Cautionary Words from Vitalik Buterin: Avoid Overburdening the Ethereum Consensus
Vitalik Buterin, one of the creators of Ethereum, recently wrote a lengthy blog post expressing concerns about expanding Ethereum’s consensus beyond its primary functions of validating blocks and securing the network.
He emphasized that utilizing Ethereum’s network consensus for additional purposes could pose significant risks to the ecosystem and should be discouraged. Essentially, Buterin advocated for maintaining the blockchain’s minimalistic approach.
Buterin acknowledged that throughout the years, various suggestions and concepts have been proposed to utilize Ethereum’s social consensus for additional endeavors. These include utilizing it for price and data oracles, re-staking initiatives, and employing layer-1 soft forks to assist layer-2 projects in case of problems.
He pointed out that there is a natural inclination to expand the core functionality of the blockchain due to its significant economic influence and the large community overseeing it. However, he cautioned that each extension of the core functionality increases its vulnerability and fragility.
Buterin cautioned that certain techniques within this subset could introduce significant systemic risks to the Ethereum ecosystem, such as software bugs or deliberate 51% attacks.
One example of a high-risk scenario is the creation of ETH/USD price oracles, where holders or validators of ETH can be influenced through bribes to vote in a certain way. Disagreements in such cases may result in a situation where the money of the dissenting participants is “forked out.”
However, Buterin recognized the need for improved oracles and suggested taking a case-by-case approach since different problems within this domain are inherently distinct from one another.
In general, Buterin emphasized that expanding the responsibilities of Ethereum’s consensus mechanism increases the costs, complexities, and risks associated with being a validator.
He cautioned against application-layer projects that risk expanding the scope of blockchain consensus beyond verifying the core Ethereum protocol rules. Instead, he advocated for preserving the blockchain’s minimalistic approach, supporting re-staking methods that do not lead to an extended role for Ethereum’s consensus, and assisting developers in finding alternative strategies to enhance security.
It’s worth noting that Ethereum transitioned from a proof-of-work to a proof-of-stake consensus mechanism in September of the previous year.
Moreover, the ability to withdraw staked Ethereum was recently introduced with the Shapella upgrade on April 12.
These factors contribute to the increased scrutiny surrounding validator roles and the security risks associated with the world’s largest smart contract network.