Creators of Bitcoin didn’t focus on the speed of transactions much; thus, blockchain was unable to issue payments or transactions fast for a long time. Then, the Lighting Network was created. The peculiarity of the Lighting Network is that it issues crypto transactions faster because it eliminates the need to record them on the Bitcoin blockchain.
However, any network cannot offer 100% security or completely prevent outside threats. In the case of Lighting Network, routing attacks are one of the most common security problems. Routing attacks threaten the Lighting Network’s health and users’ money extortion. Therefore, it is essential to know how to shield against them. And this is precisely what we will cover in this article.
Understanding Routing Attacks on the Lightning Network
The Lighting Network is another layer on the Bitcoin blockchain. It was created to make crypto transactions faster and the overall blockchain more scalable. This purpose is achieved through the Lighting Network executing transactions outside the blockchain.
The algorithms of the Lighting Network found many applications and are suitable for transactions with different tokens. The overall adoption of the Lighting Network has grown significantly in recent years. However, it doesn’t mean that it came with no challenges. Cyber attacks on the Lighting Network, namely routing attacks, are still problematic for users and threaten the Lighting Network’s security.
The thing is that the Lighting Network uses a routing system to issue transactions. Thus, routing attacks imply actions at the level of ISP aimed to disrupt activity related to a web-based system like blockchain.
During routing attacks, a split in the Lighting Network usually happens, which disrupts the communications between the blockchain nodes.
Usually, decentralized blockchains are impenetrable for this type of cyber attack, but, unfortunately, not Bitcoin. Bitcoin’s blockchain is only partially decentralized since some nodes are hosted through Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Moreover, some traffic exchanged between the nodes also goes through ISPs. Attackers may study the vulnerabilities like these first and then find ways to exploit them.
Mechanics of Routing Attacks
There can be several ways to trigger and exploit the vulnerabilities of the Lighting Network.
It is common for attackers to conduct “rehearsal” attacks to examine the Lighting Network’s algorithms, soft spots, and user behavior.
One way would be to interfere with the routing fees of a particular payment channel and increase the fees so that users are less likely to use the services of the mentioned routes.
Another way would be tricking the routing algorithm by cultivating mistakes within the Lighting Network. For instance, the nodes created by attackers can display incorrect statuses, resulting in issues with transactions associated with a specific payment channel. Undoubtedly, the user experience struggles as well.
The Lighting Network developers must update the network security, create more efficient routing algorithms, and promote the safe management of nodes to reduce the likelihood of routing attacks.
Strategies Employed in Routing Attacks on the Lightning Network
There are two main types of routing attacks: partitioning and delay attacks.
Partitioning attacks imply separating or dividing the Lighting Network into several parts, creating parallel functioning blockchains. In this type of attack, the communication between the nodes gets blocked. Upon the completion of the attack, all the crypto transactions and earnings made on the newly created blockchain version get invalidated; thus, they hold no real blockchain value or impact.
The results of partitioning attacks can look like this:
- Service block. Users, wallets, or payment channels are unable to issue transactions.
- Loss of miners’ earnings. Blocks built on the artificially created version of the blockchain get discarded, which results in financial losses for miners.
Regarding delay attacks, such an attack implies delaying the delivery of blocks to nodes. While the delay lasts, the user doesn’t have access to the details of transactions this block holds.
The results of a delay attack can vary based on the entity impacted:
- Miners waste their resources during such an attack.
- Regular nodes cannot contribute to the blockchain as they do in their typical setting.
There are more specific types of routing attacks, which we will explore further.
Analyzing Routing Fee Sniping
In route fee sniping attacks, artificially created nodes enable high fees for payment channels they currently have control over. When someone issues or tries to issue a payment through the payment channel, an attacker gets the money from fees the channel “demands”. Obviously, this type of routing attack is dangerous as the consequences, besides financial losses, include the user’s trust being broken.
Exploring Probabilistic Payment Fraud
In probabilistic routing attacks, fraudulent nodes falsely inform the user that their payment was unsuccessful. Attackers can signal problems with the payment by posing an error or not sending a receipt.
Investigating Channel Jamming Attacks
Channel jamming routing attacks belong to the service block problem. With channel jamming, attackers block the channel for users and prevent the transactions from going through it. If several payment channels undergo jamming, the Lighting Network can become congested, which creates a whole other problem.
Unmasking Sybil Attacks
In Sybil routing attacks, scammers create multiple fictitious nodes, occupying a significant part of the Lighting network’s capacity. Such attacks can trick the routing algorithm and give the attackers access to extort users’ money.
Delving into Onion Routing Attacks
The Lighting Network uses the onion routing to cover the intermediary nodes involved in transactions for transaction privacy. Onion routing attacks imply that the fraudulent nodes may try to disclose the information about the sender, receiver, and transferred amount.
Detecting Signs of Routing Attacks on the Lightning Network
Detecting the routing attacks on the Lighting Network may be challenging, as the very algorithm you’ll be accessing the network through could be compromised. The attacks can be different, but they all disrupt the Lighting Network’s functionality.
The common signs of routing attacks on the Lighting Network may include unusual routing fees, payment failures, and inconsistencies in the functioning of payment channels. Analyzing nodes’ behavior, security monitoring tools and route selection mechanisms can help you spot fraudulent nodes. Watchtowers can spot suspicious behavior related to the activity of payment channels.
Safeguarding Against Routing Attacks on the Lightning Network
Safeguarding against routing attacks on the Lighting Network is crucial for the network’s security and safety of users’ personal data.
Selecting Trustworthy Nodes for Routing
Operating through a reliable set of nodes is crucial for successful routing transactions. Reliable nodes are characterized by a stable pattern of behavior, vast transaction history, and positive user feedback.
Watchtower services can also provide extra security through offline channel monitoring. It helps ensure that payments are carried out through certified nodes and channels.
Diversifying Your Network of Channels
Diversifying network channels is also a powerful tool to prevent routing attacks.
When specific payment channels or nodes are regularly used, it can make them more visible and, thus, vulnerable to attacks. Spreading payments throughout multiple payment channels or nodes can help avoid the risk of using potentially corrupted ones.
Diversifying channel network also helps to mitigate the consequences of routing attacks: if one channel or node is attacked, unable, or unsafe to carry out the payment, users can utilize alternative payment channels, which, in turn, helps to maintain the health and security of the Lighting Network.
Vigilantly Monitoring Channel Activity
Monitoring channel activity is essential for the timely spotting of potential routing attacks. Channel monitoring should include inspecting payment failures, unusual fees, or changes in channel behavior.
Uncharacteristic behavioral patterns of channels usually signal routing attacks and shouldn’t be overlooked. The earlier the user can spot the unusual activity on the payment channel, the easier it will be to prevent a routing attack or handle its consequences.
Keeping Your Software Up-to-Date
Updating the Lighting Network software is essential for the proper user experience and preventing routing attacks. Developers learn from exploited vulnerabilities and try to eliminate them with every update. Updated Lighting Network software will likely include better security practices and bug fixes that reduce the risk of routing attacks.