Kleptography and steganography in blockchains

Al-Salami, Nasser (2020) Kleptography and steganography in blockchains. PhD thesis, UNSPECIFIED.

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Despite its vast proliferation, the blockchain technology is still evolving, and witnesses continuous technical innovations to address its numerous unresolved issues. An example of these issues is the excessive electrical power consumed by some consensus protocols. Besides, although various media reports have highlighted the existence of objectionable content in blockchains, this topic has not received sufficient research. Hence, this work investigates the threat and deterrence of arbitrary-content insertion in public blockchains, which poses a legal, moral, and technical challenge. In particular, the overall aim of this work is to thoroughly study the risk of manipulating the implementation of randomized cryptographic primitives in public blockchains to mount kleptographic attacks, establish steganographic communication, and store arbitrary content. As part of our study, we present three new kleptographic attacks on two of the most commonly used digital signatures: ring signature and ECDSA. We also demonstrate our kleptographic attacks on two real cryptocurrencies: Bytecoin and Monero. Moreover, we illustrate the plausibility of hijacking public blockchains to establish steganographic channels. Particularly, we design, implement, and evaluate the first blockchain-based broadcast communication tool on top of a real-world cryptocurrency. Furthermore, we explain the detrimental consequences of kleptography and steganography on the users and the future of the blockchain technology. Namely, we show that kleptography can be used to surreptitiously steal the users' secret signing keys, which are the most valuable and guarded secret in public blockchains. After losing their keys, users of cryptocurrencies will inevitably lose their funds. In addition, we clarify that steganography can be used to establish subliminal communication and secretly store arbitrary content in public blockchains, which turns them into cheap cyberlockers. Consequently, the participation in such blockchains, which are known to store unethical content, can be criminalized, hindering the future adoption of blockchains. After discussing the adverse effects of kleptographic and steganographic attacks on blockchains, we survey all of the existing techniques that can defend against these attacks. Finally, due to the shortcomings of the available techniques, we propose four countermeasures that ensure kleptography and steganography-resistant public blockchains. Our countermeasures include two new cryptographic primitives and a generic steganographyresistant blockchain framework (SRBF). This framework presents a universal solution that deters steganography and practically achieves the right to be forgotten (RtbF) in blockchains, which represents a regulatory challenge for current immutable blockchains.

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Thesis (PhD)
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02 Dec 2020 10:15
Last Modified:
19 Sep 2023 03:10