The first MuSig paper was published in 2018, and the potential of MuSig on Bitcoin was one of the selling points used to gain support for the taproot soft fork. Work on MuSig continued with the publication of MuSig-DN and MuSig2 in 2020. When taproot neared activation on Bitcoin’s mainnet in 2021, excitement about bringing MuSig signing to Bitcoin users was palpable. At BitGo, we were hoping to launch a MuSig taproot wallet concurrent with taproot activation; but the spec, test vectors, and reference implementation were incomplete. Instead, BitGo launched the first tapscript multisig wallet and made the first tapscript multisig transaction on mainnet. Nearly two years later, MuSig2 is specified in BIP327, and we launched the first MuSig taproot multisig wallet.

Why MuSig2?

Compared to Script Multisig

There are two main benefits of MuSig compared to script multisig. The first and most obvious benefit is a reduced transaction size and miner fee. Onchain signatures are 64-73 bytes, 16-18.25 virtual bytes (vB), and MuSig can combine two (or more) signatures into one. In BitGo’s 2-of-3 case, a MuSig key path input costs 57.5vB, compared to a native SegWit input at 104.5vB or depth 1 tapscript at 107.5vB. The second benefit of MuSig is an improvement in privacy. With a MuSig key path on a collaboratively held output, a cooperative spend cannot be distinguished by a third party blockchain observer from a single signature taproot spend.

Naturally, there are some drawbacks to MuSig2. Two important ones revolve around nonces. Unlike signers for plain ECDSA (elliptic curve digital signature algorithm) or schnorr signatures, MuSig2 signers cannot consistently use deterministic nonces. This inability makes it more difficult to ensure high-quality nonces and to ensure against nonce reuse. MuSig2 requires two rounds of communication in most cases. First nonce exchange, and then signing. In some cases, the first round can be precomputed, but this must be undertaken cautiously.

Compared to Other MPC protocols

MPC (multi-party compute) signing protocols are growing in popularity due to the aforementioned fee and privacy benefits. MuSig is a simple multi-signature (n-of-n) protocol, made possible by schnorr signatures’ linearity. MuSig2 can be explained in a 30-minute presentation, and the complete reference implementation is 461 lines of code in Python. Threshold signature (t-of-n) protocols, such as FROST, are significantly more complex, and even 2-party multi-signatures based on ECDSA rely on Paillier encryption and other techniques.

Choice of Scripts

Even before taproot, choosing a specific script for a multi-signature (t-of-n) wallet was difficult. Taproot, with its multiple spending paths further complicates the matter, and MuSig layers in even more options. Here are some of the considerations that went into the design of BitGo’s taproot MuSig2 wallet:

  • We use fixed key order, not lexicographic sorting. Each signing key has a specific role stored with the key, so using those keys in the same order each time is simple and predictable.
  • Our MuSig key path includes only the most common signing quorum, “user” / “bitgo”. Including the “backup” signing key in the key path would significantly reduce how often it could be used.
  • We do not include the “user”, “bitgo” signing pair in the Taptree. As this is our second taproot script type and the first is a three tapscript design, users requiring script signing can use the first type.
  • For tapscripts, we do not use MuSig keys. Our wallets include a “backup” key which is potentially difficult to access or signs with software outside of our control, so expecting to be able to sign MuSig for the “backup” key is not realistic.
  • For tapscripts, we choose OP_CHECKSIG / OP_CHECKSIGVERIFY scripts over OP_CHECKSIGADD. We know which keys will sign when we construct transactions, and 2-of-2 depth 1 scripts are slightly cheaper than 2-of-3 depth 0.

