Verifiable Randomness on Solana

Switchboard continues to be the only provider for verifiable randomness (VRF) on Solana and today we are excited to announce a fee reduction bringing the overall cost of a VRF request down to just under 0.002 SOL — a 50x reduction!

Initially, Switchboard set the cost of a VRF request to 0.1 SOL to protect the oracles from being overwhelmed with VRF requests, which could potentially crash the oracles as they awaited the VRF proof to confirm. Switchboard oracles have since migrated to using nonce accounts, or non-expiring transactions, to submit the necessary proofs, reducing the oracle’s memory footprint, and increasing the overall reliability of successfully completing the VRF proof. See the twitter thread below for more information.

Switchboard will continue listening to the developer ecosystem in order to help power the next wave of projects on Solana. If you’re a developer that is integrating randomness into your application, we would love to connect and see how it can be further improved.

What is Randomness?

Random numbers are a useful building block for many applications, such as gaming and some consensus protocols. Without an element of randomness, games and protocols can be cheated when adversaries are able to influence the outcome.

While true-randomness on some computers can be made possible via atmospheric noise and special hardware modules, such solutions on blockchains are not possible since they are virtual machines without physical hardware. Thus, pseudorandom-functions are needed to close this gap.

Enter Verifiable Random Function (VRF). A VRF is a public-key pseudorandom function that provides proofs that its outputs were calculated correctly. This means we can use a cryptographic keypair to generate a random number with a proof, which can then be validated by anyone to ensure the value was calculated correctly without the possibility of leaking the producer’s secret key. You can read more about VRF from the Algorand team, whose founder was one of the authors on the original VRF paper.

Is Switchboard VRF Secure?

Switchboard’s implementation adheres to volume 11 of the Internet Research Task Force’s (IRTFs) draft for VRF. If you like math feel free to check it out here.

Once the oracle has posted the proof on-chain, anyone is permitted to turn the crank and verify the proof. If a malicious oracle tries to submit a false proof, it will be rejected on-chain during the proof verification.

Switchboard’s VRF implementation uses the VRF counter and the recent blockhash as the VRF input to prevent oracles from gaining an unfair advantage. Unfortunately, this means that just like any other blockchain VRF protocol, there exists a collusion vector between the oracle and the block-producer, however, it is much more secure than simply using the blockhash on its own on its own for randomness!

Should I use XYZ for Randomness?

Many projects attempt to derive “randomness” from the latest blockhash. Unfortunately, while very low-cost, this is extremely insecure against an adversary with the ability to influence transaction ordering. Slot leaders could easily exploit your game or protocol by adding noise to the blocks they produce to result in “random” data favorable to themselves. With the advent of MEV tech such as Flashbots, Jito Labs, and proposer-builder-separation, this attack vector may become more accessible to unsophisticated adversaries.

Another risk to be aware of is improper VRFs, such as those based on non-deterministic signature schemes, like EdDSA. See @colludingnode’s thread for more details.

A few examples where VRF could have mitigated exploits:

How Do I Integrate Switchboard VRF?

We have a number of resources to get started!

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