Protocol Labs Research
2020.10.21 / Conference paper
Winkle: foiling long-range attacks in proof-of-stake systems
AFT '20: 2nd ACM Conference on Advances in Financial Technologies / 2020.10.21 / New York, NY, USA
Sarah Azouvi , George Danezis, Valeria Nikolaenko


Winkle protects any validator-based byzantine fault tolerant consensus mechanisms, such as those used in modern Proof-of-Stake blockchains, against long-range attacks where old validators’ signature keys get compromised. Winkle is a decentralized secondary layer of client-based validation, where a client includes a single additional field into a transaction that they sign: a hash of the previously sequenced block. The block that gets a threshold of signatures (confirmations) weighted by clients’ coins is called a “confirmed” checkpoint. We show that under plausible and flexible security assumptions about clients the confirmed checkpoints can not be equivocated. We discuss how client key rotation increases security, how to accommodate for coins’ minting and how delegation allows for faster checkpoints. We evaluate checkpoint latency experimentally using Bitcoin and Ethereum transaction graphs, with and without delegation of stake.