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The Least Bad Option

As a DAO token holder, when I first heard that the DAO had been hacked I thought all the money was permanently gone. That was a bad feeling I felt not just for myself, but for the entire Ethereum community and the hope and promise of The DAO.
When I heard there was a time lock, and soft and hard fork options to fix the problem, the pendulum swung the other way and I once again became overly confident in the tech, and falsely concluded there would be a painless 'fix.' However, thanks to the good work of Emin Gun Sirer, I realized just how many unexplored issues there actually were – technical, legal, social, governanace related, etc. I have posted his thoughts from his NY Meetup PPT below, and would encourage everyone to take a quick look them.
We were talking about this in our Portland Ethereum meetup, and let's face it, mistakes were made by Slock.it, AND Solidity was not tested enough and ready for roll out, and we all made a mistake rushing ahead. We are all responsible for this mess. We all need to realize there are no good options here. But, if we can work together to find a distributed solution where we all share some of the pain, and come to an agreement collectively, that would be the least bad option.
I first was attracted to the soft fork, but the more I learned about it, I realized it was temporary, would take extraordinary measures and cooperation from miners, which is not their original agreement and not what they signed up to do, and then it would only lock up the tokens, not recover them. Then the hacker joined the white hat draining of the DAO, which suddenly seemed like an endless loop, until we would further have to select white hats who would be allowed to transfer the tokens but nobody else would. It seemed to be a rabbit hole that became more temporary, and more convoluted, requiring an increasing number of actions that violated our core principles the further we pursued it. All of this is bad for the Ethereum Foundation and the future of the Ethereum. The idea of the soft fork quickly appeared a good temporary but bad intermediate and horrible long run option.
I then felt that a hard fork was the only solution, but honestly that was strongly influenced by the idea that a hacker stealing $50m is bad short run, and it's bad long run, so the worst option.
I have been involved with Ethereum for about a year, and must admit I did not come from the Bitcoin community, but from the currency mechanics and payments community, and was originally intrigued only by what might be possible using smart contracts, so that’s what I want to protect, and the real long run value for me. When I spoke with my technical friends who had come from the Bitcoin community, they really, really did not like the hard fork, and felt it would be better to let the hacker walk. I listened to them carefully, and changed my mind.
I also realized that for most people in our community, either hard forking or letting the hacker walk was the worst option, with the other being the second worst option, and soft fork being the third worst option.
From game theory and life, I have learned the longer this goes on, and the closer it gets to the time lock expiring, the higher probability for additional unexpected bad outcomes, unforeseen forks in the road, which I am sure the hacker is working furiously on. The quicker this is resolved, the better for everyone, maybe even the hacker. The soft fork should not lull us into complacency, but be a temporary measure of days and weeks, not longer.
Ultimately, I realized the least bad option is to setup a binary outcome, where we agree to either pay a bounty to the hacker by a specific date, or if he is unreasonable, then go ahead and implement a hard fork. If it doesn't work, at least we tried, and I think the effort will count for something in the long run.
As long as this decision happens before the time lock expires, the hacker knows a hard fork has been agreed to and is definitely coming, and the decision date is firm, the hacker's best outcome is to accept the bounty in exchange for releasing the rest of the ETH. Maybe the hacker would prefer to force the community into a hard fork due to antisocial or anti-Ethereum motives, but money is a powerful motivator. I know, people will not like negotiating or appeasing a hacker, but if we take responsibility collectively for this problem, our problem, that we all created, then this is the least bad solution, for the following reasons:
  1. It avoids the worst (or second worst) option of a hard fork.
  2. It avoids the second worst (or worst) option of the hacker walking away with $50m ETH.
  3. It makes everyone pay a price, so avoids in some measure the moral dilemma problem.
  4. It's the only negotiated solution, which can’t be understated how valuable and important that could be for our leaderless community.
  5. It protects the Ethereum foundation and the miners from having to violate core principles to save slock.it's bad coding, or from being tempted to collude with the hacker.
  6. Paying for bounties is part of the software ecosystem, and although the number is big in real terms, it's still just a number.
  7. It solves the problem quickly, and as cleanly as possible. Again, there are no good options.
The key to negotiating is not focusing on what the hacker gets, which in this case will just make you frustrated and angry, but rather focus on what the community gets, the least bad option that maybe prevents the community from splitting into two camps. That alone is maybe the most important thing to me personally, and to others I know. Ethereum is still young, and as a community we have important challenges ahead; let’s put this behind us with minimal damage ASAP. That’s what taking responsibility collectively in practice really means.
If you agree, then we simply need to set a price. I think I read someone else had proposed 5%, which is a relatively painless learning lesson for each of us individually, but a sizable and potentially life changing bounty for the hacker(s). Remember, it won't work unless the incentive to play nice is substantial.
We have all had time to think about this and mull over the options, but now we need to find the will to come together and create a solution, the least bad solution. I say pay the bounty in exchange for returning the DAO tokens, kill the DAO 1.0, and be done with it.
