Authors: Anton Wahrstätter, Jens Ernstberger, Aviv Yaish, Liyi Zhou, Kaihua Qin, Taro Tsuchiya, Sebastian Steinhorst, Davor Svetinovic, Nicolas Christin, Mikolaj Barczentewicz, Arthur Gervais
Permissionless blockchains promise to be resilient against censorship by a single entity. This suggests that deterministic rules, and not third-party actors, are responsible for deciding if a transaction is appended to the blockchain or not. In 2022, the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned a Bitcoin mixer and an Ethereum application, putting the neutrality of permissionless blockchains to the test.
In this paper, we formalize quantify and analyze the security impact of blockchain censorship. We start by defining censorship, followed by a quantitative assessment of current censorship practices. We find that 46% of Ethereum blocks were made by censoring actors that intend to comply with OFAC sanctions, indicating the significant impact of OFAC sanctions on the neutrality of public blockchains.
We further uncover that censorship not only impacts neutrality, but also security. We show how after Ethereum’s move to Proof-of-Stake (PoS) and adoption of Proposer-Builder Separation (PBS) the inclusion of censored transactions was delayed by an average of 85%. Inclusion delays compromise a transaction’s security by, e.g., strengthening a sandwich adversary. Finally we prove a fundamental limitation of PoS and Proof-of-Work (PoW) protocols against censorship resilience.