What Would it Take to Carry out a Successful Eclipse Attack on Ethereum?

Yahsin Huang
Jun 20, 2019 · 5 min read
Photo by Constantin Popp on Unsplash

What is an Eclipse Attack?

An eclipse attack is a type of attack occurs at a peer-to-peer network level: an attacker gains full control of a specific node’s access to information by eclipsing the node from the whole peer-to-peer network.

Malicious nodes block the victim node’s view of the real blockchain with their imposter blockchain. Hence the name of one of blockchain’s major security threats — the Eclipse Attack.

According to Heilman et al’s report in 2015, one key implication of eclipse attacks is that eclipse attacks could be a useful building block for other attacks. For instance, one of the bad things an attacker can do once the attack positions are secured is that the attacker can launch mining attacks such as a 51% attack with much less than 51% mining power.

What would it take to carry out a successful Eclipse Attack on Ethereum?

It’s worth noting that it doesn’t take much from a malicious actor to successfully carry out an eclipse attack. Heilman et al’s 2018 paper showed that it takes only a few machines to perform an eclipse attack on the Ethereum network.

Eclipse attacks on IoT devices

What about eclipse attacks in an Internet of Things (IoT) environment? The risks posed by IoT devices rise significantly higher. In a common scenario of mining nodes in a data center, an attacker would need several machines in order to successfully execute an eclipse attack. In the data center scenario, an eclipse attack is hard to do because it usually involves attacking multiple independent uplinks.

The IoT device becomes isolated from the rest of the peer-to-peer network and thus, becoming impossible to view the real blockchain network. Henceforth, an eclipse attack on an IoT device is completed.

So how to mitigate Eclipse Attacks?

In an eclipse attack scenario in a Proof-of-Work (PoW) based network, the attacker exploits to force a node to accept a longer chain with lower total difficulty than the main chain. Since the attacker advertised a higher total difficulty than honest nodes’, when the victim node rejoins the network, it would receive a chain that is longer than the valid chain but has lower total difficulty.

Therefore, what happens is the victim node can no longer synchronize with the valid chain. So, what are the ways to alleviate this problem?

Fortunately, important proposals are quickly emerging. Just last month, Dominic Letz, a Taipei-based German blockchain researcher, proposed BlockQuick — the first super light client protocol that addresses the issue of eclipse attacks.

Conclusion

In this article, we described what an eclipse attack is, discussed some of the implications of eclipse attacks, and explored how super light client protocols can address the issue. As blockchain technologies continue to evolve, being knowledgeable in current and possible future developments are critical for leaders in the community. So stay connected! Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/YahsinHuang

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Yahsin Huang

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Yahsin is the operations manager at HashCloak. Website: https://yahsin.me/

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