F2Pool co-founder responds to allegations it’s cheating the Ethereum POW system

Chun Wang, co-founder of F2Pool, has responded to claims that his mining pool was manipulating Ethereum block timestamps in order to “obtain consistently greater mining rewards.”

The claims were made in an Aug. 5 paper by researchers from The Hebrew University. They claim that the mining pool has engaged in a “consensus level” attack on Ethereum over two years to gain an advantage over honest miners.

Wang responded to this tweet by saying “we respect [consensus] as it is”, suggesting that deliberately exploiting the system’s rules does not necessarily mean that the rules have been violated.

We accept the consensus as it is. If you disagree with the consensus, please convince @TimBeiko that I send you another Announcement to change it. https://t.co/Lmw2INzOzg
Chun at 78degN, @satofishi August 8, 2022

The researchers published earlier this week what they claim is the first proof of an “consensus level attack” on Ethereum. In which miners like F2Pool can manipulate block timestamps to consistently receive higher mining rewards than mining “honestly”, the researchers claimed that the evidence was the first proof.

Aviv Yaish (cryptocurrency lecturer), Gilad Stern (software algorithm developer) and Aviv Zohar (computer scientist) wrote the research paper. It claimed that F2Pool, an Ethereum mining pool, had been using this timestamp manipulation technique.

“Although most mining pools produce relatively inconspicuous-looking blocks, F2Pool blatantly disregards the rules and uses false timestamps for its blocks,” said Yaish, adding that the mining pool has been executing the attack over the last two years.

Yaish presented evidence that Wang had also seen, and Wang appeared to admit to it. This suggests that Wang was aware of the intent behind the timestamp manipulation.

This is a beautiful implementation of the work we have done in the last two years. I was able to kill $TRC Terracoin in 2013 with a similar timestamp manipulation method by lowering the difficulty to almost zero. All types of tests must be passed before a system can be considered robust. https://t.co/z8pLdLtAU0
Chun at 78degN, @satofishi August 8, 2022

F2Pool, a geographically distributed pool that mines blocks on Bitcoin, Ethereum and Litecoin networks, is called F2Pool.

How the “attack” works

The researchers found that Ethereum’s current proof of work (POW) consensus laws contain a vulnerability that allows miners to set timestamps with a “certain degree” of freedom. This means that false timestamps could be created.

“For instance, a miner could start mining a block right now but set the blocks timestamp to be either 5 seconds in advance or 10 seconds in future. The block will be valid as long as it is within a reasonable bound according to Ethereum’s consensus laws.

These miners have the ability to create false timestamps, which gives them an advantage in “tie-breaking” situations. A miner can replace another miner’s blocks of the same height by setting the timestamp low enough that it increases the mining difficulty.

Related: Ethereum Merge – How will the PoS Transition impact the ETH ecosystem

Researchers also pointed out that the vulnerability could be fixed if Ethereum switches to proof-ofstake (POS), following the Merge scheduled for Sep. 19. This Merge uses a different set consensus rules.

“Moving Ethereum’s consensus mechanism from proof-of-stake to PoS is an obvious mitigation strategy that will resolve both this attack as well as any other PoW-related attacks.

Researchers added that other solutions might be simpler and more manageable. They include better fork-choosing rules for difficult adjustments, reliable timestamps or avoiding using timestamps altogether.

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