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Oct 26 2017

Obelisk Consensus Algorithm Design Motivations

This is an archived post from the bitcointalks thread on June 19 2014

Quote from: yxxyun on June 19, 2014, 02:52:38 AM

Quote from: skycoin on June 19, 2014, 02:31:59 AM

Quote from: FrictionlessCoin on June 18, 2014, 09:15:07 PM

Quote from: skycoin on June 18, 2014, 09:08:56 PM

Development Update:

We figured out way of preventing Sybil attack using a hybrid Proof of Stake system.

To create a node, you must prove you have coins. Say 10 coins. You send 10 coins to address A. Then you send the 10 coins from address A to address B. Then you add a signature using the public key in address A to sign a message in your Obelisk blockchain.

Alternatively, you could publish the public key for address A and then just sign a message with that public key. The node would have to publish a signature every time period, or within some number of blocks of the reserve coins being moved, in order to maintain valid trust relationships with other peers.

Alternatively, proof of burn could be required, where the coins are sent from address A to an address B that has no private key. Proof of burn conflicts with the requirement that no one should need to download the whole blockchain from the beginning to operate a full node, so is unlikely.

This system upper bounds the number of Obelisk nodes and restricts the ability to run Obelisk nodes to coin holders. The upper bound on the number of nodes and coin requirements adds another layer of Sybil attack protection.

Not sure how this prevents a Sybil attack. Are you simply adding a cost to adding a node to network and therefore a sybil attack will require a financial cost to do so?

Just an idea at this stage. Found an improvement. Each Obelisk node, has a public key. We hash the public key into an address and then it stores 10 coins in an output owned by that address.

It does not add a cost. It just proves that you own 10 coins. It proves you know the private key, for a public key, whose address has 10 coins in it. You can still spend the coins.

The idea is that it upper bounds the number of nodes. If 10 coins must be held and there are 100 million coins, then it upper bounds the network at 10 million nodes. The upper bound does not appear to be mathematically useful right now, but is something we should keep in mind.

When a new Obelisk node is run, it will “trust” some random peers. The user can also add a few nodes by hand that it trusts (exchanges or trusted community members). A node is identified by its public key hash and found by DHT. Its not like Bitcoin where nodes are IP:port pairs. You can move your computer around and the identity of the node does not depend on its IP address.

We want the network to be secure with random nodes being chosen. We don’t want a situation like Ripple, where the three developers nodes control the network. However, we wanted to prevent a situation, where someone runs 200,000 nodes and tries to collect the trust relationships from new users. These Sybil attacks nodes, still cannot 51% attack generally, but anything that increases the cost of the attack is still useful.

Maybe, we restrict it so that new user will only randomly trust nodes that have a coin balance. Trust relationships wont be severed if the node does not have a coin balance, but they just wont get new random users.

The connectivity graph for trust relationships, is supposed to be a fully connected random graph. A few nodes (trusted community members, exchanges, websites, organizations) will have more trust relationships and that helps the convergence time for block consensus a bit. It reduces the network diameter a bit. Some nodes will be used to verify consensus (you choose a bunch of exchanges or different public keys), these nodes do not affect consensus decisions, but are “consensus oracles” to check if your node has converged with network.

If two large exchanges have different consensus for a particular, block, that is a problem. It could indicate a netsplit or an attack on the network. Exchanges may want to suspend trading until the issue is resolved.

Obelisk is skycoin’s distribute consensus node? I was think the skycoind is the node…


Skycoin has a blockchain. The blockchain is in This parses the blocks and deals with unspent outputs and transactions.

Skywire is the daemon and has a “service architecture”. It can run services, such as blockchain syncing service and other things. The meshnet is currently being implemented as a service on top of Skywire (although this may need to change).

The consensus mechanism is outside of the blockchain. Obelisk nodes (which will probably will be implemented as a Skywire service) have a blockchain. Each node has a public key. The public key identifies the Obelisk node. Each Obelisk node has its own blockchain (there are no coins in this chain). The node creates a new block and signs it with its private key. The Obelisk blockchains are used to negotiate consensus (determining the head block in the Skycoin blockchain). Obelisk uses Ben-Or’s for randomized consensus. Each Obelisk node has a list of other nodes it subscribes to. Those nodes influence consensus and voting decisions for the local node. For non-pathological network topologies, the local consensus provably converges in to a global consensus.

