ETH2 Decentralization Transparency Champions
This is the third and final post on the series diving into the concepts, data, and actionable insights of decentralization transparency on the Ethereum 2.0 Beacon Chain. Part 1 can be found here. Part 2 can be found here.
Just trust me.
How many times have we seen the assumptions of good behavior and intentions and blow up in the world’s face? The value of trust and promised guarantees in the traditional world is a heavily regulated commodity backed by hundreds of years of legal history and enforcement entities. Yet, still time and time again we’ve seen the catastrophic implications of these unfortunately fallible trust frameworks fail miserably.
The global financial crisis of 2007–2008 which resulted in the Great Recession¹ was a turning point for the world and its trust in the financial markets and the entities that ran them. Indelibly marked into the Bitcoin Genesis block’s² coinbase parameter in raw hex³ is the cover story title from the London Times that marked the start of a forceful revolution. It marked the start of a revolution on both the trust the world had on its flawed financial system and acted as a catalyst to the adoption of a solution that solved a fundamental problem of trustless consensus.
The London Times cover story, digitally embedded into the Bitcoin genesis block, was the start to a new paradigm of a trustless financial framework where decentralization, self-sovereignty, and transparency were at its core. Ironically, just years later, the world was yet again faced with news of a fallible financial system and its trusted controls from the London headquartered HSBC bank admitting fault to violating money laundering sanctions after its high profile congressional hearings in 2012⁴.
Time and time again, the world was reminded of the difficulties and dangers of centralized, trusted parties wrecking unwarranted havoc on a global scale at the expense of the rest of us. It represented, again and again, the catalyst for change and adoption for this new technology and financial system that had decentralization and transparency at its very core.
Did we make it better?
With the onset of further permissionless, transparent, and decentralized systems have we actually done better? Arguably so in many ways. But we’ve also arguably not done much better in many areas with the number of exploits and ‘rugpulls’ we’ve seen in the Ethereum ecosystem in particular. Operating under assumptions of decentralization and transparency, an unfortunate number of malicious anonymous characters and even unwitting, honest ones have either skipped away with the public’s money or dropped the ball and lent themselves victim to the roving, anonymous bandits looking for a quick steal. Take a look at this recent list of these aforementioned series of unfortunate events from rekt.
Rekt, is just one example of how media provides a clarifying look into the exploits, rugpulls, and outright hacks that have occurred in the decentralized finance ecosystem. It shines a light on both malicious and accidental ‘hacks’ and it should be no different from what we expect in the blockchain infrastructure ecosystem. In the first post of this series, “Making the Case for Decentralization Transparency”⁷, the type of transparency into the state of the validator set was labeled as victim to the bystander effect. Rekt leaderboards and ad hoc writeups on high profile hacks have served as reactionary tales of caution. From the platform level of ethereum, the burden is of understanding the system state before centralization issues affect the network.
Again, as an ecosystem supporting the system, the burden falls on everyone, yet also no one. Ethereum operates on a fully auditable, public chain. The transparency that affords this is powerful but it must also be fully utilized to be meaningful. Decentralization transparency must be made easy to verify and understandable to developers and users alike. There needs to be a way to provide actionable visibility to the system’s state. Transparency builds trust and confidence in a system and this trust can be earned through credibly neutral clarity into it. This is the entire point of it all…
Fortunately, as I had begun writing this series quite a few initiatives have either sprung up, had been gathering traction before, and have also opened their data up for the public to support decentralization transparency on the Ethereum 2.0 beacon chain.
What is the Ethereum Due Diligence Committee (EDDC)?
The Ethereum Due Diligence Project aims to build a trustworthy and impartial source of information about the characteristics and security of services in the Ethereum Ecosystem. Its initial objective is to provide a comprehensive list of all staking pool options for users having less than 32 ETH, along with a checklist of the basic characteristics of these options. It is composed of volunteers that range from community members, developers, and infrastructure providers.