What say you?
Gaming the DAO Emin Gün Sirer Department of Computer Science Cornell University Posted with permission. Thx Emin!
DACs • Decentralized Autonomous Corporations/Orgs are incredibly powerful and promising • A computer program, with its own code and state, that can programmatically manage money flows • The entire behavior of the program is pre-ordained • Brand new era, with brand new functionality
DAO Promise • Automate and eliminate the middlemen • Achieve far higher efficiencies o A hedge fund with 0% overhead? • Self-policing and/or self-arbitrating o Can’t eliminate the legal system, but can handle simple cases • Bring complete transparency to the operation of a company or trust o Insurance o Finance • Killer apps are yet to come...
DAO Unknowns Is it actually possible to build secure, functional smart-contracts? • What about the fine print you see on regular contracts? • What’s in the fine print? • How to form the contract covenant The spirit of the agreement How to resolve disputes • How to modify the contract • How to terminate The DAO, as we will see, messed up almost all of these
Enter The DAO • Usurped the phrase “The DAO” for a specific investment fund • Part kickstarter, part Andreesen-Horowitz o Built by Slock.It, a company originally intended to kickstart an IoT bike lock, but built a kickstarter instead • How it is supposed to work o We all buy into The DAO with ether o The DAO amasses a fund o Contractors come before The DAO with proposals o We all vote on the proposals o If we achieve a quorum, and there is support, proposals get funded o Proposals then return rewards, distributed back out
The DAO Complications • Buying in • Voting • Exiting • Modifying the Contract • Payouts
The DAO Buy-In • 27-day creation phase • Buy in with ether o 1.00 ether for 100 DAO Tokens for 14 days o +0.05 ether every day for 10 days o 1.50 ether for the last 3 days • Additional gains accumulate in “extraBalance” • Why is there a rising scale? • Do “viral features” have any place in sound investments?
The DAO Proposals • Anyone can submit a proposal • Curators pick proposals o Requires a 5 out of 11 signature o 11 members of the Ethereum community, unrelated to SlockIt • The curators’ job description is unclear o Is it to just check identity? o Is it to “protect the DAO”? o The curators are not paid, but they are under substantial legal risk The Voting • Any DAO token holder can vote on a proposal • A proposal is funded if o There is a quorum (sufficient votes) o The majority of the quorum is in favor (voted YES) • Required quorum sizes vary by size of contract o Largest required quorum is 53% • Votes are weighted by a voter’s holdings • But a voter commits The DAO funds (i.e other people’s money) to proposals • Someone who voted cannot exit The DAO
The Exit • Cannot just take money out of The DAO o Why? Because of viral/social reasons • To exit, you need to follow a 62-step process: o Initiate a proposal to make yourself a curator o Anyone can vote YES or NO on this proposal o It will likely fail o You can call splitDAO on a failed proposal o A new child-DAO will be created where you are the curator o You can now propose to withdraw funds, approve it as curator, vote on it, and then take the ether back out • Takes 27+7 days • Takes 27 + 7 days
Upgrades and Rewards • There is no provision to modify The DAO in place o o No kill switch o No security upgrades o Cannot preserve the full state and change code • The extraBalances can only be spent after The DAO has spent an equivalent amount on proposals • Unclear about the intended behavior with regard to • rewards o Inherited into childDAO’s, but not into grandchildren
The DAO Token Markets • DAO tokens can be bought and sold on open markets • Their price will reflect the expected value of future ether flows • Until The DAO funds a proposal, 1 token = 0.01 eth • But in USD terms, the price will fluctuate • The price difference will reflect the uncertainty in the • value of 1 eth, 34 days from now o o E.g. 1 eth = $15 o But 1 dao = $13 • This is a normal consequence of decisions in DAO design
Taking Stock • Why was The DAO designed the way it was? o To avoid legal meddling? o To help fund illegal operations? o To create Ponzis? o “Sunny-day thinking” • Aspirational system design • Does The DAO idea even make sense?
The Questions • Are the crowds even able to pick winning strategies? o Do fund managers really bring 0 value to the world? • Will we ever reach the quorums required? o Most token holders are passive o The risks of “going with the crowd” without voting • Are the mechanisms in The DAO suited for the tasks that need to be carried out?
The Questions • Are the crowds even able to pick winning strategies? o Do fund managers really bring 0 value to the world? • Will we ever reach the quorums required? o Most token holders are passive o The risks of “going with the crowd” without voting • Are the mechanisms in The DAO suited for the tasks that need to be carried out? NO!
