Bitcoin Optech Newsletter #240 Recap Podcast
Mark “Murch” Erhardt and Mike Schmidt discuss Newsletter #240.
The Bitcoin Optech Podcast and transcription content is licensed Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0
Releases and release candidates
Notable code and documentation changes
Mike Schmidt: Welcome everybody to Bitcoin Optech Newsletter #240 Recap on Twitter Spaces. My name is Mike Schmidt, I’m a contributor at Optech and also Executive Director at Brink, where we fund open-source developers.
Mark Erhardt: And hi, I’m Murch, I work at Chaincode Labs on Bitcoin stuff. I just did a guest lecture here in New York at one of the colleges and today I’m contributing to Optech again.
Mike Schmidt: And also, Murch is a prolific Stack Exchange contributor and answerer, I would add that in. We have one announcement that at least I had in mind for this week, Murch, you may have more, but we did announce yesterday that these Twitter Spaces, including the one we’re recording now, are going to be bundled into a podcast, so we’ve launched that feature on the website as of yesterday, and that includes an RSS feed for the podcast, and that feed includes things like show notes with timestamps, which you’ll see in your podcast catcher.
But also, if you go to the individual page on the Optech website for each podcast, we actually have transcriptions available for the entire podcast, and we also link within the newsletter. So, if we’re covering Newsletter #240, when this comes out in podcast form, we’ll be linking to the newsletter itself and the newsletter will actually be able to link to the podcast, where we actually have conversations about each of these pieces.
So, it’s a good way to preserve this content that Murch and I have been fortunate enough to be exposed to with a lot of these experts; and original authors of the research and the software that we cover have been kind enough to join us in these discussions and it would be a shame to leave all of that content just in an obscure Twitter Space recording, which may get lost. So, we’ve tried to augment that content with as much additional linking and context as possible so we can preserve these valuable discussions.
Murch, thank you for being a part of this for the last several months and hopefully, in podcast form, this can show up in search engines and people can read it and we can link to it and preserve these interesting discussions. So, thank you for being a part of that.
Mark Erhardt: Yeah, my pleasure. That was also my announcement!
Mike Schmidt: Okay, great. Well, we can jump into the news section for this week. For those following along on Twitter Spaces, I’ve shared some tweets that are relevant to this week’s newsletter and you can open up Newsletter #240 on the bitcoinops.org website as well to follow along.
Faster seed backup checksums
We just have one news item this week, which is faster seed backup checksums, and this references our news discussion from last week when we had Russell O’Connor on talking about Codex32. So, for the full context, jump back to that newsletter and that podcast discussion with him. So, Peter Todd replied to the mailing list discussion about Codex32, and he proposed essentially some quicker ways of getting quality verification without having to do as much calculation; that’s what I took away from it. I think, Murch, maybe it would make sense to quickly summarise what is Codex32. Obviously, people can go back and read the coverage from last week, but in order to frame the discussion this week, what is Codex32 and how does it relate to these BIP32 seeds that people may be familiar with?
Mark Erhardt: So, Codex32 is a proposal, or a scheme, which you can use to make sharded backups of your keys. And one of the interesting parts of that is each of the shards is encoded using Bech32, the same encoding that we use for native SegWit addresses. The encoding has a checksum, so it is easy to verify that the shard has been transcribed correctly.
Basically how it works is that you have paper computers, just paper discs that you can shift around a pin on each other, it’s called volvelles, that you can read off charts with. That enables you, together with some paper charts that you fill in, to completely calculate keys offline, to have multiple shards for backing them up, to make checksums on those to ensure that you didn’t make any mistake.
So, what Peter Todd, from skimming the discussion on the mailing list, what Peter Todd is proposing here is we could have a much easier checksum scheme to get an initial read on whether there are some simple mistakes on your transcription of the backups, and he basically proposed something that would just add up the characters in the backup seed and then see whether it matches a number out of 1,000, so basically a modulo 1,000 scheme, and he said that would be so easy, people could just learn how to do it and it might be better having the more complicated, but much, much stronger checksum scheme that Professor Snead and Dr, what was it, are proposing.