Each node votes on the next block in the chain. A node proposes the next block and the nodes vote on the successor. The votes are published in the blocks in the Obelisk blockchain for each node. Your node votes randomly between the alternative and flips its vote every once in a while. Once 40% of your peers (the nodes you are subscribed to) have reached a consensus, you switch to that candidate. The network can vote on multiple forks at once, it does not slow down waiting for a consensus. The forks are pruned to a single chain over time. Splits of two or three block are normal, but after a few confirmations the probability of the block being reverted decreases exponentially to zero. If a transaction has been executed on all candidate chains, then it is essentially executed, even if the particular consensus chain has not been decided yet.

That is binary Ben-Or’s and Skycoin will use something slightly more advanced, that is faster when there are multiple successor blocks to choose from in the consensus set. Randomization is important to keep sub-graphs of the network from getting stuck. The voting process is a form of “annealing” where each node will arrive at the global consensus independently, only from its local information.

The consensus process happens in public. A node publishes blocks, signs them with their private key and the blocks are replicated peer-to-peer between subscribers of the chain. Then there are “consensus oracles” which are nodes that are used to verify consensus but do not influence consensus. So you might choose the public keys of a few exchanges and a few trusted community members and your node will use those to detect if something is wrong. This is used to detect netsplits. This also protects against an attack, where a hacker controls your router and can control the peers you are able to connect to.

If a node shows up to network and tries to get the network to accept a different chain (51% attack, reverting transactions), it usually gets ignored. Most 51% attacks require malignant node behavior which is automatically detected and results in a subscribing node removing the malignant node from their trust list. The easiest 51% attack strategy is easy to detect and prove with mathematical certainty that it was intended as an attempt to revert transactions, because it require backdating block consensus decisions. It requires publishing two signed blocks with the same sequence number, so we just made this an automatically bannable offence for a node.

We are trying to eliminate the last possible 51% attack, which is when a subnetwork of nodes goes offline (netsplit attack) and then rejoins the network with a different blockchain consensus and tries to force this on the network to revert transactions. Most of these attacks will fail, because the subnetwork will not have enough influence.

This attack is still very difficult to pull off. In case there is a successful 51% attack, one solution is to freeze the network and let each node/user individually choose which chain is the valid one and let people ban the attacking nodes manually. The consensus oracle allows each node, with high probability, to know if the state is synced and if global consensus has been reached or if they are part of a netsplit subgraph. We think its possible for each node to know with a high probability of correctness from local information, whether a node was offline during a consensus decision and then ignore nodes that were offline who suddenly appear and try to force a chain fork on the network.

In Bitcoin, if you have the most hashing power, you can revert transactions whenever you want.

In Skycoin, to revert transactions:

  • You much control a large number of nodes
  • The nodes you control must be “influential” and trusted within the network topology
  • Your nodes need to exhibit extremely blatant pathological attack behavior without the behavior being detected, because detection would result in losing the trust relationships you need to attack the network.
  • Your nodes need to be in a pathological attack topology, without it being detected (most bot nodes will be trusted by very few humans and be very obvious)
  • You must be able get the nodes you control to collude in a way that results in a successful attack (this is not very straightforward)
  • If the attack succeeds, you must prevent the network from reverting the attack by hand (very difficult if people lost coins or money because of the attack)

To prove it iss 51% attack proof, you have to write down the assumptions you are making and then create a simple mathematical model and then prove the conditions under which things can and cannot happen in the model. Once you know the conditions that an attack is possible under, you try to eliminate them and if you cant eliminate them, you make them as difficult as possible. You increase the cost of an attack and you reduce the probability that a specific attack will succeed. Then you reduce the payoff and incentives for the attack.

The consensus process is simple and easy to model, but unintuitive without seeing it. There will be a javascript site eventually that has an animated consensus process you can play with.