[Bitcoin-development] Setting the record straight on Proof-of-Publication

odinn odinn.cyberguerrilla at riseup.net
Fri Dec 12 13:41:34 UTC 2014

Hash: SHA512

Peter... It kind of sounds to me that (as fine of a position paper as
this is) on _certain_ points, you're falling prey to the "but it's
inefficient, but it's a scamcoin, but luke-jr told me so" argument...

I think the Mastercoin devs are doing fine work and I consider the
zerocash devs to have developed (in v2, mint and pour) to have
developed something that will really turn the world on its ear, but
what do I know? Nothing.  Nothing at all.


Peter Todd:
> Introduction ============
> While not a new concept proof-of-publication is receiving a
> significant amount of attention right now both as an idea, with
> regard to the embedded consensus systems that make use of it, and
> in regard to the sidechains model proposed by Blockstream that
> rejects it. Here we give a clear definition of proof-of-publication
> and its weaker predecessor timestamping, describe some usecases for
> it, and finally dispel some of the common myths about it.
> What is timestamping? =====================
> A cryptographic timestamp proves that message m existed prior to
> some time t.
> This is the cryptographic equivalent of mailing yourself a
> patentable idea in a sealed envelope to establish the date at which
> the idea existed on paper.
> Traditionally this has been done with one or more trusted third
> parties who attest to the fact that they saw m prior to the time t.
> More recently blockchains have been used for this purpose,
> particularly the Bitcoin blockchain, as block headers include a
> block time which is verified by the consensus algorithm.
> What is proof-of-publication? =============================
> Proof-of-publication is what solves the double-spend problem.
> Cryptographic proof-of-publication actually refers to a few
> closely related proofs, and practical uses of it will generally
> make use of more than one proof.
> Proof-of-receipt ----------------
> Prove that every member p in of audience P has received message m.
> A real world analogy is a legal notice being published in a major 
> newspaper - we can assume any subscriber received the message and
> had a chance to read it.
> Proof-of-non-publication ------------------------
> Prove that message m has *not* been published. Extending the above
> real world analogy the court can easily determine that a legal
> notice was not published when it should have been by examining
> newspaper archives. (or equally, *because* the notice had not been
> published, some action a litigant had taken was permissable)
> Proof-of-membership -------------------
> A proof-of-non-publication isn't very useful if you can't prove
> that some member q is in the audience P. In particular, if you are
> to evaluate a proof-of-membership, q is yourself, and you want
> assurance you are in that audience. In the case of our newspaper
> analogy because we know what today's date is, and we trust the
> newspaper never to publish two different editions with the same
> date we can be certain we have searched all possible issues where
> the legal notice may have been published.
> Real-world proof-of-publication: The Torrens Title System 
> ---------------------------------------------------------
> Land titles are a real-world example, dating back centuries, with 
> remarkable simularities to the Bitcoin blockchain. Prior to the
> torrens system land was transferred between owners through a chain
> of valid title deeds going back to some "genesis" event
> establishing rightful ownership independently of prior history. As
> with the blockchain the title deed system has two main problems:
> establishing that each title deed in the chain is valid in
> isolation, and establishing that no other valid title deeds exist.
> While the analogy isn't exact - establishing the validity of title
> deeds isn't as crisp a process as simple checking a cryptographic
> signature - these two basic problems are closely related to the
> actions of checking a transaction's signatures in isolation, and 
> ensuring it hasn't been double-spent.
> To solve these problems the Torrens title system was developed,
> first in Australia and later Canada, to establish a singular
> central registry of deeds, or property transfers. Simplifying a bit
> we can say inclusion - publication - in the official registery is a
> necessary pre-condition to a given property transfer being valid.
> Multiple competing transfers are made obvious, and the true valid
> transfer can be determined by whichever transfer happened first.
> Similarly in places where the Torrens title system has not been
> adopted, almost always a small number of title insurance providers
> have taken on the same role. The title insurance provider maintains
> a database of all known title deeds, and in practice if a given
> title deed isn't published in the database it's not considered
> valid.
> Common myths ============
> Proof-of-publication is the same as timestamping 
> ------------------------------------------------
> No. Timestamping is a significantly weaker primitive than 
> proof-of-publication. This myth seems to persist because
> unfortunately many members of the Bitcoin development and theory
> community - and even members of the Blockstream project - have
> frequently used the term "timestamping" for applications that need
> proof-of-publication.
> Publication means publishing meaningful data to the whole world 
> ---------------------------------------------------------------
> No. The data to be published can often be an otherwise meaningless 
> nonce, indistinguishable from any other random value. (e.g. an ECC 
> pubkey)
> For example colored coins can be implemented by committing the hash
> of the map of colored inputs to outputs inside a transaction. These
> maps can be passed from payee to payor to prove that a given output
> is colored with a set of recursive proofs, as is done in the