It publishes its reports and surveys transparently and provides methodologies for its future reports. The information published below only represents the answers provided by each respective staking pool service. The EDDC will soon be publishing a formal rating to each service.
Such examples of reports and surveys are to include red, yellow, green light system ratings with full insight into the methodologies and to provide clear answers of providers to the public.
The EDDC is composed of sub-committees that go into the validity of the answers from the staking services and verifies submitted answers as part of its due diligence. In addition, the EDDC plans to host a tracker for slashing events on various staking pools and provide ratings over time for pools as they may change.
From the motivations of the EDDC, they felt that one of the largest problems in the Ethereum ecosystem is that it doesn’t have a regulatory body, agencies, or committees that really tries to show what’s going on in ecosystem transparency. They emphasized the importance of starting to build out best practices and standards, hold entities accountable, and reduce the amount of oversight to show that the ecosystem is taking stuff seriously.
What is Rated-Network?
Rated Network is an exploratory project around eth2 validator performance, spun off from research by Elias Simos and Sid Shekhar they did as part of their eth2data.github.io research challenge. The idea is to establish a validator performance rating dashboard.
Potential work around this dashboard could include creating standards and implementing them around: scoring validator effectiveness and overall performance. It presents opportunities to explore the opinionated data space around eth2.
What is Beachoncha.in?
Beaconcha.in is an open source Ethereum 2.0 Beacon Chain explorer. It is run by the company Bitfly which has been supporting Ethereum since the genesis of Ethereum. From its start, it began creating dashboards like etherchain on the current Ethereum network, runs the mining pool ethermine, and supports multiple explorers for other networks like zcha.in and poolwatch.
The visualization of the Ethereum 2.0 Beacon Chain is providing accessibility to the average user. They found that the most important aspect was the status of validator. There are a few of the features that have been important:
Daily income Visualization. People can start learning about how the beaconchain works through visualization. As more Eth gets staked, people will begin to see rewards decreasing. Some have already begun to ask why rewards are decreasing. From an educational perspective, visualization will support teaching opportunities for stakers to realize the economics of income and staking under the context of validator numbers.
Validator labelling. Identification can lead to client teams debugging support. Self identification for staking pools exists and there will be dedicated pages for these types of providers. On self identification there are multiple ways. On non-custodial pools, users have withdrawal keys and deposit keys, but staking pools have signing keys. However most identification on some most cannot identity because they don’t have deposit keys. There is no easy way for staking pools to identify themselves through signing messages with validator keys — only custodial ones can do that. There still needs to be better ways to prove validator key ownership.
Further, responsibilities of the dashboard shows performance and is being worked on for better understanding. Right now users stake on pools and have no idea whether their pool is performing well or not. If pool A performs very badly, users from a staking pool have not many abilities to prove whether a pool is performing well or not — and users are essentially losing money there (potentially less than 50% rewards per year). A dashboard has the responsibility to show this data on behalf of users.
Why is this important for PoS? Let’s say there are 10 validators and you’re one of them. The other 9 performing well means you are rewarded well. If some are offline, there will be finality issues, then that means you won’t be making money. It’s in the best interest of everyone. You need to know who the bad performers are so you know who not to stake with and also for other providers to get their setups fixed. Everyone is in the same boat to make sure the network works well together because there are downsides to inefficient performers.
Future features include a staking pool dashboard. A particular bottleneck here is the tagging portion — which pools owns which validators. Hopefully the community asks their pools why they are not showing the data. Perhaps there will be a shift in the community to only stake with identified ones.
Another feature that has been recently revealed is the validator streak metric. Streaks represent the number of attestations that have been proposed in a row. As such, if a validator misses an attestation the streak will reset. This can give hints on validator device aggregation which can be key for assessing large pools.