Mike Schmidt: Forgot the other doctor who was involved there! Okay, so it would be easier for me, or easier for anybody using Codex32 to do some verification, so therefore I would be more likely to do it because it would actually be mechanically easier for me, but I would have less assurances that the verification that I did offline would be correct. But we’re talking, what, 99.9% versus some slightly higher version of assurances; am I understanding that correct?
Mark Erhardt: So, yes and no. So, if you only make a single mistake, the scheme would probably be sufficient to find it. The big advantage of the Bech32 scheme is that it treats every position in the string as basically a separate factor. So, not only would you learn what that mistake is, but also where the mistake probably happened. And if you do multiple mistakes, there is no chance of them cancelling out. If you have a much simpler scheme where you just add up the values of the characters, then if you have an off by one in one direction on one character and off by one on another character, for example, you wouldn’t catch that. Or, if you just switched the position of the characters, you would not catch that, because the value of the sum would still be the same.
So, I think that it would maybe be a good additional thing that you very quickly can check, but I’m not sure if it’s a good replacement, especially if we’re talking about high-value cold storage backup; the extra effort might be worth it.
Mike Schmidt: Now, this is a personal question that I have about the shares. I know one of the criticisms of Shamir’s Secret Sharing in the past was that in order to actually use the shares, you need to reconstitute the shares on a single machine in order to, let’s say, transact or sign something. Does that also apply to Codex32, Murch?
Mark Erhardt: I believe so, yes. I think that is essentially a variant on Shamir’s Secret Sharing, so yes, you would reconstitute the key when you combined the shares. The idea is you don’t have to combine to confirm that all the parts are well-formed and properly transcribed. And, I think if you use the scheme to make multiple keys and have, for example, a MuSig multisig, then you wouldn’t constitute all of the secrets that you need to sign off on outputs in one place. So you would constitute one key, make a signature, then constitute the other key, make a signature. You could do this on different devices, could do it in different locations.
Mike Schmidt: Okay, that makes sense. And one more question that I have that I’m curious about is, I know you have experience with custody and keys and different schemes. I’ve heard of this MPC, Multi-Party Computation, I believe; are you familiar with that and how it’s related to these sorts of schemes at all, or do you want to comment on that, and if not we can move on?
Mark Erhardt: Multi-party computation is an approach that is essentially an alternative to doing multisig. It is in essence very similar to Shamir’s Secret Sharing. At the point of signing, you need to reconstitute the secret key in order to use it. It is often marketed as, “There’s no keys in this scheme any more, because people just have shards and the shards are not keys”, and I think that’s often a little disingenuous, because whether you shard a key or you just have the keys directly, all of that is still sensitive, secret information, and it feels like a bit of a hat-trick.
The problem that it is sidestepping is in other protocols, like Ethereum for example, there is no way to do multisig natively, so using MPC, you can make signatures but not require – you can have secrets split up over multiple parties, that can sign together without using native multisig, but still get the signoff of multiple people. The problem of course is that the device that combines the information from the multiple shares does learn, at least temporarily, the secret, so the idea is that is some sort of hardware device that is trusted to only take the inputs from the users and then not be able to export the key.
I know that Fireblocks I think is MPC-based instead of multisig-based, and that way they could use essentially the same solutions for Bitcoin and Ethereum; but it also scared some of the applied cryptographers that I was working with, how new the MPC crypto was. And I may have made mistakes here, it was like three years ago that I talked to people about this.
Mike Schmidt: So, we have three releases that we covered in the newsletter yesterday. The first one is HWI 2.2.1, which is a maintenance release. I saw a couple of notable things. One is signing of some P2SH multisigs using the Trezor hardware device; and then the second thing was pubkey serialization in ranged descriptors and, Murch, I thought it would be useful maybe for you to use this opportunity to describe what is a ranged descriptor.
Mark Erhardt: A ranged descriptor is basically just a descriptor that describes a whole series of scriptpubkeys within one output descriptor. So, output descriptors in general are a construct that’s basically an upgraded version of an extended pubkey, where you define the general scheme of a scriptpubkey and leave wildcards for the key material. I use a Pay-to-Public-Key-Hash construction, but the keys are from this series of subkeys in a BIP32 graph. So, ranged descriptor is basically just like a series of scriptpubkeys that have the same scheme, but different pubkeys plugged in.
