Ethereum’s co-founder, Vitalik Buterin, has issued a warning to the Ethereum community regarding potential threats to the network’s consensus.
Ethereum’s crypto-economic consensus is robustly fortified, with a staggering $34 billion worth of ETH actively validating blocks every 6.4 minutes. Buterin cautions, however, against the misuse of the consensus system, especially in scenarios where its stability could be jeopardized.
Vitalik Buterin on misusing the Ethereum consensus system
Proposals have been advanced over time suggesting alternative uses for Ethereum’s validator set and social consensus.
Some of these concepts include ‘ultimate oracle’, a voting system based on ETH where the majority gets rewarded with the minority’s share; and ‘re-staking’, a system allowing Ethereum stakers to use their stake as a deposit in another protocol.
Buterin, however, cautions against certain techniques he sees as potentially hazardous to Ethereum’s ecosystem. The co-founder firmly warns against “recruiting” Ethereum’s social consensus for individual applications’ purposes.
Misuse of social consensus in this way, he argues, may lead to systemic risks and jeopardize the integrity of the entire ecosystem. Therefore, he suggests the community should be cautious about these actions and actively discourage them.
Highlighting different examples, Buterin makes a clear distinction between harmless re-use of validators and potentially dangerous overloading of social consensus. In one example, he describes a low-risk scenario where a Web3 social network verifies its users by requiring proof that they control an Ethereum validator’s key.
Conversely, he highlights a high-risk situation where project leaders for a similar protocol expect the Ethereum community to hard-fork and delete malicious validators. In this case, the broader Ethereum ecosystem is roped into solving the problems of one application, which Buterin considers a high-risk strategy.
The dangers of stretching Ethereum consensus
Buterin further illustrates the pitfalls of stretching Ethereum’s consensus with a hypothetical situation set in 2025. A new ETH/USD price oracle is introduced, with validators voting on the price hourly.
To incentivize active participation, the system heavily penalizes votes that deviate significantly from the median retrospective vote.
In this scenario, despite initial resilience and stability, a political crisis in Brazil in 2034 creates a split in the consensus due to differing perspectives on the legitimacy of two opposing political factions.
As a result, Ethereum, designed as a refuge from geopolitical issues, finds itself at the mercy of a single nation’s internal issues.
Buterin argues that a blockchain’s “purity” is a significant advantage. As soon as a blockchain tries to incorporate real-world factors, it opens itself up to the conflicts and instabilities of the external world.
The co-founder stresses that the Ethereum community should resist attempts to incorporate real-world indices into the blockchain’s protocol.
The best way to counter these problems, according to Buterin, is through case-by-case solutions. For example, price oracles could either be non-cryptoeconomic decentralized oracles or validator-voting-based oracles that have predefined recovery strategies.
Moreover, he suggests Layer 2 protocols should rely on multiple proving systems, while cross-chain bridges should be minimized as much as possible. Buterin also proposes a move away from independent chains entirely, in favor of validiums anchored into Ethereum.
The warning from Buterin is timely and provides the Ethereum community a chance to address these potential risks and ensure the stability and integrity of the Ethereum network.
With his insights, Ethereum’s stakeholders are better equipped to safeguard the network and its consensus system against manipulation and misuse.
**You can read Vitalik’s blog post here.
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