> author's Smartcolors library. The commitment itself can be a simple
> hash, or even a pay-to-contract style derived pubkey.
> A second example is Zerocash, which depends on global consensus of
> a set of revealed serial numbers. As this set can include
> "false-positives" - false revealed serial numbers that do not
> actually correspond to a real Zerocash transaction - the blockchain
> itself can be that set. The Zerocash transactions themselves - and
> associated proofs - can then be passed around via a p2p network
> separate from the blockchain itself. Each Zerocash Pour proof then
> simply needs to specify what set of priorly evaluated proofs makes
> up its particular commitment merkle tree and the proofs are then
> evaluated against that proof-specific tree. (in practice likely
> some kind of DAG-like structure) (note that there is a sybil attack
> risk here: a sybil attack reduces your k-anonymity set by the
> number of transactions you were prevented from seeing; a weaker 
> proof-of-publication mechanism may be appropriate to prevent that
> sybil attack).
> The published data may also not be meaningful because it is
> encrypted. Only a small community may need to come to consensus
> about it; everyone else can ignore it. For instance
> proof-of-publication for decentralized asset exchange is an
> application where you need publication to be timely, however the
> audience may still be small. That audience can share an encryption
> key.
> Proof-of-publication is always easy to censor 
> ---------------------------------------------
> No, with some precautions. This myth is closely related to the
> above idea that the data must be globally meaningful to be useful.
> The colored coin and Zerocash examples above are cases where
> censoring the publication is obviously impossible as it can be made
> prior to giving anyone at all sufficient info to determine if the
> publicaiton has been made; the data itself is just nonces.
> In the case of encrypted data the encryption key can also often be 
> revealed well after the publication has been made. For instance in
> a Certificate Transparency scheme the certificate authority (CA)
> may use proof-of-publication to prove that a certificate was in a
> set of certificates. If that set of certificates is hashed into a
> merkelized binary prefix tree indexed by domain name the correct
> certificate for a given domain name - or lack thereof - is easily
> proven. Changes to that set can be published on the blockchain by
> publishing successive prefix tree commitments.
> If these commitments are encrypted, each commitment C_i can also
> commit to the encryption key to be used for C_{i+1}. That key need
> not be revealed until the commitment is published; validitity is
> assured as every client knows that only one C_{i+1} is possible, so
> any malfeasance is guaranteed to be revealed when C_{i+2} is
> published.
> Secondly the published data can be timelock encrypted with
> timelocks that take more than the average block interval to
> decrypt. This puts would-be censoring miners into a position of
> either delaying all transactions, or accepting that they will end
> up mining publication proofs. The only way to circumvent this is
> highly restrictive whitelisting.
> Proof-of-publication is easier to censor than (merge)-mined
> sidechains 
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
>  False under all circumstances. Even if the publications use no 
> anti-censorship techniques to succesfully censor a
> proof-of-publication system at least 51% of the total hashing power
> must decide to censor it, and they must do so by attacking the
> other 49% of hashing power - specifically rejecting their blocks.
> This is true no matter how "niche" the proof-of-publication system
> is - whether it is used by two people or two million people it has
> the same security.
> On the other hand a (merge)-mined sidechain with x% of the total
> hashing power supporting it can be attacked at by anyone with >x%
> hashing power. In the case of a merge-mined sidechain this cost
> will often be near zero - only by providing miners with a
> significant and ongoing reward can the marginal cost be made high.
> In the case of sidechains with niche audiences this is particularly
> true - sidechain advocates have often advocated that sidechains be
> initially protected by centralized checkpoints until they become
> popular enough to begin to be secure.
> Secondly sidechains can't make use of anti-censorship techniques
> the way proof-of-publication systems can: they inherently must be
> public for miners to be able to mine them in a decentralized
> fashion. Of course, users of them may use anti-censorship
> techniques, but that leads to a simple security-vs-cost tradeoff
> between using the Bitcoin blockchain and a sidechain. (note the
> simularity to the author's treechains proposal!)
> Proof-of-publication can be made expensive 
> ------------------------------------------
> True, in some cases! By tightly constraining the Bitcoin scripting 
> system the available bytes for stenographic embedment can be
> reduced. For instance P2SH^2 requires an brute force exponentially
> increasing amount of hashes-per-byte-per-pushdata. However this is
> still ineffective against publishing hashes, and to fully implement
> it - scriptSigs included - would require highly invasive changes to
> the entire scripting system that would greatly limit its value.
> Proof-of-publication can be outsourced to untrusted third-parties 
> -----------------------------------------------------------------
> Timestamping yes, but proof-of-publication no.
> We're talking about systems that attempt to publish multiple pieces
> of data from multiple parties with a single hash in the Bitcoin
> blockchain, such as Factom.  Essentially this works by having a
> "child" blockchain, and the hash of that child blockchain is
> published in the master Bitcoin blockchain. To prove publicaiton
