Consensus-level attack on Ethereum is something that was discovered by researchers, that allows miners to cheat the system and earn more than they are entitled to.
The study focuses on a problem where miners can alter the timestamp associated with a mined block to prevent network difficulty increases.
The Hebrew University in Israel claims to have found the “first evidence of a consensus-level attack on a major cryptocurrency” in a research study. Although the study is still under peer review, its conclusions are supported by publicly accessible on-chain statistics and the open-source codebase of Ethereum.
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The study focuses on a problem where miners can alter the timestamp associated with a mined block to prevent network difficulty increases. On-chain data appears to back up the assertion because F2Pool’s block timestamps were deliberately changed to increase payouts, according to one of the paper’s authors, Aviv Yaish.
(8/12) By analyzing publicly available on-chain data, we can finally say that the answer to the long-standing question "do miners attack the consensus layer of major cryptocurrencies?" is yes! Specifically, F2Pool's blocks have the fingerprint of the attack all over them. …
— Aviv Yaish (@yaish_aviv) August 5, 2022
The proof-of-work consensus mechanism that keeps Ethereum running will be replaced by proof-of-stake in September. The network looks to be vulnerable to the assault outlined by The Hebrew University at this time, nevertheless.
The study refers to the consensus-level assault as an Uncle Maker attack in reference to the “uncle” blocks utilized in the exploit. On the Ethereum blockchain, blocks serve as a collection of records that are distributed, distributed, and validated throughout the network. Uncle blocks are legitimate blocks that have been taken off the primary chain but are still rewarded.
The timestamp of a block can be changed by miners “within a specified reasonable bound,” which is usually a short period of time. One mining pool that stood out in the study was F2Pool, which “didn’t have even a single block with a timestamp in the past two years, F2Pool,” according to the findings. One of the biggest Ethereum pools, F2Pool generates about 1.5K ETH in daily payouts and operates at a hash rate of 129 TH/s.
The report also noted that, while F2Pool is attacking other mining pools, its founder has issued a relatively highly-publicized denunciation of other mining pools, blaming them for assaulting his own mining pool.
The Hebrew University has developed a patch and provided specific changes for Ethereum’s protocol for consideration. The material was responsibly shared with the Ethereum Foundation before publishing.
Could a consensus-level attack on Ethereum be a precursor of what is to come? Will we find similar attacks on other cryptocurrencies as miners try to cheat the system? Only time will tell.
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