What is an Eclipse Attack?
An eclipse attack is a deceptive tactic that a malicious actor can employ to disrupt nodes within a network. As the name implies, the attack aims to “eclipse” or block a participant’s clear view of the peer-to-peer network, leading to general disruption or serving as a precursor for more sophisticated and damaging attacks.
In this type of attack, the malicious actor strategically controls a substantial number of connections in the network. By surrounding a targeted node with its own controlled nodes, the attacker manipulates the victim’s network perception, making it appear as if the entire network is composed solely of the attacker’s nodes. As a result, the victim node becomes isolated and cut off from authentic network communication.
The consequences of an eclipse attack can be significant. By isolating a node, the attacker can deceive it into accepting false information or unauthorized transactions, potentially leading to financial losses or the compromise of sensitive data. Additionally, this type of attack can pave the way for more advanced and harmful attacks, such as double-spending or consensus manipulation.
To defend against eclipse attacks, network participants must employ robust security measures, such as maintaining diverse and well-connected peers and implementing cryptographic verification methods. By being vigilant and proactive, network nodes can strengthen their resilience against such malicious attempts and ensure the integrity of the peer-to-peer network.
How an eclipse attack works?
Bitcoin mining requires specialized equipment to generate new blocks, but running non-mining or full nodes is achievable with minimal computational power. This characteristic contributes to Bitcoin’s decentralization, as anyone can easily set up a node on a low-spec device. These nodes maintain a database of transactions, synchronizing it with their immediate peers to stay in sync with the broader network.
However, bandwidth poses a limiting factor for many nodes. Despite a large number of devices running the Bitcoin software, most average devices cannot directly connect to many others due to the software’s limitations, which allow a maximum of 125 connections.
An eclipse attack takes advantage of this limitation and is orchestrated by a malicious actor who ensures that all connections to the target node are established with attacker-controlled nodes. The attack begins by flooding the target with the attacker’s IP addresses, causing the victim’s software to connect to these addresses upon restarting. The restart can be either forced, such as through a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack on the target, or the attacker may patiently wait for a natural restart to occur.
Once the victim’s node connects to the malicious nodes, they become vulnerable and are at the mercy of the attacker. Since the victim’s node is cut off from the genuine network, it can be fed false or incorrect data by the attacker-controlled nodes, leading to potential financial losses or compromising the integrity of the victim’s transactions.
To defend against eclipse attacks, Bitcoin users must employ protective measures. Ensuring that nodes have diverse and well-connected peers can help reduce the risk of falling victim to such attacks. Additionally, maintaining a stable network connection and implementing secure communication protocols can further strengthen the resilience of Bitcoin nodes against malicious attempts to undermine the network’s decentralization and security.
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