Mike Schmidt: Excellent, thank you for that overview. So, those were the notable things in HWI.
Core Lightning 23.02rc3
The next notable release candidate is Core Lightning 23.02rc3, which we’ve had in actually for a couple of weeks now. And so, if you go back I think to our Recap for #238, we had a couple of folks from Blockstream in the Core Lightning team that came on and gave us an overview of that release candidate, so I think you should reference that for more details.
And then the last release we had is LND v0.16.0 and this is a beta release candidate. A couple of things that I noticed were interesting here was a few P2P updates for LND, including a bug fix that could lead to some channel updates being missed; and then also some changes at the P2P level for gossip updates. They’ve also added the decryption for larger Onion failure messages, and we’ve covered that a few times in the newsletter. The ability to have these larger error messages can enable better pathfinding using what we’ve talked with Joost, I believe, about fat errors. So I thought that was interesting. There was also something about Taproot, the ability to have watch-only addresses in the internal wallet for Taproot pubkeys in Tapscripts. And then, there was a bunch of other RPC and wallet updates and bug fixes, so jump into the release notes there, it’s really comprehensive there.
Bitcoin Core #25943
Mark Erhardt: Yeah, super. So, #25943 basically protects users against burning funds if they are creating an unspendable output. So for example, if you have an OP_RETURN, or you have an output that exceeds the maximum script size or an invalid opcode, then the Bitcoin Core wallet software will stop you from assigning an amount to that output, unless you specifically allow it. So, you will not accidentally send a lot of money to an OP_RETURN that will never be spendable.
Mike Schmidt: Now, the OP_RETURN example makes sense to me on why that is unspendable, but also a valid transaction. Now why, if I’m using an invalid opcode, why would that even be confirmed or be a valid transaction?
Mark Erhardt: That’s an excellent question. I’m not sure why we would even consider special-casing that, because an invalid opcode would also mean that the transaction is invalid. So, maybe this is when people are building transactions in Bitcoin Core that they want to send to a compatible other network, but honestly I’m not quite sure.
Mike Schmidt: And, does your answer also apply to the case of an output whose script exceeds the maximum script size as well; is that a similar answer?
Mark Erhardt: Yes, so I guess this is why. When we write an output, we do not execute the output script, right, we only lock funds to the output. So, if the output script includes an opcode that is permitted but will make any execution of the output script say that it failed, then we will never be able to spend the funds that are assigned to that output script. Similarly, the length of the output script, I think, would be permitted in writing the output script; but when we execute the output script with the input script on the stack, we check the length, I think it’s 10,000 bytes. If it’s longer than 10,000 bytes, it would fail at the script execution time, so we would be unable to move the funds, but we would be able to assign funds to the script.
Mike Schmidt: Got you! Okay, that makes sense. Thanks, Murch.
Bitcoin Core #26595
The next PR that we noted this week is Bitcoin Core #26595, and this pull request is related to the migratewallet RPC, which enables you to migrate your wallet from a legacy wallet to a descriptor wallet, and this RPC already exists but there were some limitations to it. I believe it only acted on unencrypted wallets that you happened to already have loaded, and so the changes in this PR allow you to provide a passphrase for an encrypted wallet, and also to name a wallet such that it could be a wallet that you don’t currently have loaded. So now, I think that means that all wallets, encrypted or not or loaded or not, can now be migrated to descriptor wallets. Murch, any thoughts on that PR?
Mark Erhardt: No, I think you basically wrapped it up completely. I have an extra thought that is related to this. So funnily enough, the Bitcoin Core wallet support basically always assumed that you were operating with a single wallet file. So, for the longest time, we even only had a backup wallet function but not an import backup function. And now, especially with the migration to descriptor wallets, it’s just more common that people have multiple wallet files. So, I think that you’ll find achow, in this case, is getting around to adding these other functions, like migrating other wallets that you had previously and importing backups and things like that. So, basically what I’m saying is, if you’re bumping into these sort of UX issues with the wallet, we do have an issue tracker on GitHub; let us know what you need.
