Ekiden: A Platform for Confidentiality-Preserving, Trustworthy, and Performant Smart Contracts

R. Cheng, F. Zhang, J. Kos, W. He, N. Hynes, N. M. Johnson, A. Juels, A. Miller, and D. Song
In IEEE European Symposium on Security and Privacy (EuroS&P), 2019.

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Abstract

Smart contracts are applications that execute on blockchains. Today they manage billions of dollars in value and motivate visionary plans for pervasive blockchain deployment. While smart contracts inherit the availability and other security assurances of blockchains, however, they are impeded by blockchains' lack of confidentiality and poor performance. We present Ekiden, a system that addresses these critical gaps by combining blockchains with Trusted Execution Environments (TEEs). Ekiden leverages a novel architecture that separates consensus from execution, enabling efficient TEE-backed confidentiality-preserving smart-contracts and high scalability. Our prototype (with Tendermint as the consensus layer) achieves example performance of 600× more throughput and 400× less latency at 1000× less cost than the Ethereum mainnet. Another contribution of this paper is that we systematically identify and treat the pitfalls arising from harmonizing TEEs and blockchains. Treated separately, both TEEs and blockchains provide powerful guarantees, but hybridized, though, they engender new attacks. For example, in naïve designs, privacy in TEE-backed contracts can be jeopardized by forgery of blocks, a seemingly unrelated attack vector. We believe the insights learned from Ekiden will prove to be of broad importance in hybridized TEE-blockchain systems.

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