Vitalik Buterin on why cross-chain bridges will not be a part of the multi-chain future

This article is a reminder of what we know and how it relates to the multi-chain future.
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The “Vitalik Buterin solana” is a cryptocurrency that uses the Solana blockchain. The blockchain has been designed to be scalable and secure for transactions, but it does not use cross-chain bridges. This means that the coin will not be able to transfer value from one chain to another.

This past week, Vitalik Buterin expressed his support for a multi-chain future in a widely reported tweet opposing the usage of cross-chain solutions by Ethereum and other blockchains.

My justification for why the future will be “multi-chain” but not “cross-chain” is that the security of bridges that traverse numerous “zones of sovereignty” has inherent limitations. Picture taken from https://t.co/3g1GUvuA3A: https://t.co/tEYz8vb59b

on January 7, 2022, vitalik.eth (@VitalikButerin)

Cross-chain bridges are not suitable in Buterin’s opinion since they raise the security concerns involved in the transfer of assets. As assets are transported over an expanding number of chains and decentralized apps with various security principles, their attack vectors grow across a larger network surface area, which results in a tradeoff in security.

Your ETH’s security validation rely solely on the Ethereum network if it is housed inside Ethereum. ETH’s security is now reliant not just on Ethereum, but also on the security of the destination chain and any other cross-chain solutions that are used to transfer, wrap, and lock up the asset when it is transferred between multiple chains via cross-chain bridges.

In his tweet, Buterin states it succinctly:

“Now, consider what would happen if you transferred 100 ETH to a bridge on Solana to get 100 Solana-WETH, and Ethereum was then attacked by 51% of the time. When the Solana side acknowledged the attacker’s deposit of their own ETH, they immediately reversed the transaction on the Ethereum side. Your 100 Solana-WETH may now only be worth 60 ETH since the Solana-WETH contract is no longer fully supported. It is still susceptible to theft from 51 percent assaults like this even if there is a flawless ZK-SNARK-based bridge that completely confirms consensus.

As assets are dispersed over several blockchain security networks, chains become increasingly reliant on one another since the same capital assets are being utilized as collateral and for a variety of reasons. On contrast to if the asset stayed in a single blockchain, the heightened risk of contagion might cause a domino effect to spread across other blockchain ecosystems in the event of an attack:

“When you have more than two chains, the issue becomes worse. If there are 100 chains, there will eventually be dapps with a lot of dependencies between them, and if even one chain were attacked by 51 percent of the population, it would undermine the ecosystem’s economy as a whole.

Cross-chain bridges pose more security concerns

Buterin draws attention to a significant security issue with cross-chain bridges, but the dangers do not end there. Nowadays, the vast majority of cross-chain bridges usually enable asset transfers through centralized federations and external validators.

These technologies streamline transactions and save costs by avoiding the time-consuming and costly decentralized chain validation procedure. Popular examples include Terra’s Shuttle bridge, Axie Infinity’s Ronin bridge, BitGo’s Wrapped Bitcoin (WBTC), and many more.

This also implies that transactions are becoming more dependent on the cross-chain bridge operator rather than the decentralized security of the underlying blockchain network, moving away from a trustless method of verification.

The main dangers associated with cross-chain solutions may be summed up as being based on two things. First, cross-chain solutions increase the potential attack surface for digital assets, increasing the danger of chain contagion. Second, the risk across those same attack vectors is raised since the transferred assets are routed via a number of external validator networks that may no longer be decentralized and trustless.

Over the next year, cross-chain bridge users will lose *so much* money. pic.twitter.com/d0nntkpde7

By Dmitriy Berenzon on August 27, 2021 (@dberenzon).

Future of many chains

Users continue to choose cross-chain bridges for the simple reason that they provide a premium in speed and cheap prices. It serves as a stopgap measure for a more serious issue. But they have to be removed, just like any other bandage.

Like Buterin, Kadan Stadelmann, CTO of Komodo, believes that this security risk will gradually become heightened in awareness and accelerate crypto’s path towards Future of many chains:

“In the future, we’ll see cross-chain bridges like AtomicDEX that link blockchain ecosystems that would otherwise be segregated, as well as multi-chain ecosystem networks like Polkadot and Cosmos, whose chains depend on a common security mechanism. This suggests that DEXs and bridging solutions will likely become widely used.

Cross-chain bridges’ security issues are avoided by multi-chain ecosystems (also known as Layer-0 chains), including Cosmos and Polkadot. Dapp developers may build their own specialized blockchains (referred to as “parachains”) on top of the Polkadot blockchain’s framework. Through the primary Relay Chain hub of the Polkadot, which helps to manage security and the movement of assets across all its parachains, all parachains are linked to one another.

Model of shared security federation from Polkadot (Source)

The Cosmos ecosystem, which consists of many separate Cosmos chains (referred to as zones) that may exchange tokens and data, operates on a similar principle. In contrast to Polkadot, there are several central hubs that different zones may connect to in order to contact other zones. The most well-known names that have chosen Cosmos include Terra, THORChain, and Crypto.com’s Cronos chain.

Vitalik Buterin on why cross-chain bridges will not be a part of the multi-chain futureCosmos’s hub & spoke model is the internet of blockchains (Source)

Both Polkadot and Cosmos aim to establish asset interoperability while ensuring the transfer of assets without putting users’ reliance in third parties, such as cross-chain solutions.

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