> you prove that your message is in that child chain, and the child
> chain is itself published in the Bitcoin blockchain.  Proving
> membership is possible for yourself by determining if you have the
> contents corresponding to the most recent child-chain hash.
> The problem is proving non-publication. The set of all *potential* 
> child-chain hashes must be possible to obtain by scanning the
> Bitcoin blockchain. As a hash is meaningless by itself, these
> hashes must be signed. That introduces a trusted third-party who
> can also sign an invalid hash that does not correspond to a block
> and publish it in the blockchain. This in turn makes it impossible
> for anyone using the child blockchain to prove non-publication -
> they can't prove they did not publish a message because the content
> of *all* child blockchains is now unknown.
> In short, Factom and systems like it rely on trusted third parties
> who can put you in a position where you can't prove you did not
> commit fraud.
> Proof-of-publication "bloats" the blockchain 
> --------------------------------------------
> Depends on your perspective.
> Systems that do not make use of the UTXO are no different
> technically than any other transaction: they pay fees to publish
> messages to the Bitcoin blockchain with no amortized increase in
> the UTXO set. Some systems do grow the UTXO set - a potential
> scaling problem as currently that all full nodes must have the
> entire UTXO set - although there are a number of existing
> mechanisms and proposals to mitigate this issue such as the
> (crippled) OP_RETURN scriptPubKey format, the dust rule, the 
> authors TXO commitments, UTXO expiry etc.
> From an economic point of view proof-of-publication systems compete
> with other uses of the blockchain as they pay fees; supply of
> blockchain space is fixed so the increased demand must result in a
> higher per-transaction price in fees. On the other hand this is
> true of *all* uses of the blockchain, which collectively share the
> limited transaction capacity. For instance Satoshidice and similar
> sites have been widely condemned for doing conventional
> transactions on Bitcoin when they could have potentially used
> off-chain transactions.
> It's unknown what the effect on the Bitcoin price will actually be.
> Some proof-of-publication uses have nothing to do with money at all
> - e.g. certificate transparency. Others are only indirectly
> related, such as securing financial audit logs such as
> merkle-sum-trees of total Bitcoins held by exchanges. Others in
> effect add new features to Bitcoin, such as how colored coins
> allows the trade of assets on the blockchain, or how Zerocash makes
> Bitcoin transactions anonymous. The sum total of all these effects
> on the Bitcoin price is difficult to predict.
> The authors belief is that even if proof-of-publication is a 
> net-negative to Bitcoin as it is significantly more secure than
> the alternatives and can't be effectively censored people will use
> it regardless of effects to discourage them through social
> pressure. Thus Bitcoin must make technical improvements to
> scalability that negate these potentially harmful effects.
> Proof-of-publication systems are inefficient 
> --------------------------------------------
> If you're talking about inefficient from the perspective of a
> full-node that does full validation, they are no different than
> (merge)-mined sidechain and altcoin alternatives. If you're talking
> about efficiency from the perspective of a SPV client, then yes,
> proof-of-publication systems will often require more resources than
> mining-based alternatives.
> However it must be remembered that the cost of mining is the 
> introduction of a trusted third party - miners. Of course, mined 
> proof-of-publication has miners already, but trusting those miners
> to determine the meaning of that data places significantly more
> trust in them than mearly trusting them to create consensus on the
> order in which data is published.
> Many usecases involve trusted third-parties anyway - the role of 
> proof-of-publication is to hold those third-parties to account and
> keep them honest. For these use-cases - certificate transparency,
> audit logs, financial assets - mined alternatives simply add new
> trusted third parties and points of failure rather than remove
> them.
> Of course, global consensus is inefficient - Bitcoin itself is 
> inefficient. But this is a fundemental problem to Bitcoin's
> architecture that applies to all uses of it, a problem that should
> be solved in general.
> Proof-of-publication needs "scamcoins" like Mastercoin and
> Counterparty 
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------
>  First of all, whether or not a limited-supply token is a "scam" is
> not a technical question. However some types of embedded consensus
> systems, a specific use-case for proof-of-publication, do require
> limited-supply tokens within the system for technical reasons, for
> instance to support bid orders functionality in decentralized
> marketplaces.
> Secondly using a limited-supply token in a proof-of-publicaton
> system is what lets you have secure client side validation rather
> than the alternative of 2-way-pegging that requires users to trust
> miners not to steal the pegged funds. Tokens also do not need to
> be, economically speaking, assets that can appreciate in value
> relative to Bitcoin; one-way-pegs where Bitcoins can always be
> turned into the token in conjunction with decentralized exchange to
> buy and sell tokens for Bitcoins ensure the token value will always
> closely approximate the Bitcoin value as long as the protocol
> itself is considered valuable.
> Finally only a subset of proof-of-publication use-cases involve
> tokens at all - many like colored coins transact directly to and
> from Bitcoin, while other use-cases don't even involve finance at
> all.
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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