ZmnSCPxj » Activity » 2019-12-19 Weekly Log

2019-12-12 to 2019-12-19

This is a weekly log of my activity, as agreed with Steve Lee.

This is somewhat freeform, perhaps I will organize somewhat at some point in the future.

Grant Announcement

Grant announcement last week had a number of well-wishers congratuliating me, so let me again thank them and Square Crypto and Steve Lee. In addition, some people started asking some questions regarding various technical topics as well. I replied to a number of them, but such questions have since tapered off.

Bank Troubles

Part of the grant funds is allocated for purchasing hardware on which I can finally run a Bitcoin and Lightning node. Purchasing that hardware requires some cross-country monetary transfer.

As it happens, there seem to be Troubles With the Banking System occurring in the locale my selected human puppet resides, which make it difficult to actually perform the monetary transfer, referring to such things as the Anti-Money Laundering Association being strict. At least part of my time was wasted in micromanaging the human puppet around the mess involved here.

Of course, Bitcoin Fixes This (and the merchant I am purchasing from has offerred to use Bitcoin), but this is a nice experience to show This is Why We Bitcoin.

Previously when I purchased hardware of a different type, I used Bitcoin, and had a straightforward paying experience, so it looks like I will have to arrange a Bitcoin payment method for this purchase as well.

Rust Studying

I need to study Rust so I can start being more useful with the defiads and rust-lightning projects.

I am currently going through the Rust Programming Language book. Hopefully, I will be able to usefully program in Rust sometime soon.

A note is that Rust has apparently changed rather quickly (which I suppose is expected for a new language with significant work behind it), and that Rust packages on distributions that have a slow update stream are much too old for the tutorial, thus I installed Rust “directly” from their site rather than from the distribution.

Path Privacy on Lightning

In SLP134 Rusty mentions in passing regarding a “random walk” to improve path privacy on Lightning. Further, 1 or more other individuals have suggested that I focus on path privacy rather than pathfinding algorithm speedups.

I would like to point out that C-Lightning already implemented route randomization almost 2 years ago, in two different commits, care of yours truly. Thus, C-Lightning already uses a sort of random walk, though the details of the algorithm currently implemented is different from what Rusty is thinking of (as described to me directly in a private email).

Or rather C-Lightning pay used to use a sort of random walk. Early in 2019 the pay command was moved to a plugin. The plugin was a complete rewrite of the pay command implementation I did, and it severely weakens the random walk that I implemented before — it always uses a fixed 5% for the fuzz. This is not a very efective fuzzing (it does not fuzz by much, and also is vulnerable to a random fuzz accidentally giving a too-expensive path, making payment fail even if some alternate path existed with cost below maxfeepercent). For reference, the original implementation for route randomization started at 75% for the fuzz, then slowly reduced it in case returned routes were too expensive.

The rewrite also removed value randomization, though nobody seems to be interested in that anyway.

The original intent was that maxfeepercent would limit how much C-Lightning would devote to fees for the path, including that caused by route randomization. So this would be used as a proxy by the user for how much they would be willing to pay for improved payment privacy.

I think the next step would be for me to rewrite this implementation in the new pay plugin, then later we can evaluate the Rusty algorithm (which I would like to note has some similiarities to getroutequick, so I might as well fold it into that algorithm). I think it should start with a fuzz of 99% rather than 75%, and it seems to me that a similar parameter could be provided by the Rusty algorithm, so the same logic in pay should still work when we switch to getrandomwalk (or probably getroutequick since it can be subsumed into that algorithm).

Of note is that we should special-case payments to direct peers. Rather than randomizing those paths, we should just always use the direct path as long as it has the required capacity. This is because by using the direct channel, we never tell anybody else about the payment, it is only between payer and payee, this is a massive privacy boost. The payee needs to know the payment anyway, and probably knows a lot more information (where the payer lives, for example) about the payer anyway. This special case should only be if we are not using a routehint, i.e. the payee itself should not be using an unpublished channel to some tr*sted server, our own node must have a direct channel to the final payee.

Against Unpublished Channels

A common recommendation nowadays is to prefer using an unpublished channel. I have pointed out elsewhere that unpublished channels do not give improved privacy (and the common appellation “private channel” is a very bad misnomer).

Indeed, this paper strongly recommends the splitting of nodes into two classes, users and servers, and recommends the use of unpublished channels for users. This is very bad for privacy and is not in fact a privacy boost (though the other insights of the paper are quite useful; it simply mis-analyzes this case).

The proposed split between users and servers mean that the server directly connected to a user knows definitely and exactly when that user receives and sends every payment. Granted, other users and servers have far less information about the ultimate sender/receiver of the payment, since those nodes are no longer visible to them. But the server that has that user knows every use of that channel, and that is a very precise information.

Such servers which interface with large numbers of unpublished-channel-only users become targets. In fact, this misdesign works directly against the Risk-Sharing Principle. Now only those servers have to be hacked, and the hackers can now get accurate and precise information about when this user received and sent a payment, and how much. Thus risk is much higher for such servers than for other parts of the network.

If instead there were no separate classes of servers and users, and all channels were published, then risk is shared across all nodes. No particular nodes have accurate views of when particular nodes sent or received payments, and a hacker would need to aggregate information from almost all nodes in order to get such accurate views. The entire intent of Risk-Sharing Principle is that it is easier to make the information you want to protect be spread out across multiple nodes who each accept some low level of risk, than to paint targets on a select few users who protect the privacy of everyone else.

The separation of server and user classes is intended to provide endpoint uncertainty, since the users are not publicly known (though they are intimiately known by the servers directly connected to them). A better way to provide endpoint uncertainty is the Shadow Routes feature that C-Lightning currently already has. Briefly, Shadow Routes simply mean that C-Lightning virtually appends a short route of 0 to 3 nodes after the payee, and extends the CLTV timelock of all nodes in the actual route by that amount. The Shadow Route is never actually added to the actual route, only their CLTV-deltas are, the route still terminates at the payee. The CLTV timelock is currently a strong indication to each forwarding node about how close the ultimate payee is to that forwarding node, thus the presence of a Shadow Route improves uncertainty of the payee end.

Uncertainty of the payer end is not needed since onion route entries never refer to the payer, only to the payee, and thus forwarding nodes already currently receive no information (i.e. payers already currently have information-theoretic privacy). Thus, the separation of servers and users, which implies that servers now know exactly when a user directly connected to them makes an outgoing payment (i.e. the user is the payer is now known, because use of that unpublished channel cannot have been initiated by anybody else) is a strict privacy loss relative to the situation where all channels are published.

Unpublished channels delenda est!

Path Privacy Requires Pathfinding Optimization

A reason for encouraging unpublished channels is that reducing the number of nodes in the routemap leads to real improvements in the speed of pathfinding.

Indeed, the current abysmal pathfinding speeds has, to my mind, lead to the following privacy-losing optimization attempts:

On the other hand, the other pathfinding algorithm improvements I have proposed — getroutequick, permuteroute — are not as privacy-losing.

The known slowness of pathfinding lead to previous pathfinding optimizations, most notably the encouragement of unpublished channels, that give bad privacy.