At a time when technology can be used both as a privacy intrusion mechanism and as a tool for protecting privacy, the cypherpunks’ premonitory sentiment in the 1990s of crypto as the last defense against a digital surveillance dystopia rings truer than ever.

And one of the most powerful instruments for defending digital privacy has recently taken off considerably thanks to the advent of cryptocurrencies.

An iteration of zero-knowledge proofs, trustless zero-knowledge proof systems, also known as zk-SNARK, are a powerful cryptographic primitive that can separate any processable data between two parties over a public medium, especially a network. public blockchain. . Originally educated to the general public with the privacy-focused Zcash Cryptocurrency (ZEC), zk-SNARKs have undergone significant tinkering and exploration of their real-world application and development. their efficiency improvements.

Related: DeFi Can Now Choose to Run Zero-Knowledge Proofs Without Confidence

The potential impact of zk-SNARKs on digital privacy is huge and should not be closed due to cognitive bias towards censorship and general misplaced sentiment.

Modeling of zk-SNARK for the general public

The technology behind zk-SNARK is part of zero-knowledge cryptography – the concept of one party proving to another that they know a specific set of information without exposing any knowledge other than that. that she said. Commonly referred to as “crypto-magic,” the underlying assumption that you can prove knowledge of something without going beyond saying “I know that” is deeply new.

The construction of zk-SNARK relies on setting parameters that determine whether a specific set of data (i.e. a cryptocurrency transaction) is valid or not. In a cryptocurrency network, the ceremony that creates such parameters is known as the “trust setup,” which is a highly polarizing event. If the settings were compromised, a malicious user could theoretically create endless amounts of the native token without anyone knowing.

However, significant research into improving zk-SNARKs has allowed implementations such as zk-ConSNARK to bypass the need for a reliable configuration entirely. In the future, trust configurations, which carry a severe security vulnerability, are expected to become obsolete.

But the notion of parameters in a zk-SNARK implementation remains.

With a separate set of network parameters, zk-SNARKs rely on a series of mathematical functions that break down calculations into “arithmetic circuits”. Subsequently, nuanced infusions of cryptographic techniques such as homomorphic engagement, blind valuation of polynomials, and bilinear pairings of elliptical curves sever any relationship between two parties trading on a cryptocurrency network.

For example, if Alice and Bob want to transact on a public cryptocurrency network and gain “perfect privacy,” they would have to hide the following components of the transaction:

  1. Sender
  2. Recipient
  3. Rising
  4. IP adress

Using zk-SNARKS decreases any meaningful connection between sender, receiver, and amount, and can be combined with network layer privacy enhancements such as TOR or Dandelion ++ to hide the IP location of ‘an user. Compared to other privacy protection technologies in cryptocurrencies, zk-SNARKs are best in class.

However, zk-SNARKs have drawbacks, mainly due to their complexity and early stage development. Over time, the heavy data and computational demands of zk-SNARKs are expected to be overcome, ushering in a new boon for digital privacy in the modern age.

Digital privacy as a right

As detailed extensively by Ryan Gentry of Multicoin Capital:

“General platforms like Bitcoin and Ethereum already offer sufficient privacy guarantees that most users never need privacy-focused niche blockchains. […] Privacy is a feature, not a product.

However, many proponents of privacy would argue that it is more than a feature, but rather a basic human right.

Endless headlines exposing the propensity of big tech companies to trade user data for lucrative revenue streams are just the start of widespread abuse of privacy without tools like zk-SNARK to protect users. In the financial realm in particular, as many governments and economists support the idea of ​​a cashless society, the need for digital devices that preserve financial privacy is vital.

Facebook’s Libra announcement highlighted concerns over the mixing of social and financial data, raising the specter of widespread companies with unparalleled knowledge of spending habits.

Related: What Is Libra? Breaking down Facebook’s new digital currency

Fortunately, Bitcoin (BTC) and privacy-focused cryptocurrencies should serve as solid protection against such developments, while Libra’s vision should only spark further innovations in zk-SNARKs and their limitless potential.

For example, zk-SNARKS can serve as a private institutional money transfer mechanism, compatible with initiatives developed by large companies like Ernst & Young’s Nightfall. Likewise, zk-SNARKS integrated with social networks could prevent companies controlling applications from viewing user data and selling it to third-party advertisers. Since users are the products of social media apps, some type of monetization pathway is expected to replace today’s advertising hegemony, but efforts to do so are currently underway – many fueled by ad structures. ‘token-based incentives.

With the right technology platform, users (e.g. financial institutions) can create their own interoperable chains with confidential assets and transactions, giving them the kind of flexibility not seen with crypto protocols. -currency like Bitcoin or Zcash. Coupled with the ability to run privacy-preserving chain voting and auction models, while using our compact and constant-size zk-ConSNARKs, and the privacy potential of zk-SNARKs is materializing before us.

Bitcoin was offered by Satoshi Nakamoto as a peer-to-peer digital currency, but he didn’t foresee how technological privacy intrusions would evolve to respond to the crypto components of Bitcoin – no one could. Privacy is paramount today, and as cypherpunks expressed it so long ago, only advanced crypto tools are up to the task of preserving it in the digital age.

The potential of zk-SNARKs is encouraging to say the least, and we believe that the innovations to come with zk-ConSNARKs may meet the challenge of cutting the path to Orwell Nineteen Eighty-Four’s dystopia of global mass surveillance and monitoring. financial transparency – using the powerful construction of ZKP.

The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.

Dr Huang Lin is the co-founder of Suterusu, a project developing trustless privacy technology. He holds a doctorate. degrees in Applied Cryptography and Privacy-Preserving Distributed Systems from Shanghai Jiao Tong University and University of Florida. He worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne on applied cryptography for genomic privacy and blockchain-based data monetization.

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