Bitcoin technology marches onwards and upwards! Much has been written about a supposed lack of technology progression in the crypto space, although critics have tended to speak far too early in the development process. As long as there are researchers and patents to be had, technology will improve in every aspect of the crypto network and system. News today on the technical side of the network business is that researchers have developed “a newly-proposed relay protocol [that] could reduce the “transaction bandwidth” used up by bitcoin nodes by up to 75%”.
The new network software enhances the manner in which transactions are packaged and relayed between network nodes, thereby increasing the bandwidth and allowing the network to protect itself better from what are called “timing attacks”. Two notable Bitcoin designers, Greg Maxwell and Pieter Wuille, collaborated with Gleb Naumenko, a researcher at the University of British Columbia, to co-author the development.
The inventors have named their protocol “Erlay”, a neat twist on the word “relay”. The advance is a technical one, as explained by Naumenko: “The main idea is that instead of announcing every transaction to every peer, announcements are only sent directly over a small number of connections (only 8 outgoing ones). Further relay is achieved by periodically running a set reconciliation protocol over every connection between the sets of withheld announcements in both directions.”
The “results” represent a breakthrough of sorts. Per Naumenko: “We save half of the bandwidth a node consumes, allow increasing connectivity almost for free, and, as a side effect, better withstand timing attacks. If outbound peer count were increased to 32, Erlay saves around 75% overall bandwidth compared to the current protocol.”
In order to understand how hackers have targeted various nodes on the network, one has to get under the hood with Naumenko and listen to how an attack can be mounted: “The most trivial example is an Eclipse attack, when a target node gets isolated from the longest chain, because all its connections are established with an attacker. In this case, an attacker, for example, can make a target node believe that they paid that target node (show shorter chain with that [transaction] in), without actually submitting transactions to the longest chain.” If this example is “trivial”, we hope that Erlay addresses the more difficult ones, as well.
Integrating a new protocol in the core Bitcoin network is not a simple task. More testing is obviously necessary to convince all the players with voting rights that they stand to win down the road with a more efficient and secure operating system. The developers claim that initial conversations with the powers that be have been positive. People intuitively need more time to evaluate the software and get familiar with how it works, before the authors attempt to get full agreement from the Bitcoin Core participant group.
Preliminary testing has been, as noted above, encouraging, and the Bitcoin Core community appears to like what they see. According to Naumenko once more: “We received positive signals from the community, which encourages us to continue working on the implementation. The protocol should become part of one of the future major releases (hopefully, the next one).”