You are not expected to actually be able to double-spend successfully (if this were easy, bitcoin would not work well as a currency!), but should be able to learn something by attemting to do this.


Follow the submission instructions at the beginning of this page by 8:29pm on Tuesday, 15 September.

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