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Improving Governance and Security of Cosmos Hub

Cosmos Hub has achieved significant milestones since its inception, but must evolve to meet the needs of an expanding ecosystem
Improving Governance and Security of Cosmos Hub

Thanks to the ongoing work and dedication of many contributing teams, Cosmos Hub has achieved significant milestones since its inception. From establishing one of the most advanced governance systems in the blockchain space to being the first to implement IBC, multi-token pegging, and Interchain Security (ICS), the initial vision for Cosmos Hub is more than complete. However, as the ecosystem expands, new needs continually arise. Cosmos Hub development must, therefore, keep pace to ensure the continued security of the network and the best possible user experience.

AiB has identified several important improvements to governance and ICS that we believe will achieve exactly that, and we would like to discuss these proposals with the community to collect valuable feedback and understand your preferences. We’re excited to add our contribution to Cosmos Hub governance and work on the afferent code design proposals pending positive feedback on our proposals.

Extending the Voting Period for Late Quorum

In certain cases, governance proposals may reach quorum near the end of the voting period. However, since the proposal’s outcome only becomes valid after achieving a quorum, this is also when interest in a proposal usually piques. Community discussions are often sparked at quorum as more people become aware of a proposal that may have remained under the radar until the voting period has almost elapsed, leaving insufficient time to educate and discuss the proposal in detail.

We believe a good idea is to propose an extension mechanism to the voting period to ensure that each proposal is properly assessed and understood by the community and that there is enough time to react accordingly and unhurriedly. You can find the work-in-progress draft for the quorum extension here and the code here. Both are subject to improvements and feedback from the larger community.

Preventing Spam Proposals That Threaten User Security

Cosmos Hub has been inundated with spam proposals lately, which not only distracts from serious proposals but can also affect the overall security of users on the network. Spam proposals waste everyone’s time and often contain misinformation and scams, as well as malicious links that can pose a threat to users. Some attempts to mitigate spam proposals have been implemented, such as a minimum deposit for governance proposals. While this has reduced the number of such proposals, the minimum limit has not been effective at combatting them entirely.

Our proposal employs a similar mechanism to the auto-adjusting inflation rate for spam proposals that would adjust the deposit amount based on the number of proposals submitted, targeting a low number of proposals to be active at all times (e.g., 1 or 2). You can find more details on this proposal on the Cosmos Hub forum here. We look forward to receiving community input and feedback.

Delegation-less Voting to Separate Staking and Governance

Currently, with delegated Proof-of-Stake chains like Cosmos Hub, validators on the network effectively assume the role of politicians. To vote on specific proposals, stakers must vote for themselves or, if they don’t vote, automatically delegate their voting power to validators who use their stake to vote on proposals. However, as some members of the Cosmos community have shared in some recent conversations, we believe that politics should not play a role in a validator’s selection, as this governance system can heighten the risk of centralization of power.

Validators should be selected based on their technical excellence and ability to keep Cosmos Hub safe, not to act as lobbyists for causes they may or may not be familiar with or affiliated with. We, therefore, support the separation of staking and governance with the possibility of delegation-less voting. In this new implementation, two kinds of governance proposals would exist:

In the case of the former, stakers would vote directly or delegate to validators as in the current system. In the latter’s case, stakers would have to vote directly without being able to delegate their vote to the validators, and only delegation-less votes would count, removing any potential conflict of interest on important topics. To implement delegation-less voting, we would need a mechanism for quorum auto-adjustment to reflect the inevitable reduced participation with direct voting. We would also need some kind of governance body to ensure proposals are correctly categorized. Thoughts and feedback are welcome.

Finding the Ideal Quorum

To support direct voting, we need to improve how quorum is reached. We believe this can be achieved by implementing a Quorum Threshold Auto-Adjustment that linearly decreases the quorum threshold when consecutive proposals fail because they do not meet the quorum. This would allow us to find the proper quorum threshold for proposals where only direct voting is allowed. A specific governance proposal could set the quorum threshold to a higher value if needed. We continue to work on updates to this proposal and hope to share a draft of this idea with the community soon.

2/3 Supermajority Proposals

Under this improvement, proposals would only pass if a 2/3+ supermajority voted Yes. This would consequently remove the NoWithVeto vote option for these proposals as it would be rendered redundant. The supermajority threshold could be used on certain proposals only, such as major changes to infrastructure, architectural/design implementations of the chain, or constitutional changes, or it could be enacted for all proposals. We remain open to ideas and opinions.

Developing Interchain Security (ICS)

Alongside our work on Cosmos Hub governance, AiB is also actively contributing to improving ICS to ensure continued innovation and security. During the research stages for replicated security, AiB CEO Jae Kwon uncovered a potential issue with automatic slashing that could have seriously harmed the Hub by jailing a significant part of its validator set and leaving the validation to a subset that could act maliciously. Thanks to the work of AiB, we removed automatic slashing and replaced it with a manual slash proposal to decide whether a validator or a set of validators should be slashed, depending on the slash evidence presented for each case. We’re proud that ICS was shipped with AiB’s contribution. You can examine the specifications here.

We have since submitted further proposals for improving ICS, which are currently under discussion and review. One is a proposal to set an expiration date on the consumer chain updated on each VSC Packet received to ensure the chain is up to date. This should simplify the ICS implementation by removing the unbonding period synchronicity between the consumer and provider chain.

We are also working on a proposal from Informal Systems to pause the unbonding period during equivocation. You can find a detailed list of our contributions to ICS development on GitHub here.

Decentralists DAO

AiB is advancing work on the Decentralists DAO to develop core components of the Cosmos tech stack and tackle issues affecting Cosmos Hub. Over recent months, we’ve allocated initial resources to our engineering team to work on the above-mentioned issues, as part of our commitment to Decentralists DAO. The team is currently exploring ways to improve Cosmos Hub governance and actively participating in ICS development as we recognize their significance in the Hub’s growth. We are seeking more contributors to join our quest and hold the ecosystem to a higher standard. If you are interested, please let us know.

Final Thoughts

AiB is dedicated to growing the Cosmos ecosystem and enhancing the security and user experience for everyone involved. In addition to our work on Cosmos Hub governance and ICS, we believe that establishing a Constitution for Cosmos Hub is vital as it would underpin all governance proposals and serve as a reference point for cosmonauts about the type of governance and on-chain society we strive to create and preserve. Our work on these improvements is evolving, and we welcome constructive feedback and suggestions from the community. You can find the full details of our Cosmos Hub governance work and tentative roadmap on GitHub here.