Vitalik Buterin warns against weighing on the Ethereum consensus
Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin has published a lengthy blog post warning of the dangers of “stretching” the Ethereum consensus past its core function of validating blocks and securing the network.
Ethereum consensus is the process by which blocks are validated by the proof-of-stake mechanism implemented in September 2022 with the “Merger”.
In a May 21 blog post titled “Don’t overload the Ethereum consensus,” Buterin warned that using the Ethereum network’s consensus for other things can carry “a high systemic risk to the ecosystem and must be prevented and combatted.”
The co-founder of Ethereum basically promotes the preservation of blockchain minimalism.
Don’t overload the Ethereum consensus:https://t.co/07tzyCrZcJ
— vitalik.eth (@VitalikButerin) May 21, 2023
Buterin noted that over the years, a number of proposals or ideas have circulated suggesting using Ethereum social consensus for other purposes, such as price and data oracles, re-staking initiatives, and using layer-1 soft forks to restore layer-2 projects should they have issues.
“There is a natural urge to try to extend the blockchain core with more functionality because the blockchain core has the most economic weight and the largest community watching it, but each of those extensions makes the core itself more fragile.”
However, Buterin says that certain pieces of the technique can carry a “high systemic risk” to the ecosystem such as a bug or an intentional 51% attack.
Some high-risk examples include creating an ETH/USD price oracle where ETH holders or validators can be bribed to vote, which can result in “paying rogue participant money” if there is disagreement.
But he acknowledged the need for a better oracle, proposing a case-by-case approach because problems are “inherently very different” from one another.
Overall, Buterin says that expanding Ethereum consensus “tasks” increases the cost, complexity, and risk of running validators.
Related: Buterin considers the impact of zk-EVMs on decentralization and security
Application layer projects “taking actions that risk increasing the “scope” of the blockchain consensus for anything other than verifying the rules of the Ethereum core protocol,” should be treated with caution, he said before summarizing:
“Instead, we must maintain the minimalism of the chain, support the use of re-staking that does not look like a slippery slope to expand the role of Ethereum consensus, and help developers find alternative strategies to achieve their security goals.”
The Ethereum consensus mechanism switched from proof-of-work to proof-of-stake in September last year. Moreover, Ethereum staking has just been released for withdrawal with the Shapella upgrade on April 12th. This explains increased scrutiny of validator roles and security risks on the world’s largest smart contract network.
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