The final structure looks like this:

BitGo's MuSig taproot structure

Nonces (deterministic and random)

Elliptic curve digital signatures are produced with the help of an ephemeral secret value known as a nonce (number used once). By sharing the public nonce (public nonce is to secret nonce as public key is to secret key) in the signature, verifiers can confirm the validity of the signature equation without revealing the long-lived secret key. To protect the long-lived secret key, a nonce must never be reused with the same (or related) secret key and message. For single signatures, the most commonly recommended way to protect against nonce reuse is RFC6979 deterministic nonce generation. A uniformly random value can also be used safely if it is immediately discarded after use. Neither of these techniques can be applied directly to multi-signature protocols.

To use deterministic nonces safely in MuSig, a technique like MuSig-DN is necessary to prove that all participants correctly generate their deterministic nonces. Without this proof, a rogue signer can initiate two signing sessions for the same message but provide different nonces. Another signer who generates their nonce deterministically will generate two partial signatures for the same nonce with different effective messages, thus revealing their secret key to the rogue signer.

During the development of the MuSig2 specification, Dawid and I realized that the last signer to contribute a nonce could generate their nonce deterministically. I discussed this with Jonas Nick, who formalized it into the specification. For BitGo’s MuSig2 implementation, this deterministic signing mode is used with our HSMs (Hardware Security Modules) to enable them to execute MuSig2 signing statelessly.

When using random nonces with multi-round signing protocols, signers must consider how the secret nonces are stored between rounds. In single signatures, the secret nonce can be deleted in the same execution as it is created. If an attacker could clone a signer immediately after nonce creation but before providing nonces from the other signers, the signer could be tricked into producing multiple signatures for the same nonce but different effective messages. For this reason, it is recommended that signers carefully consider how their internal states can be accessed and exactly when secret nonces are deleted. When BitGo users sign with MuSig2 using the BitGo SDK, secret nonces are held within the MuSig-JS library, where they are deleted on access for signing.

The Specification Process

Our experience with implementing MuSig2 at BitGo shows that companies and individuals working in the Bitcoin space should take the time to review and contribute to the development of specifications that they intend to (or even hope to) implement. When we first reviewed the draft MuSig2 specification and started studying how best to integrate it into our signing systems, we considered various difficult methods to introduce stateful signing on our HSMs.

Fortunately, as I described the challenges to Dawid, he was confident that there was a way to use a deterministic nonce, and we eventually settled on the rough idea that one signer could be deterministic. When I later raised that idea to Jonas and explained the specific use case we were trying to enable, he recognized the value and formalized it into the specification.

Now other MuSig2 implementers can also take advantage of the flexibility offered by allowing one of their signers not to manage state. By reviewing (and implementing) the draft specification during its development, we were able to contribute to the specification and be ready to launch MuSig2 signing soon after the specification was formally published as BIP327.

MuSig and PSBTs

The PSBT (Partially Signed Bitcoin Transaction) format is intended to carry all information needed to sign a transaction between the parties (e.g., coordinator and signers in a simple case). The more information is needed for signing, the more valuable the format becomes. We examined the costs and benefits of expanding our existing API format with additional fields to facilitate MuSig2 signing vs. converting to PSBT. We settled on converting to PSBT format for transaction data interchange, and it’s been a huge success. It’s not widely known yet, but BitGo wallets (except those using MuSig2, see the next paragraph) can now integrate with hardware signing devices that support PSBTs.

There are not yet published PSBT fields for use in MuSig2 signing. For our implementation, we used proprietary fields that were based on a draft shared with us by Sanket. This is one of the little talked about benefits of the PSBT format - the ability to include whatever additional data might be needed for your custom transaction building or signing protocol in the same binary data format; with global, per-input, and per-output sections already defined. The PSBT specification separates the unsigned transaction from the scripts, signatures, and other data needed to eventually form a complete transaction. This separation can enable more efficient communication during the signing process. For example, our HSM can respond with a minimal PSBT including only its nonces or signatures, and they can be combined into the pre-signing PSBT easily.


Thanks to Jonas Nick and Sanket Kanjalkar at Blockstream; Dawid Ciężarkiewicz at Fedi; and Saravanan Mani, David Kaplan, and the rest of the team at BitGo.