BIP324 proposes a new Bitcoin P2P transport protocol, which features opportunistic encryption, a mild bandwidth reduction, and the ability to negotiate upgrades before exchanging application messages.
The entire document with specification is being discussed here, however the motivation and design goals are below.
Bitcoin is a permissionless network whose purpose is to reach consensus over public data. Since all data relayed in the Bitcoin P2P network is inherently public, and the protocol lacks a notion of cryptographic identities, peers talk to each other over unencrypted and unauthenticated connections. Nevertheless, this plaintext nature of the current P2P protocol (referred to as v1 in this document) has severe drawbacks in the presence of attackers:
- While the relayed data itself is public in nature, the associated metadata may reveal private information and hamper privacy of users. For example, a global passive attacker eavesdropping on all Bitcoin P2P connections can trivially identify the source and timing of a transaction.
- Since connections are unauthenticated, they can be tampered with at a low cost and often even with a low risk of detection. For example, an attacker can alter specific bytes of a connection (such as node flags) on-the-fly without the need to keep any state.
- The protocol is self-revealing. For example, deep packet inspection can identify a P2P connection trivially because connections start with a fixed sequence of magic bytes. The ability to detect connections enables censorship and facilitates the aforementioned attacks as well as other attacks which require the attacker to control the connections of victims, e.g., eclipse attacks targeted at miners.
This proposal for a new P2P protocol version (v2) aims to improve upon this by raising the costs for performing these attacks substantially, primarily through the use of unauthenticated, opportunistic transport encryption. In addition, the bytestream on the wire is made pseudorandom (i.e., indistinguishable from uniformly random bytes) to a passive eavesdropper.
- Encryption, even when it is unauthenticated and only used when both endpoints support v2, impedes eavesdropping by forcing the attacker to become active: either by performing a persistent man-in-the-middle (MitM) attack, by downgrading connections to v1, or by spinning up their own nodes and getting honest nodes to make connections to them. Active attacks at scale are more resource intensive in general, but in case of manual, deliberate connections (as opposed to automatic, random ones) they are also in principle detectable: even very basic checks, e.g., operators manually comparing protocol versions and session IDs (as supported by the proposed protocol), will expose the attacker.
- Tampering, while already an inherently active attack, is costlier if the attacker is forced to maintain the state necessary for a full MitM interception.
- A pseudorandom bytestream excludes identification techniques based on pattern matching, and makes it easier to shape the bytestream in order to mimic other protocols used on the Internet. This raises the cost of a connection censoring firewall, forcing them to either resort to a full MitM attack, or operate on a more obvious allowlist basis, rather than a blocklist basis.
This proposal aims to achieve the following properties:
- Confidentiality against passive attacks: A passive attacker having recorded a v2 P2P bytestream (without timing and fragmentation information) must not be able to determine the plaintext being exchanged by the nodes.
- Observability of active attacks: A session ID identifying the encrypted channel uniquely is derived deterministically from a Diffie-Hellman negotiation. An active man-in-the-middle attacker is forced to incur a risk of being detected as peer operators can compare session IDs manually, or using optional authentication methods possibly introduced in future protocol versions.
- Pseudorandom bytestream: A passive attacker having recorded a v2 P2P bytestream (without timing information and fragmentation information) must not be able to distinguish it from a uniformly random bytestream.
- Shapable bytestream: It should be possible to shape the bytestream to increase resistance to traffic analysis (for example, to conceal block propagation), or censorship avoidance.
- Forward secrecy: An eavesdropping attacker who compromises a peer’s sessions secrets should not be able to decrypt past session traffic, except for the latest few packets.
- Upgradability: The proposal provides an upgrade path using transport versioning which can be used to add features like authentication, PQC handshake upgrade, etc. in the future.
- Compatibility: v2 clients will allow inbound v1 connections to minimize risk of network partitions.
- Low overhead: the introduction of a new P2P transport protocol should not substantially increase computational cost or bandwidth for nodes that implement it, compared to the current protocol.
Get involved #
The project is approaching code complete and is in the community engagement phase. Here are way in which we are seeking help: