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Attack analysis - the simple parasite chain

Attack analysis - the simple parasite chain

Note: This blog post is intended for a reader with a basic understanding of the Tangle. In particular, we heavily rely on concepts like a random walk in the Tangle, a cumulative weight (and how it affects random walk), an α parameter and a parasite chain attack. We recommend reading the IOTA Whitepaper first (especially section 4), click here. It is also recommended to read Alon Gal’s blog post on the α parameter.

The problem: double spend

IOTA, unlike first-generation distributed ledgers, is not based on a blockchain, but rather on a directed acyclic graph (DAG). This novel architecture brings numerous advantages. The most emphasized of which are scalability and no mining fees. However, with a new approach to managing the ledger comes the fundamental question of security of the new solution. In this blog post, we partially answer this question, by providing a brief introduction to the parasite chain (PC) attack, proposed in the Tangle white paper (subsection 4.1). This topic is an active area of research in the IOTA Foundation.

The parasite chain attack is an attempt to double spend funds in the tangle based on the following idea:

The attacker secretly builds a sub-tangle, invisible to the public. We will call this sub-tangle the “parasite chain”, or PC. At some point, he/she issues a transaction in the main tangle (MT), buying some commodity from a merchant. The attacker has already constructed a conflicting transaction on the PC (which moves the money to one of the attacker’s accounts, instead of the merchant’s) — therefore they have created a double spend transaction.

Since the conflicting transaction in the PC is hidden, after some time the merchant accepts the payment on the MT. The attacker then hopes to “invalidate” this transaction by broadcasting the PC to the public.

The PC is built to exploit the tip selection algorithm and make most of the incoming transactions approv...

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