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Recently, the e-commerce giant Amazon has been granted a patent for a proof-of-work (PoW) system that could be utilized to prevent distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks that computer networks are often subjected to. The patent was filed initially in late 2016 and the patent application was finally approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) earlier this week.
The patent basically shows how Merkle Trees can be planted to prevent DDoS attacks and overcome proof-of-work challenges; Merkle Trees are a vital structure in blockchain, and are prevalent in virtually all popular cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin. Amazon’s patent explains:
“A proof-of-work system where a first party (e.g., a client computer system) may request access to a computing resource. A second party (e.g., a service provider) may determine a challenge that may be provided to the first party. A valid solution to the challenge may be generated and provided for the request to be fulfilled.”
As noted by Amazon these challenges could be “a message and a seed, such that the seed may be used at least in part to cryptographically derive information that may be used to generate a solution to the challenge.”
The patent application explains further how the system can diminish attacks:
“One way to mitigate against such attacks is to configure a service such that requests to the service incur some sort of expense, thereby providing a disincentive to participating in the attack.”
Hence, the idea behind Amazon’s system is that it is basically generating Merkle Trees to counter various challenged associated with sluggish and time-consuming proof of work consensus and to make DDoS attacks costly for a series of computers to perform it.
Diving a little deeper into Merkle Trees, it is a cryptographic tool which can be used to allot the blocks of data a unique identifier known as a hash. It is being done by manipulating the data stored inside the blocks. These hashes are later manipulated and combined again to create a parent hash. Computing power becomes a requisite when it comes to planting Merkle Trees, which makes it incredibly difficult to execute a DDoS attack on a server with such a system.
In essence, the Merkle Tree system is implanted on a website’s servers and whenever users attempt to visit the website, they need to build a Merkle Tree for access; for the private user, this would be quite a negligent CPU investment, but for a large computer network (as in the case of DDoS attacks) it would be highly exorbitant.
A similar system is also incorporated in the Bitcoin blockchain that wields Proof of Work consensus in which Merkle Trees are being used to verify and check that blocks mined on the network are valid or not. This move shows that Amazon is more interested in the technology behind Bitcoin, blockchain, rather than the cryptocurrency itself, and is not shy to heavily invest in it.