Cryptology ePrint Archive: Report 2019/1484

Force-Locking Attack on Sync Hotstuff

Atsuki Momose and Jason Paul Cruz

Abstract: Blockchain, which realizes state machine replication (SMR), is a fundamental building block of decentralized systems, such as cryptocurrencies and smart contracts. These systems require a consensus protocol in their global-scale, public, and trustless networks. In such an environment, consensus protocols require high resiliency, which is the ability to tolerate a fraction of faulty replicas, and thus synchronous protocols have been gaining significant research attention recently. Abraham et al. proposed a simple and practical synchronous SMR protocol called Sync Hotstuff (to be presented in IEEE S\&P 2020). Sync Hotstuff achieves $2\Delta$ latency, which is near optimal in a synchronous protocol, and its throughput without lock-step execution is comparable to that of partially synchronous protocols. Sync Hotstuff was presented under a standard synchronous model as well as under a weaker, but more realistic, model called mobile sluggish model. Sync Hotstuff also adopts an optimistic responsive mode, in which the latency is independent of $\Delta$. However, Sync Hotstuff has a critical security vulnerability with which an adversary can conduct double spending or denial-of-service attack. In this paper, we present an attack we call force-locking attack on Sync Hotstuff. This attack violates the safety, i.e., consistency of agreements, of the protocol under the standard synchronous model and the liveness, i.e., progress of agreements, of all versions of the protocol, including the mobile sluggish model and responsive mode. The force-locking attack is not only a specific attack on Sync Hotstuff but also on some general blockchain protocols. After describing the attack, we will present some refinements to prevent this attack. Our refinements remove the security vulnerability on Sync Hotstuff without any performance compromises. We will also provide formal proofs of the security for each model.

Category / Keywords: cryptographic protocols / blockchain, consensus, SMR, attack

Date: received 25 Dec 2019, last revised 24 Jan 2020

Contact author: momose at sqlab jp

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Version: 20200124:115732 (All versions of this report)

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