IC3: Advancing the science and applications of blockchains

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by Haoqian Zhang on October 03, 2023
The name “front-running” came from when a broker needs to deliver the clients’ orders to the trading desk physically. The term vividly describes how it works - an attacker who knows a large order could run ahead to execute a trade before the client’s order goes through. What is the incentive for someone to do that? Here is an example that explains why. Suppose a broker receives a large order from a client, say, buy 500,000 shares of a company’s stock. The order is big enough to drive up the share’s price. Knowing this information, an attacker can place his small order, say 10,000 shares of the same stock, before the large order. The attacker can sell his shares at a higher price when the price goes up after the large order went through. The formal definition of front-running is a practice of benefiting from the advanced knowledge of pending transactions. Although benefiting some entities involved, this practice puts others at a significant financial disadvantage, making this behavior illegal in traditional markets with established securities regulations.
by Andrew Miller, Nerla Jean-Louis, Yunqi Li, and James Austgen on August 25, 2023
Enhancing smart contract privacy is a critical stride towards the development of more useful blockchain applications. Trusted execution environments (TEEs) or secure enclaves are being used in multiple networks (Secret Network, Oasis Network, Obscuro, etc) to enable privacy without significantly increasing computational costs. However, the utilization of TEEs also brings forth challenges, specifically in designing secure network architectures that fully capitalize on the strengths of TEEs while mitigating potential risks. Our recent paper detailing several attacks on these TEE based blockchain networks that broke user privacy guarantees without doing the hard work of breaking into the TEE hardware.
by Kushal Babel, Nerla Jean-Louis, Mahimna Kelkar, Yunqi Li, Carolina Ortega Perez, Aditya Asgoankar, Sylvain Bellemare, Ari Juels, and Andrew Miller on June 12, 2023
TLDR - The Sting Framework (SF) is a new idea for bolstering the security of systems at risk of information leakage. SF addresses the case where a corrupt service (called a Subversion Service) arises that enables adversaries to exploit such leakage. SF presumes a player, called an informer, that wishes to alert the community to the presence of the corrupt service — either as a public service or to claim a bounty. SF enables the informer to generate a publicly verifiable proof that the corrupt service exists.
by Kushal Babel, Yan Ji, Ari Juels, and Mahimna Kelkar on April 17, 2023
In today’s blockchain landscape, the life of a transaction is nasty, brutish, and short. Or, as some put it, a blockchain like Ethereum is a “dark forest” — a reference to a popular sci-fi novel in which the universe is filled with predatory civilizations.
by Patrick McCorry on March 15, 2023
A very interesting talk by Kelvin Fichter argues that zk rollups do not exist and how rollups actually work. Let’s take a fun snippet from it.
by Ariah Klages-Mundt on March 14, 2023
7 of the largest 10 stablecoins depegged as a massive bank run effect rippled across crypto. What happened and what the lessons are for the space. Starting Friday, March 11, and persisting through the weekend, most major stablecoins lost their peg and stablecoin liquidity virtually evaporated.
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January 8-11, 2024
We are thrilled to announce that the IC3 2024 Winter Retreat will once again take place in the picturesque surroundings of Les Diablerets, Switzerland! After the tremendous success of our previous retreats, we are excited to continue this tradition in the Swiss Alps. See IC3 2023 Winter Retreat here.
August 28-30, 2023
This conference focuses on technical innovations in the blockchain ecosystem, and brings together researchers and practioners working in the space. We are interested in the application of cryptography, decentralized protocols, formal methods, and empirical analysis, to improving the security and scalability of blockchain deployments. We aim to foster collaboration among practitioners and researchers working on blockchain protocol development, cryptography, distributed systems, secure computing, crypto-economics, and economic risk analysis.
Tuesday August 29, 2023
Thank you to all who joined us for the IC3 Members & Friends Reception at SBC(Science of Blockchain Conference) 2023!Held at the President's Terrace, an iconic rooftop bar in Palo Alto, the event boasted breathtaking views of Stanford, the Santa Cruz Mountains, and a California sunset. This event provided an opportunity for IC3 academic researchers, industry partners and invited guests to mingle and discuss the latest in blockchain research.
June 12-18, 2023
Thank you to all who joined us for the 8th Annual IC3 Blockchain Camp! This 7-day experience was hosted at the Cornell Tech Campus on Roosevelt Island, New York City, NY for the first time this year. A special thank you is also due to our camp technical committee of Surya Bakshi, Haaroon Yousaf, Lorenz Breidenbach, and Patrick McCorry for preparing another immersive coding and learning experience and to the IC3 Industry Partners!
Friday April 21, 2023
Cornell Blockchain Conference is returning to the Cornell Tech campus on April 21st. IC3 Co-director Ari Juels, together with distinguished IC3 alumni Emin Gün Sirer (Founder & CEO of Ava Labs) and Steven Goldfeder (Co-Founder & CEO, Offchain Labs) will be sharing valuable insights across academia and industry. We are excited to announce that IC3 is offering special discount to our newsletter subscribers.
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Featured Projects

Lanturn: Measuring Economic Security of Smart Contracts Through Adaptive Learning

We introduce Lanturn - a general purpose adaptive learning-based framework for measuring the cryptoeconomic security of composed decentralized-finance (DeFi) smart-contracts. Lanturn discovers strategies comprising of concrete transactions for extracting economic value from smart contracts interacting with a particular transaction environment. We formulate the strategy discovery as a black-box optimization problem and leverage a novel adaptive learning-based algorithm to address it. Lanturn features three key properties. First, it needs no contract-specific heuristics or reasoning, due to our black-box formulation of cryptoeconomic security. Second, it utilizes a simulation framework that operates natively on blockchain state and smart contract machine code, such that transactions returned by Lanturn’s learning-based optimization engine can be executed on-chain without modification. Finally, Lanturn is scalable in that it can explore strategies comprising a large number of transactions that can be reordered or subject to insertion of new transactions. We evaluate Lanturn on the historical data of the biggest and most active DeFi Applications - Sushiswap, UniswapV2, UniswapV3, and AaveV2. Our results show that Lanturn not only rediscovers existing, well-known strategies for extracting value from smart contracts, but also discovers new strategies that are previously undocumented. Lanturn also consistently discovers higher value than evidenced in the wild, surpassing a natural baseline computed using value extracted by bots and other strategic agents. For further details, please check out our Projects Page.

Smart Contracts

More projects:

  • Do Not Trust in Numbers: Practical Distributed Cryptography with General Trust
  • QuePaxa: Escaping the Tyranny of Timeouts in Consensus
  • Pianist: Scalable zkRollups via Fully Distributed Zero-Knowledge Proofs
  • Mysticeti: Low-Latency DAG Consensus with Fast Commit Path
  • Colordag: An Incentive-Compatible Blockchain
Even more projects...