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Sybil in the Haystack: A Comprehensive Review of Blockchain Consensus Mechanisms in Search of Strong Sybil Attack Resistance

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Article number34
Issue number1
Accepted/In press27 Nov 2022
Published6 Jan 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright: © 2023 by the authors.

King's Authors


Consensus algorithms are applied in the context of distributed computer systems to improve their fault tolerance. The explosive development of distributed ledger technology following the proposal of ‘Bitcoin’ led to a sharp increase in research activity in this area. Specifically, public and permissionless networks require robust leader selection strategies resistant to Sybil attacks in which malicious attackers present bogus identities to induce byzantine faults. Our goal is to analyse the entire breadth of works in this area systematically, thereby uncovering trends and research directions regarding Sybil attack resistance in today’s blockchain systems to benefit the designs of the future. Through a systematic literature review, we condense an immense set of research records (N = 21,799) to a relevant subset (N = 483). We categorise these mechanisms by their Sybil attack resistance characteristics, leader selection methodology, and incentive scheme. Mechanisms with strong Sybil attack resistance commonly adopt the principles underlying ‘Proof-of-Work’ or ‘Proof-of-Stake’ while mechanisms with limited resistance often use reputation systems or physical world linking. We find that only a few fundamental paradigms exist that can resist Sybil attacks in a permissionless setting but discover numerous innovative mechanisms that can deliver weaker protection in system scenarios with smaller attack surfaces.

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