Bison Trails double-signing software

Bison Trails tries to ‘de-risk’ staking with double-signing protection software

In what is described as an industry first, the company wants to minimize penalties for customers running a node on a proof-of-stake network

The blockchain-as-an-infrastructure company Bison Trails has launched double-signing protection software that’s designed to “de-risk” participation in blockchain networks.

In an Aug. 20 news release, the platform said this technology has been in development for the best part of a year—and “addresses one of the most unaddressed problems” in the industry: slashing penalties costing a validator part of their stake if a message is double-signed for the same block.

While double signing can be malicious, it can also happen by accident—for example when a backup node is brought online too quickly when a primary node goes offline briefly. This can happen when a infrastructure provider too aggressively prioritizes avoiding node downtime—which leads to smaller slashing penalties as well as loss of participatory rewards

Double signing occurs when a validating entity uses its private key to submit “a valid signed message for the same block,” the company said. “The Bison Trails system prevents this by locking access to private keys and stopping backup nodes from pulling a private key if it’s already being used by another validating node.”

The CEO of Bison Trails, Joe Lallouz, said: “Double-signing protection is very hard, complicated, and not easily reproducible by boutique node operators and those running infrastructure themselves.

“Our double-signing protection software solves a huge problem for network participants and enables our company to provide stronger guarantees over time. This software innovation reduces the risk of running nodes on our platform and is a step forward for Bison Trails in offering innovative software controls to address one of the largest risks of participating in blockchains.”

According to the company, its double-signing protection software is an industry first. Customers participating in the Kusama and Tezos networks will gain access first, with Polkadot, Cosmos and Celo to follow.

A timely development

Bison Trails’ new feature comes ahead of the long-awaited (and delayed) launch of Ethereum 2.0. Over the space of a couple of years, the blockchain is going to switch from the energy-intensive Proof-of-Work consensus mechanism to Proof-of-Stake. This means that the blockchain will be secured by validators who stake 32 ETH and run a node. Participants will receive rewards for validating a new block but could end up losing their stake if they fail to act in the blockchain’s interest—regardless of whether it was accidental.

Last month, as reported by Modern Consensus, Bison Trails announced support for ETH 2.0. It unveiled a suite of enterprise products that will make it easier for users to stake ether, manage validators and interact with the “Beacon Chain”—otherwise known as “Phase 0” of the upcoming mainnet.

At the time, Lallouz said: “With millions of users, tens of thousands of dApps and companies, and billions of dollars of value involved with the protocol, the transition to ETH 2.0 will be no easy feat.”

He’s right—Ethereum 2.0 certainly isn’t proving to be a walk in the park. The Beacon Chain was meant to launch all the way back in January, but there’s no sign of it yet. Ten days after Bison Trails unveiled support for ETH 2.0, Ethereum Foundation researcher Justin Drake predicted that the “earliest practical date for genesis is something like Jan. 3, 2021”—Bitcoin’s 12th anniversary.

Drake added that there were several things he wanted to see before Phase 0 launched—namely a public testnet, an incentivized “attack net,” and a bug bounty program… all of which should have been running successfully for two to three months.

At the time, he wrote on Reddit: “All the above cannot happen in Q3 2020. With Thanksgiving on November 26 and the December holidays I’d say the latest practical opportunity for genesis in 2020 is mid-November.”

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Connor Sephton is a journalist with an interest in cryptocurrencies, personal finance, and financial inclusion—as well as the challenges the crypto industry faces in achieving mainstream adoption. He owns cryptocurrencies.