Under development for the better part of a year, Bison Trails’ Double Signing Protection software addresses one of the biggest risks of participating in a Proof of Stake blockchain network: slashing penalties if a validator double signs blocks. With Double Signing Protection, it’s now much safer for anyone using Bison Trails’ infrastructure to participate in supported networks.
Many Proof of Stake protocols penalize double signing because this validator misbehavior makes it more difficult for the network to reach consensus. Consensus—how nodes on a network verify transactions and their order in a decentralized blockchain network—is a critical step to prevent invalid data being written to the ledger, the record of all transactions.
The slashing penalties for double signing can be very dangerous for anyone participating with their stake in a network: token holders and validators can lose existing funds, not just miss out on future rewards.
Bison Trails’ Double Signing Protection was designed to address the need to minimize the cost of losing stake and reductions in rewards for customers running a node—on networks like Tezos that have double signing penalties—in order to minimize the risks of participation and further professionalize blockchain infrastructure service for our customers.
“Our double signing protection software solves a huge problem for network participants and enables our company to provide stronger guarantees over time. This software innovation reduces the risk of running nodes on our platform and is a step forward for Bison Trails in offering innovative software controls to address one of the largest risks of participating in blockchains.” —Joe Lallouz, CEO
Slashing—a mechanism built into blockchain protocols to discourage validator misbehavior—is designed to incentivize security, availability, and network participation. The two key misbehaviors that incur slashing are downtime and double signing. While the specifics of slashing are defined within each protocol, the mechanism is similar: a predefined percentage of a validator’s tokens are lost when it behaves abnormally on the network. Double signing penalties are typically much larger than downtime penalties.
Double signing occurs when a validating entity (private key) submits two signed messages for the same block. This behavior may occur if a node operator, or infrastructure provider, optimizes their node configuration to prevent downtime by having a highly available backup entity running at the same time as a primary entity.
Bison Trails created this proprietary system to protect against double signing by locking access to private keys. A highly available backup node cannot access a private key if the key is already being used by another validating node. Therefore we can safely respond to an outage by confirming the release of a private key to allow the highly available backup node to begin validating safely.
“Without double signing software, operators have to be careful or run scripts that check that they haven’t made a mistake. Bison Trails’ double signing protection provides guarantees and tooling for our response teams to be able to more confidently failover, ensuring high uptime without the risk of double signing.” —Aaron Henshaw, CTO
Initially available on Kusama, Westend, Tezos testnet and Tezos mainnet, we are aiming to add support for Double Signing Protection software for Polkadot and Cosmos in coming months. We will continue to add Double Signing Protection to the Bison Trails platform for protocols that need it (some protocols don’t have double signing penalties). Protocols that do have double signing penalties, and that employ the necessary key structures, are good candidates for future support.
Ultimately, this software will ensure the availability and reliability of Bison Trails’ infrastructure on supported networks, making it safer to run nodes and participate in blockchains, by helping prevent one of the most common slashable behaviors. The more controls, tools, and software that we can build that helps to reduce risk, the safer it will become to run and participate in blockchains with Bison Trails.
We faced many challenges building this system:
The Bison Trails platform is a multi-cloud, multi-region system that distributes the protocol infrastructure we run. Building a robust system that protects infrastructure deployed on each cloud provider means that Double Signing Protection must also be fully compatible with each cloud provider.
Each blockchain protocol presents a unique set of challenges, because of the different parameters of the many consensus mechanisms (PBFT, NPoS) of the protocols we support. We needed to create a system that was generic enough to be used across protocols, but not so generic that it wouldn’t provide value to the specific systems.
The security and software guarantees with Double Signing Protection required significant code reviews, analysis, and security measures to ensure that our solution never prioritizes double signing over downtime. Our engineering team needed tooling that was robust and easy to use but also controlled, to make it very difficult for human error to occur. Striking this balance was a significant challenge.
While we are not yet at a point where there are no risks to blockchain participation—and we may never be—with the release of Double Signing Protection, our customers will benefit from innovative software controls addressing one of the largest risks of participation: double signing slashing.
Bison Trails is an Infrastructure-as-a-Service company, based in New York City, specifically focused on blockchain participation. We’ve built a platform for anyone who wants to participate in new chains effortlessly (e.g. by running Cosmos Validators, Tezos Bakers, and Libra Validators, etc.)—without having to invest time and resources into developing any of the engineering, protocol, dev ops, or security competencies in-house. Our goal is for the entire blockchain ecosystem to flourish by providing robust infrastructure for the pioneers of tomorrow.
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