The Call for a Moratorium • My colleagues and I were alarmed that The DAO managed to collect 11M eth, $220M USD • The internal mechanisms were broken • We rushed a manuscript that detailed the failures, called for a moratorium • The DAO community was convinced and wanted to upgrade The DAO
The Hack • While we were in a holding pattern, someone emptied out a substantial fraction of The DAO • The hacker took $50+M worth of ether into a child-DAO called the Dark-DAO • Hacker took advantage of multiple attack vectors o A reentrancy bug in the DAO code o Additional tricks to avoid getting his balance reset o He also voted YES on every other split proposal, to reserve the right to pursue everyone who wanted to split • Hide your kids, hide your pets, there is no safe place
The Hack Technicalities
What If The DAO Had Not Been Hacked • It still would have been hacked • It was and is deeply broken • The design of voting mechanisms that capture the will of the crowds is a difficult nuanced task • Everybody on the Internet is an expert at three things: o Economics o Game theory o Distributed Systems • The DAO team, and others like it, full of hubris and the Dunning-Kruger effect, are easy targets
Guiding Principle • DAO-1.0 is irredeemably broken, but let’s examine how one might build DAO-2.0 in light of what we have learned • The DAO voting mechanisms have to be truthful and strategy-proof o Truthful: token holders vote their true opinion o Strategy-proof: token holders fare best by voting their true opinion • The current mechanisms are broken in multiple ways
Affirmative Bias • Every voter has a unique valuation for every proposal o o “Prop #37 will bring in 3% yearly over 3 years” o “Prop #37 will be a net loss, that team can’t pull it off” o “Prop #37 will take us to the moon!” • Ideally, you want everyone to vote their conscience o Positive Expected Value: +EV o Negative Expected Value: -EV • +EV folks are incentivized to vote early • Not so for -EV!!! o Negative votes lock people in • Early votes will be positive, feedback loops work against -EV folks
Stalking • A stalker can vote YES on a split proposal and follow a splitter into the child-DAO • Stalker is not going to be the curator, but he can be the dominant (53%) shareholder in the child • Stalker can keep the splitter from taking out his funds • Stalker can then blackmail the splitter • If the splitter splits again, he loses his rewards from the original DAO • SlockIt claimed that the splitter could counterattack, but do you want to play corewars?
Ambush • A -EV voter has a disincentive to vote, especially if his vote is not needed • So a big bloc of YES votes can come in at the last possible minute to pass a proposal that initially looked unpassable • This commits other people’s funds to a proposal, even though large fraction is against that proposal • Possible remedy: add time to the clock when the vote outcome changes
Token Raid • An attacker can move the price of DAO tokens by o Incentivize people not to split but to sell their tokens o Keep the public from snapping up tokens • She can do this by o Creating social media panic, via stalker attack o Passing a -EV proposal, via ambush attack • The price of tokens will drop, she can short on the way down, and snap up when the attack is over • This is a legitimate manipulation strategy, often seen with penny stocks, except the mechanisms make it easy
extraBalance Raid • Attacker forces people to split from The DAO, which leaves behind the extraBalance amount • Currently at 275,000 ether • DAO tokens should trade at 1.02 • If the attacker scares away 95% of investors, DAO will trade at 2.00
Majority Takeover • SlockIt identified and worried about a majority takeover • A voting bloc of 53+% can fund 100% to a 1 proposal • Curators are expected to guard against this o This scenario is specifically cited • But a voting bloc of 53+% can fund 10 proposals of 10% • No principled way to even define the attack, let alone defend against it o DAO defenseless against Soros-style attacks
Reward Dilution • The DAO issues reward tokens as proposals pay back into the DAO • Akin to dividends • But the reward token math does not follow any accounting principle • In particular, reward tokens can be diluted even after someone has split off from the DAO
Risk-Free Voting • One of the many “race conditions” • Investor votes YES on a proposal, committing funds • Then invokes “unblockMe” before the proposal is executed, and splits off • This allows her to commit the DAO to a proposal without committing her own funds • An attack amplification vector
Concurrent Proposal Trap • Voting on any proposal commits the voter until the end of the voting period • Attacker poses a proposal o We have seen “do you believe in God?” for 0 ether • Everyone who votes is banned from splitting until the end of the voting period • Attack amplification vector: push an incendiary proposal with a long voting period, then launch short-fuse attack
Independence Assumption • All of the discussion until now assumes that all proposals are independent • Yet in real life, proposals are linked o Funding a cluster of proposals might yield much higher returns than funding them individually • Not an attack, but undesirable • This can yield strategic behavior (i.e. people voting down worthy proposals) even when everyone means well
What Have We Learned • The DAO is a fantastic experiment • The experiment has been a huge success • Enormous demand for smart contracts • The Ethereum core has some (well-contained) issues that need to be fixed o The design of a secure smart-contract language is very different from the design of a web-programming language • The DAO is a hot mess
Methodological Issues • Why was The DAO designed the way it was? o To avoid legal meddling? o To help fund illegal operations? o To create Ponzis? • Carefully thought-out viral features • Common behaviors were purposefully made difficult • “Sunny-day thinking,” aspirational ideas about best case behaviors • Irresponsible design, no safety mechanisms • Flawed methodology
Takeaways • Can we build a $1.2B ecosystem, while spending $0 on basic research and science of smart contracts? • How do we build and vet trustworthy smart contracts?
IC3, Initiative on Cryptocurrencies and Smart Contracts http://initc3.org
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