Published on 
27 January, 2021

Is the RSK network decentralized?

Recently I saw these interviews with Diego Gutiérrez Zaldívar, CEO of IOV Labs, made by Chris Blec for his YouTube channel Chris Blec on DeFi and another in spanish by Ezio Rojas from Cointelegraph en español for Crypto Resources. In both interviews they talked about DeFi and RSK project characteristics but one topic caught my attention as it is mentioned recurrently in social networks interactions, is the RSK network decentralized?

I’ll try to answer this question based on Diego’s sayings in the mentioned videos.

RSK is a Bitcoin sidechain that, in short, adds value by allowing the execution of smart contracts to a "linked" layer 2 network.

To make this possible, RSK developed a way to use bitcoin with its same native currency and safety net.

As I mentioned before, one of the topics present in the head of each bitcoiner is decentralization. So, is the RSK network decentralized?

The answer is yes, enough.

The first part of my answer is YES, because to get an rBTC the following happens:

  • The amount of BTC that allows issuing a representation of those BTC on the sidechain is locked in a multisig wallet. In the case of the BTC that circulate in RSK, they are called rBTC.
  • Members of the bridge between Bitcoin and RSK (RSK-Bitcoin Peg) have physical devices similar to a Trezor or a Ledger (physical security devices) where those funds are in custody.
  • The nodes operators do NOT have access to the private keys of those devices which have a certain programming logic.
  • RSK has the ability to "understand" that there was a transaction on the Bitcoin network with an unforgeable proof called SPV (Simple Payment Verification).
  • This SPV proof is taken by the Bridge, which is a smart contract that when evaluating that the proof is valid, "delivers" an rBTC on the RSK network.

This whole process is totally decentralized, anyone can do it and there is no way that the locked funds can be compromised.

The second part of the answer is ENOUGH because the RSK-Bitcoin Peg is necessary for the way back because while RSK can understand Bitcoin, Bitcoin still cannot understand RSK.

The way back to the Bitcoin network is as follows:

  • The rBTC that you want to exchange for BTC are sent to the Bridge smart contract.
  • An SPV style proof is generated.
  • The devices evaluate the proof to ensure that:
    • it comes from the Bridge RSK smart contract
    • it belongs to the longest chain, that is to say, it is not a fork but the main chain of RSK
  • With this, the transaction is signed to "release" the corresponding funds in the Bitcoin network.
  • Half plus 1 of the devices sign the transaction.
  • BTC funds are released

The way back is not completely decentralized because the signatures of more than 50% of the members of the RSK-Bitcoin Peg are needed to release the funds, but enough since there is no way - or it is practically impossible - that someone can steal the locked funds.

As the equivalence is 1 to 1, the only way that hacking the network would be “worthwhile” would be to send the rBTCs to the bridge, release the funds on the bitcoin network and keep the rBTCs, which would not make sense since the rBTCs would be worthless.

If the plan is “to kidnap'' half plus 1 of the devices located around the world as Ethan Hunt from Mission Impossible would do to decrypt each device’s keys, think twice. The moment any of these devices are offline, RSK would notice.

By now you may know that anything is possible, but highly unlikely.

RSK is developing mechanisms to trigger a secondary RSK-Bitcoin Peg in case multiple devices go offline for a certain period of time, among other things.

Once miners are inside the PoWPeg, according to the hash power, they will have a signature. At this point, the RSK-Bitcoin Peg will also be governed by the PoW of the Bitcoin network - as the RSK Blockchain is today - creating the safest interoperability bridge between Blockchains on the planet.

The RSK-Bitcoin Peg code and the names of the members will be released shortly.

Something that I find interesting to highlight from everything Diego G. Z. said in these interviews is the concept of why RSK was created.

Basically it would be having the possibility of accessing Open Finance and DeFi services with bitcoin in the safest and most native way possible; for example, borrowing or using stablecoins like Money on Chain's DoC for day-to-day transactions.


RSK is as decentralized as it can be achieved until the necessary modifications are introduced in Bitcoin that allow it to "understand" the RSK network.

Note: a PowPeg update was released these days that includes several features that improve decentralization with devices called PowHSM. You can read Sergio Lerner's full article here.

Post by Maxi Goyheneche

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