Be Selfish and Avoid Dilemmas: Fork After Withholding (FAW) Attacks on Bitcoin

In the Bitcoin system, participants are rewarded for solving cryptographic puzzles. In order to receive more consistent rewards over time, some participants organize mining pools and split the rewards from the pool in proportion to each participant's contribution. However, several attacks threaten the ability to participate in pools. The block withholding (BWH) attack makes the pool reward system unfair by letting malicious participants receive unearned wages while only pretending to contribute work. When two pools launch BWH attacks against each other, they encounter the miner's dilemma: in a Nash equilibrium, the revenue of both pools is diminished. In another attack called selfish mining, an attacker can unfairly earn extra rewards by deliberately generating forks. In this paper, we propose a novel attack called a fork after withholding (FAW) attack. FAW is not just another attack. The reward for an FAW attacker is always equal to or greater than that for a BWH attacker, and it is usable up to four times more often per pool than in BWH attack. When considering multiple pools --- the current state of the Bitcoin network -- the extra reward for an FAW attack is about 56% more than that for a BWH attack. Furthermore, when two pools execute FAW attacks on each other, the miner's dilemma may not hold: under certain circumstances, the larger pool can consistently win. More importantly, an FAW attack, while using intentional forks, does not suffer from practicality issues, unlike selfish mining. We also discuss partial countermeasures against the FAW attack, but finding a cheap and efficient countermeasure remains an open problem. As a result, we expect to see FAW attacks among mining pools.

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