Cryptology ePrint Archive: Report 2016/358

The Ring of Gyges: Investigating the Future of Criminal Smart Contracts

Ari Juels and Ahmed Kosba and Elaine Shi

Abstract: Thanks to their anonymity (pseudonymity) and elimination of trusted intermediaries, cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin have created or stimulated growth in many businesses and communities. Unfortunately, some of these are criminal, e.g., money laundering, illicit marketplaces, and ransomware.

Next-generation cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum will include rich scripting languages in support of {\em smart contracts}, programs that autonomously intermediate transactions. In this paper, we explore the risk of smart contracts fueling new criminal ecosystems. Specifically, we show how what we call {\em criminal smart contracts} (CSCs) can facilitate leakage of confidential information, theft of cryptographic keys, and various real-world crimes (murder, arson, terrorism).

We show that CSCs for leakage of secrets (à la Wikileaks) are efficiently realizable in existing scripting languages such as that in Ethereum. We show that CSCs for theft of cryptographic keys can be achieved using primitives, such as Succinct Non-interactive ARguments of Knowledge (SNARKs), that are already expressible in these languages and for which efficient supporting language extensions are anticipated. We show similarly that authenticated data feeds, an emerging feature of smart contract systems, can facilitate CSCs for real-world crimes (e.g., property crimes).

Our results highlight the urgency of creating policy and technical safeguards against CSCs in order to realize the promise of smart contracts for beneficial goals.

Category / Keywords: applications / criminal smart contracts, zk-SNARKs

Date: received 6 Apr 2016

Contact author: juels at cornell edu

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Version: 20160408:015115 (All versions of this report)

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