Fixing cross-chain bridges with confidential computing

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From time to time we hear {that a} cross-chain bridge has been hacked. In 2022 alone, six bridges have been hacked, and greater than $1.2 Billion price of crypto property have been stolen.

What are cross-chain bridges? What objective do they serve? And why are they such outstanding honeypots? Can Confidential Computing be used to enhance the safety of cross-chain bridges?  

Cross-chain bridges assist in transferring crypto property from one blockchain to a different. Attention-grabbing circumstances are popularizing them. For one: Older blockchains which have survived over time find yourself having extra beneficial property. However older blockchains are sometimes gradual, have low throughputs and provide greater transaction charges. On the flip aspect, newer blockchains or sidechains could be quick, have excessive throughput and the transaction charges could also be extraordinarily low. Cross-chain bridges make it simple to maneuver widespread property from older blockchains onto newer blockchains and sidechains the place they could be transacted extra effectively.  

Allow us to perceive how a cross-chain bridge works. A crypto asset is locked in a vault sensible contract on the supply blockchain, and a illustration of that asset is minted within the peg sensible contract on the vacation spot blockchain. A set of entities which are generally known as “guardians” are chargeable for monitoring the vault sensible contract on the supply chain for brand new deposits and for creating their representations within the peg sensible contract on the vacation spot blockchain.


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Conversely, when the representations are destroyed within the peg sensible contract, these guardians are chargeable for releasing an equal quantity of tokens held within the vault sensible contract on the supply chain.  

Determine 2: A schematic displaying how cross-chain bridges work. 

It’s simple to see that an attacker can both assault the vault sensible contract, the peg sensible contract or the guardians. Typically, vulnerabilities are present in sensible contracts. For instance, the newest hack on bridge supplier Nomad resulted within the lack of almost $200 million, exploiting vulnerabilities within the sensible contract logic on the supply blockchain. These have been launched throughout a sensible contracts improve course of. The assault on Axie Infinity’s Ronin bridge led to a lack of $625 million; the assault on Horizon Bridge operated by California-based agency Concord led to the lack of $100 million. Each of these assaults concerned compromising the keys held by guardians.  

Determine 3: Tweets by Concord founder Stephen Tse describing that personal keys have been certainly compromised. He additionally describes the system used to retailer personal keys. This stage of safety just isn’t ample. 

Concord didn’t use knowledge in-use encryption. It’s fairly doable that the personal keys have been misplaced following a reminiscence dump assault. It’s irrelevant if the keys have been doubly encrypted when at relaxation. When these keys are getting used, they’re dropped at the primary reminiscence. If the reminiscence of the method utilizing the hot button is dumped, the personal key could be extracted.  

Determine 4: Enterprise-grade Confidential Computing

Enterprise-grade Confidential Computing

Confidential Computing is a know-how that helps knowledge in-use encryption. Easy reminiscence dump assaults don’t work when utilizing Confidential Computing applied sciences similar to Intel SGX. It is usually doable to lift the bar and create an enterprise-grade Confidential Computing platform. This includes supporting cluster mode operations, excessive availability, catastrophe restoration, acquiring quite a lot of safety certifications, and encasing nodes with tamper-resistant {hardware} to forestall side-channel assaults. Enterprise-grade Confidential Computing platforms additionally help quorum approvals for utilizing saved keys. A number of approvers might be required for signing transactions with every key.  

On condition that cross-chain bridges retailer remarkably excessive sums of cryptocurrencies, enterprise-grade Confidential Computing platforms ought to be utilized by guardians for producing, storing and utilizing keys.  

However it’s also laborious for a bridge guardian to utterly belief an enterprise-grade Confidential Computing platform. What if the platform operator denies service for some cause? Producing keys that don’t rely upon a user-provided seed could be harmful. A DOS assault might result in the funds being completely locked.

One resolution is to personal the platform and to deploy it your self in datacenters of your alternative. The opposite resolution is to make the platform generate a key after which make it generate elements of the important thing utilizing a threshold secret sharing scheme. The shares could be encrypted with public keys supplied by the bridge guardians. This fashion, if a threshold variety of guardians can mix their shares, the important thing could be re-generated even when there’s a DOS assault by the supplier of the enterprise-grade Confidential Computing platform.  

Bridge guardians have to rethink how they’re managing their keys. We’ve got seen too many assaults that might have been averted with higher key administration practices. Retaining keys on-line and sustaining them securely is a tricky job.

Fortunately, enterprise-grade Confidential Computing can go a good distance in bettering the safety of bridge guardian keys. 

Pralhad Deshpande, Ph.D. is senior options architect at Fortanix.


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