Mike Schmidt: Good plug.
Bitcoin Core #27068
Next PR here is Bitcoin Core #27068 and this is also related to passphrases. It sounds like previously, if you had a passphrase and you encrypted your wallet using a passphrase that had a special character, an ASCII null character, which is 0x00, the passphrase would actually be truncated at the point that there was a null character. So, you may have thought that you put in a 20-character passphrase but if you had an ASCII null character at spot 5, let’s say, then you would have actually those additional characters would be truncated and you would have a much less secure passphrase that you thought, and obviously there’s some usability then when you go to decrypt that.
So, this sounds like a bug to me and it sounds like this PR fixes that bug, so that it actually can handle that null character and it also provides some warning messages for folks if they’ve run into issues with the truncation. Murch, are you familiar with this PR, and would you classify this as a bug fix?
Mark Erhardt: Yes, and especially, I think, we should point out now if it’s fixed and you put in the long password that you had maybe stored in your password manager, and now Bitcoin Core handles that password correctly, it would of course try to decrypt the wallet with the long password while the original password set on the wallet would have been the truncated password; so, you wouldn’t be able to decrypt it and it’ll tell you now, “You need to use the truncated password”, I guess, or that’s what I hope, and point out to you, “Your password contains this special character and here’s how you still can decrypt your wallet”. Yeah, so I think you got it all.
Mike Schmidt: The last two pull requests that we covered in this week’s newsletter were related to the Lightning Development Kit, LDK.
The first PR is LDK #1988 which adds some limits for peer connections and unfunded channels to prevent denial of service attacks. I believe that the particular resource that was trying to be mitigated here was an out-of-memory error. I guess before these limits, there was no limit on data-sharing peers, or peers which may be trying to open a channel with your node, or the number of channels that a single peer could be trying to open but has not funded with you.
So, there’s three new limits that are now added to LDK: the 250 data-sharing peers limit; a maximum of 50 peers which may be trying to open a channel with you; and a maximum of 4 channels that have not yet been funded by a single peer. Murch, thoughts on these denial-of-service limits?
Mark Erhardt: I mean, it’s just not possible to be connected to every other participant on the Lightning Network, so having some sanity limits here makes sense to me. And from what it looks like, the one number that is not present is the number of peers that you have a channel with. You’re obviously connected to every single peer that you have a channel with, there’s only limits on the number of peers that you will accept that don’t have a channel with you yet, and especially the peers that you’re not even trying to have a channel with yet. I think that this sums up to over 300 connections already, plus all the connections that you have channels with. That seems like a very generous amount of connections into the network.
Mike Schmidt: The last PR for this week is LDK #1977 and there’s a couple of different things in this PR. The thing that we noted in the newsletter was exposing the offers module publicly, but there’s also some additional changes in this PR to fuzzers related to BOLT12 as well. So, it sounds like while there are still some limitations, since LDK doesn’t have blinded path support yet, you can start experimenting with offers in LDK now. Murch, any thoughts on LDK and offers?
Mark Erhardt: Yeah, I’ve been seeing a bunch of PRs from LDK on offers. It looks like they’re moving forward pretty quickly with getting support rolling. And I was recently asked by someone how long it will take until offers will be widely deployed on the Lightning Network. So, I think work started about three years ago. The first experimental support was two years ago in, I think, C-Lightning, and we have also seen now, in an announcement by LND, that was previously focusing on other things, not working on BOLT12 yet, that they intend to have support for blinded paths by spring this year.
So, I think that maybe by the end of the year, we’ll actually have better/at least rudimentary support for offers across the network, if I understand that correctly. It’s of course difficult to speak about the roadmap of four different projects that I only have peripheral insight into.
Mike Schmidt: Well, that wraps up the newsletter content for this week. Thank you everybody for joining us this week and we’ll see you next Thursday for a discussion of Newsletter #241. Thanks, Murch.
Mark Erhardt: Thanks, hear you soon.