[bitcoin-dev] CPFP Carve-Out for Fee-Prediction Issues in Contracting Applications (eg Lightning)

Matt Corallo lf-lists at mattcorallo.com
Thu Nov 29 19:37:54 UTC 2018

(cross-posted to both lists to make lightning-dev folks aware, please 
take lightning-dev off CC when responding).

As I'm sure everyone is aware, Lightning (and other similar systems) 
work by exchanging pre-signed transactions for future broadcast. Of 
course in many cases this requires either (a) predicting what the 
feerate required for timely confirmation will be at some (or, really, 
any) point in the future, or (b) utilizing CPFP and dependent 
transaction relay to allow parties to broadcast low-feerate transactions 
with children created at broadcast-time to increase the effective 
feerate. Ideally transactions could be constructed to allow for 
after-the-fact addition of inputs to increase fee without CPFP but it is 
not always possible to do so.

Option (a) is rather obviously intractible, and implementation 
complexity has led to channel failures in lightning in practice (as both 
sides must agree on a reasonable-in-the-future feerate). Option (b) is a 
much more natural choice (assuming some form of as-yet-unimplemented 
package relay on the P2P network) but is made difficult due to 
complexity around RBF/CPFP anti-DoS rules.

For example, if we take a simplified lightning design with pre-signed 
commitment transaction A with one 0-value anyone-can-spend output 
available for use as a CPFP output, a counterparty can prevent 
confirmation of/significantly increase the fee cost of confirming A by 
chaining a large-but-only-moderate-feerate transaction off of this 
anyone-can-spend output. This transaction, B, will have a large absolute 
fee while making the package (A, B) have a low-ish feerate, placing it 
solidly at the bottom of the mempool but without significant risk of it 
getting evicted during memory limiting. This large absolute fee forces a 
counterparty which wishes to have the commitment transaction confirm to 
increase on this absolute fee in order to meet RBF rules.

For this reason (and many other similar attacks utilizing the package 
size limits), in discussing the security model around CPFP, we've 
generally considered it too-difficulty-to-prevent third parties which 
are able to spend an output of a transaction from delaying its 
confirmation, at least until/unless the prevailing feerates decline and 
some of the mempool backlog gets confirmed.

You'll note, however, that this attack doesn't have to be permanent to 
work - Lightning's (and other contracting/payment channel systems') 
security model assumes the ability to get such commitment transactions 
confirmed in a timely manner, as otherwise HTLCs may time out and 
counterparties can claim the timeout-refund before we can claim the HTLC 
using the hash-preimage.

To partially-address the CPFP security model considerations, a next step 
might involve tweaking Lightning's commitment transaction to have two 
small-value outputs which are immediately spendable, one by each channel 
participant, allowing them to chain children off without allowng 
unrelated third-parties to chain children. Obviously this does not 
address the specific attack so we need a small tweak to the anti-DoS 
CPFP rules in Bitcoin Core/BIP 125:

The last transaction which is added to a package of dependent 
transactions in the mempool must:
  * Have no more than one unconfirmed parent,
  * Be of size no greater than 1K in virtual size.
(for implementation sanity, this would effectively reduce all mempool 
package size limits by 1 1K-virtual-size transaction, and the last would 
be "allowed to violate the limits" as long as it meets the above criteria).

For contracting applications like lightning, this means that as long as 
the transaction we wish to confirm (in this case the commitment transaction)
  * Has only two immediately-spendable (ie non-CSV) outputs,
  * where each immediately-spendable output is only spendable by one 
  * and is no larger than MAX_PACKAGE_VIRTUAL_SIZE - 1001 Vsize,
each counterparty will always be able to independantly CPFP the 
transaction in question. ie because if the "malicious" (ie 
transaction-delaying) party bradcasts A with a child, it can never meet 
the "last transaction" carve-out as its transaction cannot both meet the 
package limit and have only one unconfirmed ancestor. Thus, the 
non-delaying counterparty can always independently add its own CPFP 
transaction, increasing the (A, Tx2) package feerate and confirming A 
without having to concern themselves with the (A, Tx1) package.

As an alternative proposal, at various points there have been 
discussions around solving the "RBF-pinning" problem by allowing 
transactors to mark their transactions as "likely-to-be-RBF'ed", which 
could enable a relay policy where children of such transactions would be 
rejected unless the resulting package would be "near the top of the 
mempool". This would theoretically imply such attacks are not possible 
to pull off consistently, as any "transaction-delaying" channel 
participant will have to place the package containing A at an effective 
feerate which makes confirmation to occur soon with some likelihood. It 
is, however, possible to pull off this attack with low probability in 
case of feerate spikes right after broadcast.

Note that this clearly relies on some form of package relay, which comes 
with its own challenges, but I'll start a separate thread on that.

See-also: lightning-dev thread about the changes to lightning spec 
required to incorporate this: 


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