ELI5 What is an adversarial Cardano staking pool?

If you’ve been following recent Cardano staking discussions then you’ve probably seen or heard the term adversarial staking pool.

What does it mean, exactly, to be an adversarial staking pool?

Sounds like something bad, doesn’t it?

Aren't adversarial pools essentially cheaters? Well, ethically yes, they are trying to cheat.

But that's not how adversaries are supposed to be seen from a decentralized systems engineering point of view!

Decentralized systems must be trustless.

That is, cheaters are supposed to be unable to profit by bypassing the protocol because the protocol is well engineered, not because the community trusts them not to try.

Therefore, adversarial pools are supposed to be welcome on a decentralized system. Especially a testnet! In fact, this is exactly what testnets are for. Hopefully every conceivable way to subvert the system will show up during testnet operation and not when the system goes live.

This is why Cardano used real ADA rewards for the testnet (incentivized testing), so real greed and real techniques can be tried now rather than in the future.

In the meantime the community has been debating about what, if anything, should be done by Cardano admins regarding adversarial pools:

Of course, the only decentralized answer is : fix the protocol to deflect the adversarial techniques being employed!

Links

Ouroboros Introduction

Pool Health Monitor - View forks and number of adversarial events.

Staking Pool Attack Vector Discussion?

Ouroboros whitepaper [PDF]

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