RESILIENT AND EFFICIENT CONSENSUS UNDER UNKNOWN NETWORK CONDITIONS
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Large-scale distributed services need to provide high throughput and low latency without sacrificing resilience. In particular, even if some servers crash or malfunction, the system as a whole should remain consistent. This challenge has been studied extensively in distributed computing and cryptography in the form of consensus algorithms. A consensus algorithm is an interactive protocol that allows honest (non-faulty) nodes to agree on a shared output in the presence of Byzantine (faulty) nodes, who may behave arbitrarily. Consensus algorithms have a long history in distributed computing, and are now receiving even more attention in the context of blockchain systems.Consensus has frequently been studied in the context of two contrasting network models. In the synchronous network model, any message sent by an honest party will be delivered within a fixed bound; this bound is known to all parties and may be used as a protocol parameter. In the asynchronous network model, messages may be delayed for arbitrary lengths of time. For certain consensus problems and settings, the optimal fault tolerance is higher in the synchronous model than the asynchronous model (all else being equal). For example, assuming a public key infrastructure (PKI), the fundamental problem of Byzantine agreement (BA) for n parties is feasible for t < n/2 faults in the synchronous model, compared to only t < n/3 in the asynchronous model. On the other hand, synchronous consensus protocols can become stuck or even lose consistency if delays exceed the fixed bound. In this dissertation, we consider a novel network-agnostic notion of security. Our central contribution is a suite of consensus protocols that achieve precisely defined security guarantees when run in either a synchronous or asynchronous network model, even when the parties are unaware of the network’s true status. In addition, we provide matching impossibility results characterizing the best-possible security guarantees for this setting. We conclude by exploring a natural extension to network-agnostic security, in which protocols must remain secure in a setting where the underlying network status is not only unknown, but may switch between synchrony and asynchrony during a single protocol execution.