Despite nearly six years passing since the inception of decentralized finance (DeFi) in 2017, it’s still experiencing child-like growing pains in 2023. DeFi underpins many Web3 properties which experience hacks and exploits weekly. Multi-million dollar exploits remain commonplace.
In truth, the industry has struggled with basics — starting with its name. Whether DeFi has ever achieved financial “decentralization” is debatable. Several Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) officials are wary of the word: Hester Peirce has flagged projects as “decentralized in name only,” and Gary Gensler has repeatedly questioned the word’s relevance.
“Everything other than Bitcoin you can find a website, you can find a group of entrepreneurs, they might set up their legal entities in a tax haven offshore, they might have a foundation, they might lawyer it up to try to arbitrage… But at the core… these tokens are securities because there’s a group in the middle and the public is anticipating profits based on that group.”SEC Chairman Gary Gensler on February 23, 2023 in New York Magazine
For example, DeFi giant Solana has been offline at least 20 times – putting millions of open trades at the mercy of a handful of centralized developers to resolve. Specifically, Solana founder Anatoly Yakovenko once revealed that just 20 people were active contributors to Solana’s code — 15 of whom worked for Yakovenko at the time.
Even MakerDAO, the project widely credited with starting the DeFi industry in 2017, has recently voted to send community funds into a personal attorney retainer fund for key insiders. Recent news from other popular DeFi platforms like Polygon suggest that the state of DeFi in 2023 remains tenuous.
In 2023, DeFi could continue its slow development, or it could pass as an unsustainable fad. In any case, here are the most recent problems facing three large DeFi platforms today.
DeFi platform Polygon off to a rocky 2023
Polygon is a popular DeFi platform. On February 21, Polygon Labs announced layoffs that impacted 100 employees – about 20% of its workforce. The project is also consolidating other teams.
Worse, developers forcibly reorganized its blockchain, erasing 157 blocks containing hundreds of user transactions.
On February 22, a Polygon block explorer called PolygonScan went down for several hours. This outage led to valid concerns about a Polygon network outage.
Some Polygon nodes lost their synchronization with the rest of the network. Critics assumed the worst. Amid the catastrophe, Polygon Labs conveyed confidence. It noted Polygon’s rapid growth and claimed it has $250 million in cash and 1.9 billion of its native token, MATIC, within its treasury.
Polygon co-founder Sandeep Nailwal tried to reassure followers regarding Polygon’s status, saying an alternative block explorer remained active.
Solana’s innumerable outages
Solana is another popular DeFi platform. Its blockchain has become infamous for outages. More recently, its blockchain forked. Transaction throughput slowed to a crawl. Node operators flagged major bugs in a recent update and downgraded software to a prior version.
Their quick thinking failed to solve what was a more serious issue: Two conflicting versions of the Solana blockchain existed.
A liquid staking pool operator called SolBlaze suggested rolling the blockchain back to a point before the fork. Such a rollback is normally an extreme and often controversial option. It would also require coordination between Solana’s validators, which takes time.
In all, Solana’s outage lasted nearly a full day.
MakerDAO is one of the oldest DeFi apps. It’s often credited with founding the DeFi industry in 2017. Recently, it’s been involved in several contentious activities.
Maker’s original purpose was to decentralize a dollar stablecoin, DAI. However, its co-founder Rune Christensen has admitted that Maker will fail in that mission and intends to de-peg DAI from $1 altogether.
Even decentralized “governance” at Maker is failing. Many proposals pass with less than 10 controlling voters. It is hard to argue that such governance is meaningfully decentralized.
Maker has also launched a legal defense fund with $5 million worth of DAI stablecoins. These funds benefit Maker’s insiders at the expense of community investments.
In a YouTube video published this week, Christensen seemed to admit that he was worried about potential lawsuits that might name him as an individual defendant.
- The government has sued several ostensibly decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs), including Ooki DAO, American Cryptofed DAO, and The DAO.
- Christensen introduced a draft constitution including a provision to earmark $14 million in MKR tokens to fight climate change. Voters are considering “The Maker Constitution” as a proposal called Maker Improvement Proposal (MIP) 101.
- It proposed temporarily shutting down and rebooting its Teleport L2 gateways to fix a minor issue.
DeFi bridge Wormhole controlled by one company
In 2022, someone extracted approximately 120,000 ETH from the Solana-Ethereum bridge called Wormhole, which was once the nexus of DeFi activity on Solana. Jump Crypto had previously acquired the company which created Wormhole. Within hours of the hack, Jump Crypto bailed out the allegedly decentralized protocol – the first time and last time Jump Crypto would ever bail out any DeFi protocol.
In recent days, Jump Crypto continues to assert its dominance over the ostensibly decentralized bridge. Jump might have recouped some that ETH by setting up a counter-exploit involving an Oasis multi-signature contract. It tricked an Oasis contract into sending funds to a wallet that looks like it belongs to Jump Crypto.
Oasis confirmed that it received a court order to do everything it could to recover the lost funds. It didn’t specifically name Jump Crypto but it acknowledged the Wormhole exploit and says it sent the recovered assets to an authorized third party.