Fall 2019

Concurrency and Privacy Challenges for Multi-hop HTLCs

Thursday, October 24th, 2019 4:30 pm5:00 pm

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Permissionless blockchains protocols such as Bitcoin are inherently limited in transaction throughput and latency. Current efforts to address this key issue focus on off-chain payment channels that can be combined in a Payment-Channel Network (PCN) to enable an unlimited number of payments without requiring to access the blockchain other than to register the initial and final capacity of each channel. While this approach paves the way for low latency and high throughput of payments, its deployment in practice raises several privacy concerns as well as technical challenges related to the inherently concurrent nature of payments, such as race conditions and deadlocks, that have been understudied so far. In this work, we lay the foundations for privacy and concurrency in PCNs, presenting a formal definition in the Universal Composability framework as well as practical and provably secure solutions. In particular, we present Fulgor and Rayo. Fulgor is the first payment protocol for PCNs that provides provable privacy guarantees for PCNs and is fully compatible with the Bitcoin scripting system. However, Fulgor is a blocking protocol and therefore prone to deadlocks of concurrent payments as in currently available PCNs. Instead, Rayo is the first protocol for PCNs that enforces non-blocking progress (i.e., at least one of the concurrent payments terminates). We show through a new impossibility result that non-blocking progress necessarily comes at the cost of weaker privacy. At the core of Fulgor and Rayo is Multi-Hop HTLC, a new smart contract, compatible with the Bitcoin scripting system, that provides conditional payments while reducing running time and communication overhead with respect to previous approaches.