Rescuing Stranded Ether With Ethereum Improvement Proposal 156

On October 14, 2016, a few months after The DAO, Ethereum’s chief scientist Vitalik Buterin opened Ethereum Improvement Proposal 156 on GitHub. Entitled “Reclaiming of ether in common classes of stuck accounts,” EIP 156 has received renewed attention after more than 500,000 ether was frozen due to a bug in a library contract used by cryptocurrency wallet company Parity.

EIP 156, which would be implemented via hard fork, has been floated as a potential solution to Parity’s predicament. Unfortunately, as noted by ConsenSys developer Alex Miller, it’s not that simple.

Regardless of Parity, which could have dealt with its vulnerability much sooner, what would EIP 156 do anyway? Could it fix anything at all?

In a rationale section, Buterin explained that EIP 156 would allow users to withdraw assets from contracts that are mistakenly created without code. In more tangible terms, imagine that you accidentally sent a check to a nonexistent business – with EIP 156 in place, you could undo that transaction.

If implemented, the protocol would also handle losses resulting from “an old Ethereum JavaScript library that incorrectly computed Ethereum addresses.” And furthermore, EIP 156 would deal with “losses due to replay attacks where a contract was created on ETC, funds sent on ETH but the contract not created on ETH,” Buterin wrote.

Some cryptocurrency stakeholders may worry that EIP 156 could be used maliciously. However, last year, Buterin refuted this concern. “Note that in all cases, the ‘rightful owner’ of the assets is obvious and mathematically provable, and no user is being deprived of any assets, and this proposal provides no explicit favor to any single account, user or application.”

Ethereum’s creator preemptively analyzed, “There may be a risk that [EIP 156] will be viewed controversially as it is in some sense a ‘rescue’ rather than a ‘technical improvement,’ even though it is arguably much less intrusive than previous such proposals for the reasons outlined above; the proposal is created in order to allow community discussion and debate and does not signify full endorsement.”