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Zk-Snarks Anywhere: Ethereum Privacy Tech Tipping Point

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"I was expecting maybe 15-20 people to worry about zk-snarks, but wow."

Despite his reservations, the crowd scrambled for seats as zcash researcher Andrew Miller went on stage at Devcon3 today. But the answer, sometimes exalted, might not have been a surprise since the third day of the ethereum's flagship developer conference featured a selection of sessions devoted to zk-snarks and other advances in the privacy made possible by Byzantium.

On the basis of more advanced cryptography, new ethereum-compatible updates are considered not only as a privacy solution, but also as a way of sizing the network to accommodate growth from its user base. And while the event marked the first official meeting since the zk-snarks were made possible on the platform, the raw potential of the technology is already beginning to manifest itself.

For example, Patrick McCorry of the University of Newcastle introduced The Open Vote Network, a system that allows anonymous vote on the ethereum platform. Long touted as an ideal application of technology, blockchain voting was retained by the potential risks inherent in a transparent blockchain.

But because cryptography now makes it possible to verify the statements on the blockchain, without revealing sensitive transactions, possible use cases like McCorry's could spread far and wide.

Miller went so far as to predict an "upcoming boom" in "zapps" – his term for the ethereum (dapps) decentralized applications that will deploy privacy technology. And while the community has encountered some obstacles, zapps are fast becoming a reality.

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As Jacob Eberhardt, author of ZoKrates, a brand new zk-snarks development toolkit, told CoinDesk:

"It's a bit like the early days of Etheum – we do not know what will happen, but everyone can see the potential."

Overcoming Obstacles

Announced earlier at Devcon3, Eberhardt created a zk-snarks compiler that will allow developers to easily create smart contracts infused with zk-snarks. The potential of this is clear because it allows projects such as the Open Vote Network to be realized for the first time.

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However, there is a problem that was also evident from the beginning – the unfortunate "trust system".

As described by CoinDesk, t he believed that setting up is a security phase in generating a zk-snarks, necessary because it protects against malicious behavior but problematic because it is expensive, risky and reliable. on faith in the very people responsible for the so-called configuration of trust.

At great expense, zcash used a trusted configuration in the generation of its blockchain, and the process, which was only once, is always criticized for not having reached a optimum security. To complicate matters, this configuration phase would be even more complicated to perform on ethereum because it should occur whenever a zapp is created.

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But the potential ground was also broken here on solutions.

Sean Bowe, Ariel Gabizon and Ian Miers, zcash researchers today proposed a new installation ceremony, which they say can reach hundreds of thousands of participants. And the best thing about this is: the more participants are added, the more secure it becomes.

As stated in the document, the ceremony would only require that an agent act honestly to function – and thus be resistant to potential malicious actions on the part of the participants in the installation.

Speaking to CoinDesk, Eberhardt summarized these developments: "The two things that opposed adoption before – the best abstractions and improved configurations."

Non-Chain Calculations

Of equal potential is that because cryptography compresses information, it is believed that the zk-snarks are a potential building block that can be used to put in the system. scale the ethereal network. Currently, they are still quite expensive to check, but Eberhardt plans a day when costs will decrease.

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According to his proposed scheme, expensive calculations could be performed off-line and then stored in the blockchain a succinct translation of this calculation. But because zk-snarks are still relatively expensive, they will not surpass other methods of scale until that cost is lowered – or the technology itself becomes lighter.

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In this regard, a professor of the Israeli Institute of Technology, Eli-Ben Sasson, works towards the zk-starks, a private equivalent that promises to increase speed and significantly reduce storage. However, it is still very much in production, which brings Sean Bowe, zcash researcher, to notice that researchers could work better on existing solutions today.

"We're stuck with zk-snarks for probably a long time, at least until they're destroyed by quantum computing," he said.

But there is still much faith that one day, the booming research area could become the scale solution that Ethereum expects.

As Eberhardt describes it:

"It's beautiful, and it has this property of inherent privacy, it combines two unresolved properties in one technology."

Blurred light via Shutterstock

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