Cryptology ePrint Archive: Report 2022/289

Two Attacks On Proof-of-Stake GHOST/Ethereum

Joachim Neu and Ertem Nusret Tas and David Tse

Abstract: We present two attacks targeting the Proof-of-Stake (PoS) Ethereum consensus protocol. The first attack suggests a fundamental conceptual incompatibility between PoS and the Greedy Heaviest-Observed Sub-Tree (GHOST) fork choice paradigm employed by PoS Ethereum. In a nutshell, PoS allows an adversary with a vanishing amount of stake to produce an unlimited number of equivocating blocks. While most equivocating blocks will be orphaned, such orphaned `uncle blocks' still influence fork choice under the GHOST paradigm, bestowing upon the adversary devastating control over the canonical chain. While the Latest Message Driven (LMD) aspect of current PoS Ethereum prevents a straightforward application of this attack, our second attack shows how LMD specifically can be exploited to obtain a new variant of the balancing attack that overcomes a recent protocol addition that was intended to mitigate balancing-type attacks. Thus, in its current form, PoS Ethereum without and with LMD is vulnerable to our first and second attack, respectively.

Category / Keywords: applications / Ethereum, attack, proof-of-stake

Date: received 2 Mar 2022

Contact author: jneu at stanford edu, nusret at stanford edu, dntse at stanford edu

Available format(s): PDF | BibTeX Citation

Version: 20220307:115947 (All versions of this report)

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