Thesis Proposal

THESIS COMMITTEE

Prof. Rajmohan Rajaraman [homepage]

Prof. Alan Mislove [homepage]

Prof. abhi shelat [homepage]

Prof. Roger Wattenhofer [homepage]

Prof. Dave Levin [homepage]

Alan Mislove and Rajmohan Rajaraman are co-advisers.  Prof. abhi shelat is a leader in blockchain security and a collaborator with Lucianna on a study analyzing blockchain consensus protocols.  
Prof. Dave Levin (Assistant Professor, University of Maryland) has collaborated extensively and co-authored multiple papers with Lucianna. He is also an expert on network measurements, and has done additional work in security and blockchain research.
Prof. Roger Wattenhofer (ETH Zurich) is a world leader in distributed computing and blockchains.  He has written a book on blockchains and has led both blockchain measurement studies and several projects in blockchain theory.

ABSTRACT

The celebrated Nakamoto consensus protocol introduced in 2008 has ushered in several new consensus applications, most popularly cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum. There has since been a spark in this new area of study in both academia and industry, including many new systems which are now part of a multi-billion dollar industry. At their heart, these protocols implement a public and immutable record of transactions known as the blockchain.

Development of blockchain systems has been largely led by software development in an adhoc manner in which these systems are being built to be functional fast and often lack a much needed formal review. My proposed plan for my thesis is to aid in our understanding of these decentralized computing platforms, their current limitations, how to surpass those limitations, and the properties these systems have and should possess. My research so far has moved towards this goal in several ways:

(1) several measurement studies of Ethereum, the second largest cryptocurrency by market cap, focusing on several aspects of the network and its history. The goal of these measurement studies is to not only better understand how Ethereum is currently being used, but to also formulate the kinds of systems that can be built on top of the Ethereum architecture or systems like it and the security risks their design possess.

(2) My work also includes a theoretical analysis of a fundamental property of blockchain protocols, called consistency, which is a guarantee that all honest participants of the network output the same blockchain. We use our framework to experimentally analyze the consensus bounds of three blockchain protocols and the impact of attacks on these protocols.

(3) Finally, part of this thesis involves work on developing new blockchain protocols essential in the scalability and incentive mechanisms of these systems. This includes creating and formally proving the security of a proof mechanism that allows for better light clients to participate in transaction verification from light weight devices without having to store the gigabytes or terabytes of full blockchains. The work on miner incentives includes introducing a new family of mining reward functions and an analysis of equilibrium properties of these functions.

The goal of my thesis is to better model and reason about how blockchain protocols are being used and evolve, how they can scale, and to help build a foundation for the rigorous analysis needed in this new and fast evolving area. The results of this thesis can be used to instruct next-generation blockchain system design and analysis both with the tools we use to analyze protocols as well as by understanding how current systems are operating.