BY JAMIE HOLDSTOCK ON JUNE 2, 2020
The Decred community considers privacy to be a fundamental human right.
Protecting the privacy of Decred users has been a core tenet of the project since it’s inception. To quote the Decred constitution:
Privacy and security are priorities and shall be balanced with the complexity of their implementations. Additional privacy and security technology shall be implemented on a continuing and incremental basis, both proactively and on-demand in response to attacks.
In late 2019, Jake Yocom-Piatt revealed a much anticipated privacy solution for Decred -CoinShuffle++ (CSPP). The introduction of CSPP enables users to anonymize their Decred by mixing with the steady stream of ticket transactions which flow through the network as part of its hybrid PoW & PoS consensus mechanism.
The community response has been emphatic. Over 22% of the circulating supply of Decred currently resides in mixed UTXOs.
The CSPP announcement highlighted that additional work would be required for VSP users to participate in mixing. Given that up to 50% of tickets at any time are held by VSPs, it is reasonable to approximate that enabling VSP tickets to be mixed could double CSPP participation.
Voting Service Providers
Participating in Decred’s Proof-of-Stake system requires the use of an always-online wallet. Those who are unable or unwilling to maintain their own internet connected computer 24/7 can choose to use a Voting Service Provider (VSP). A VSP maintains a pool of online voting wallets, and will allow users to add their tickets to the wallets in exchange for a small fee. VSPs are completely non-custodial - they never have access to any of their user’s funds - the user is only giving the VSP the rights to vote their tickets.
Until now, VSP operators have offered this service to users by running dcrstakepool. This software works well and has a proven track record of almost four years. Currently, VSPs running dcrstakepool are trusted with the voting rights of over 14,500 tickets with an approximate value of 2 million DCR.
When a user wants to use a VSP running dcrstakepool, they must purchase their ticket in a particular way such that a portion of the ticket vote reward is automatically paid to the VSP. As a result, VSP tickets have a different on-chain footprint to tickets bought by solo voters, which makes them identifiable by an outside observer performing on-chain analysis. This footprint is problematic because it prohibits VSP users from taking full advantage of the privacy offered by CSPP - VSP tickets cannot be mixed in the same anonymity set as solo tickets.
vspd is a from scratch implementation of a Voting Service Provider (VSP) for the Decred network. It has been created with user privacy as a fundamental design goal.
vspd does not require tickets to be purchased with any special conditions such as the built-in fee payment required by dcrstakepool. Fee payments occur as a completely independent on-chain transaction. This enables both the ticket purchase and the fee payment to be mixed in the same anonymity set as solo tickets.
Ticket holders are not required to register an account with vspd. This means no email address needs to be handed over, there is no password to remember, and no CAPTCHAs need to be solved.
vspd also offers the following improvements to users:
- No redeem scripts to back up.
- Voting preferences can be set on a per-ticket basis.
- No address reuse.
- The possibility of using multiple VSPs for a single ticket.
VSP operators have also been considered in the design of vspd. dcrstakepool had the unfortunate property of collecting fee payments with a single reused address per user. vspd requires clients to request a new fee address and fee amount for each ticket, which not only removes the address reuse, but also enables administrators to easily update their fee amount as they please.
The required sysadmin work and overheads have also been reduced with the following changes:
- An instance of etcd-io/bbolt on the front-end server is used as the single source of truth:
- bbolt does not have the sysadmin overhead associated with maintaining a full database server such as MySQL. vspd automatically creates and maintains its own database.
- The database is only accessed by the vspd process. There is no need to expose the system to additional risk by opening ports for other processes to access the database.
- No need to set up and maintain an SMTP server for registration emails or password recovery.
- Voting wallet servers only require dcrwallet and dcrd to be running. There is no longer an additional VSP process, i.e. stakepoold, running on voting servers.
- No email addresses or personal information are held by vspd - no need to worry about GDPR or other data protection regulations.
- Voting servers no longer need dcrd to be running with a transaction index.
- No need to use the same wallet seed on each voting wallet.
As a core piece of the Decred infrastructure, fundamental to the smooth operating of the network, vspd is of utmost importance and its development cannot be rushed.
Thus far, vspd has only been tested with a custom-built client tool, not suitable for everyday use. We will not recommend running vspd on mainnet until the new server software has been thoroughly tested and the client code is properly integrated into dcrwallet. Once vspd tickets can be purchased with dcrwallet, integration into the GUI wallet decrediton should follow shortly after.
A transition period of around 12 months is to be expected, where VSPs are able to run either vspd, dcrstakepool, or both. This should avoid interrupting the user experience too sharply, and protect the steady stream of ticket purchasing and voting which is essential to the Decred network. Existing VSP operators may choose to deploy vspd alongside their existing dcrstakepool deployment. Newer operators may choose to only run vspd. It is envisioned that eventually, the majority of VSP tickets will be purchased on vspd, dcrstakepool deployments can be decommissioned, and support for dcrstakepool can be removed from wallets.
The release of vspd represents another incremental step forward in Decred’s project mission to produce open-source technology for public benefit. Enabling VSP tickets to be purchased with funds mixed through CSPP increases the size of the overall anonymity set, which in turn provides a greater level of privacy for all Decred users.
To find out more about how vspd is built and how it works, the source code and some documentation is available on GitHub.
The Decred project is always looking for talented developers, so if vspd or any other aspect of Decred development interests you, please pop into our chat and introduce yourself.