Here’s how it works. Count all attestations that you have done in a row → streak metric will go up. Let’s say Coinbase owns 100 validators and we know their indexes. You can look at the 100 validators and count their streak. Count all attestations a validator has done in a row. If each validator produces 10 attestations in a row you would calculate a streak score of 100*10 == 1000. If one validator misses one attestation your streak score drops to zero and the result would be: 99*10 == 990 steak score. Therefore, if you miss one attestation, your streak will go to zero and as such it would be in your best interest to have the best streak. Although aggressive, it would put more responsibility on pools. There is still some tinkering that needs to be done here as it needs some more aggressive metrics to clearly show differentiation. As an example, if someone has an uptime of 100% but only has 1 attestation that should be shown differently from someone who has 99% but has 1000 attestations.
What is Nansen?
Nansen is an analytics platform for blockchain, which combines on-chain data with a massive and constantly growing database containing millions of wallet labels. Customers use Nansen to access this data via user-friendly dashboards.
The Nansen team has been working in blockchain space for 3+ years with different companies like 0x, aragon, and google. They had noticed that there was a common theme in people wanting to understand the entities that were interacting on the blockchain. They then created a holistic, end to end platform for onchain data, parsed out and augmented with contextualized off chain data.
The emphasis of ease of use and interpretability was a driving factor towards the often repeated but not necessarily practiced, “don’t trust, verify” mantra. Providing the aggregation of enriched on chain data allows for easier to understand flow of capital, surface investment opportunities, and importantly valuable due diligence.
Towards the decentralization transparency effort of the Ethereum 2 Beacon Chain, Nansen has graciously opened up their Eth2 related dashboards.
The Nansen ETH2 Dashboard tracks deposits into the ETH2 deposit contract to know not just how much but where the ether comes from. It is important to know to know how decentralized Eth2 validator power is. You can see the different entities that are associated with wallets, not only by address but also across all their associated wallets. This is different from just having an address — an entity view is important in how decentralized actually the system is. Nansen aims to be the leader on making sure how much data can be revealed and appropriately understood in making sure there are integrations on every stage. The secret sauce of Nansen lies in their attribution abilities — a complex problem of assigning labels to addresses which is largely an algorithmic approach but also supplemented by manual in house analysts.
Coming in features for the dashboard include the improved UI as shown above and better transparency metrics on decentralization for the Beacon Chain. These include: attribution of custody and control of address to individual entities (like large staking pools), relationship attribution (custodian, owner), and key management identification.
Cruising Towards the Truth
Peter Gutmann, the famed security expert, had once said that the world of open source development suffered from ‘bugs in the brain’⁸. These bugs often manifest into unrealistic expectations builders have of their users: notably our mantra of ‘don’t trust, verify’. Who does the burden fall on to support users ‘verifying’ of this technology? The transparency of the blockchain that affords this is powerful but it must also be fully utilized to be meaningful It’s the tragedy of the open source commons — the blockchain bystander effect. This burden falls on everyone and yet no one.
Fortunately, we have had individuals, companies, and groups form to step up to this challenge. The projects listed here are just a few of those that have seen these issues emerge in the Ethereum 2.0 Beacon Chain and are supporting the easy to understand verification process of decentralization transparency. Thankfully, there are champions to this cause that bear this responsibility as we continue to cruise towards the truth with supporters along the way.
If you would like to learn more about these projects, you can reach the here:
Ethereum Due Diligence Committee: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like to learn more about the infrastructure of the Beacon Chain and our parts in decentralization transparency, feel free to check us out at stake.fish!
stakefish is the leading validator for Proof of Stake blockchains. With support for 10+ networks, our mission is to secure and contribute to this exciting new ecosystem while enabling our users to stake with confidence. Because our nodes and our team are globally distributed, we are able to maintain 24-hour coverage.
 You can find a recording here https://risky.biz/netcasts/risky-business/risky-business-44-bugs-brain-part-two/ (relevant section starts at 20:30), but I found that there were literally not transcriptions online so I made one a while back just for provenance’s sake here: https://twitter.com/danhwang88/status/1346300351243292673