The oracle problem is centered around the fact that blockchains cannot access or share data with external systems, meaning they are isolated networks. The isolation of a blockchain makes it highly secure and reliable, as the network only needs to agree on a limited set of questions using already stored data. The reason smart contracts are known for their conviction is because of blockchain consensus. This allows them to be executed with a higher level of reliability than traditional systems.
However, for smart contracts to be used for the majority of their potential applications, they need to be able to connect with outside entities and assets. For example, synthetic protocols need access to market information to peg currencies and determine price points reliably. Unfortunately, this information is not generated within the blockchain; therefore, these traditional services are not directly accessible.
An additional infrastructure called an oracle is needed to bridge the connection between the blockchain and outside data. An oracle acts as an intermediary, providing access to external data and services. This allows smart contracts to make and execute decisions based on real-world information. However, there are several potential pitfalls associated with oracles, including security risks, reliability issues, and the potential for centralization.
One of the critical challenges of using oracles is the potential for a single point of failure. As the sole source of input data for a smart contract, an oracle can determine how a contract is executed. If an oracle experiences downtime, provides incorrect information, is compromised, or has any other vulnerabilities, it can potentially undermine the entire system. This makes the reliability and security of oracles a critical factor in the success of decentralized protocols.
As a centralized entity typically runs these oracles, there is no guarantee that they will always be available and functioning properly. If an oracle goes offline or becomes unavailable, the protocols that rely on it will be unable to access the necessary data and may be unable to execute properly. This could cause pegs to be inaccurate and 1:1 ratios compromised.
Furthermore, security breaches are still a significant concern. If an oracle is compromised, it could feed false or misleading data into the smart contracts, leading to incorrect decisions and potentially disastrous consequences. This can happen if an oracle or a third party manipulates its information from an unprotected source.
In 2019, Synthetix experienced a significant loss of over $1 billion due to a faulty oracle misreporting price information. The oracle input a price 1000 times higher than the actual rate for Korean Won, and a trading bot exploited this error. The bot conducted a series of transactions while the system reported incorrect information, resulting in over $1 billion in profit. This incident clearly highlights the potential risks and consequences of using unreliable oracles.
The Optimistic Oracle, developed by UMA, is a flexible and secure solution to the centralized oracle problem. By implementing their solution, contracts will be able to quickly request and receive any type of data, ensuring the reliability and sustainability of DeFi protocols.
UMA designed its decentralized oracle solution on the assumption that any oracle on a public blockchain can be corrupted. To prevent this, UMA focused on creating economic incentives such that the Cost of Corrupting (CoC) the oracle would be higher than the potential Profit from Corrupting (PfC) it. Their architecture allows users to earn rewards by proposing correct answers to requests for data. However, proposed data will only be sent to the decentralized virtual machine (DVM) if it is disputed. As users stand to lose money if they propose incorrect data, disputes are rare.
Additionally, the Optimistic Oracle offers protection against the manipulation of external data feeds, which is a common concern in the DeFi space. Unlike other Oracle solutions, UMA allows for disputes of incorrect data, ensuring the security of both smart contracts and users. This sets it apart from other oracles, which are only as secure as their data sources.
API3 is a community-governed oracle platform that enables Web3 applications to gain access to data such as stocks and cryptocurrencies. API3 uses dAPIs, decentralized application programming interfaces, to directly feed data from first-party sources, unlike other oracles that rely on oracle nodes as intermediaries.
One of the unique features of API3 is Airnode, a Web3 multi vendor that makes it possible for any API to work with blockchain technology. This enables users to easily connect web APIs to dApps. This type of compatibility allows for greater flexibility and expanded options for users.
As API3 is a DAO, the API3 token is used to power the platform and allows holders to stake their tokens and earn voting rights. The staked token pool also allows for “Service Coverage” to users in case of malfunctioning dAPIs, which helps to mitigate risk. This is a feature not commonly offered by oracle platforms in the case of malfunctioning or unreliable oracle nodes.
Chainlink is a decentralized oracle network that seeks to overcome the current pitfalls by providing a secure, reliable, and decentralized solution for accessing external data on the blockchain. Chainlink uses a network of independent nodes that are incentivized to offer accurate data, and it employs various security measures to protect against attacks and other security risks. Additionally, Chainlink allows smart contracts to access data from multiple oracles, providing redundancy and increased reliability.
On top of that, its decentralized architecture and advanced security measures ensure the data’s availability, integrity, and confidentiality. For example, the external adapters enable the secure storage of API keys and the management of account logins, allowing smart contracts to access data from password-protected systems and APIs. Furthermore, the decentralized nature of node and data source levels ensures no single point of failure, guaranteeing data availability and timely delivery with manipulation protection.
Node data signing allows users to trace the source and assess its quality based on past performance. Blockchain-enforced service agreements outline the terms of the oracle service and the repercussions for performance. Based on signed on-chain data, reputation systems help users make informed decisions about the quality of nodes. Certification services offer extra assurances such as KYC and location verification to ensure the security and reliability of the oracle network.
In addition, Chainlink supports advanced cryptography and hardware, enabling zero-knowledge proofs and trusted execution environments for added security. This allows additional functions such as proving the origin of data, keeping data confidential, and performing off-chain computation. With Chainlink’s open-source technology, users can verify the code’s security and reliability and contribute to its improvement.
Overall, the drawbacks of blockchain oracles are a severe concern to the DeFi community. By providing a secure, reliable, and decentralized solution for accessing external data, market leaders such as UMA, API3, and Chainlink are helping to overcome these challenges and enabling decentralized applications’ to continue their growth and development.