Remember the spring of 2017? Altcoins were booming. Every other week new ERC-20 tokens were minted, shilled, pumped, and dumped. For the day-trader, it was a feeding frenzy like no other. Newbies went broke as the skilled got rich. And early adopters sat staring at green for months. 

All of it seemingly based on obscure whitepapers, contemporary looking websites, hype, and Twitter announcements. Now, it’s happening again. This time you can leave your Ethereum at the door. The star of this show is Monero.

Monero, as you know, is everyone’s favorite untraceable and fungible cryptocurrency. It’s a community project and open source, using a proof-of-work mining algorithm CryptoNight. Like Bitcoin before it, it’s going through a sort of renaissance; forks aplenty. With over 50 different CryptoNight coins, including Monero forks such as Wownero, there’s a lot of ideas brewing.

You can forget Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) too. These projects are focusing on development first. Build a product and let it grow naturally. Here are some of the most intriguing projects in the space.

Figure 1. Wownero Doge.

Top CryptoNight Projects

Wownero plans to meme its way to the moon and become Monero’s DogeCoin with over-the-top ring signatures and bulletproofs. Others like Loki plan on bringing Monero’s famous anonymity to messenger applications. While less-inspired projects like Sumokoin and MoneroV have embraced the status quo and ASICs. And projects like Masari promising the ever elusive low hanging fruit that is ‘scalability.’

Others are a bit more ambitious. Projects such as Haven Protocol hope to create a stable off-shore banking system utilizing a dual coin blockchain. While Graft aims to become the Paypal of crypto by servicing real-time payment solutions and atomic swaps. Not to mention BitTube; the anti-censorship Youtube clone with a built-in cryptocurrency payment system.

There’s even an “Ethereum of Monero” named Dero looking to bring proof-of-work and anonymity to smart contracts. Using the familiar Golang coding language. Like in the golden age of ERC-20 tokens, the possibilities seem endless.

No ICOs; Development First, Funding Later

These aren’t Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) either. As Turtle Coin’s homepage points out; there are all too many projects pumped on promises and no product. For the most part, Monero forks and the CryptoNight coins like them are unfunded projects with nothing more than a few passionate devs and lofty goals; believing value will create itself.

Turtlecoin
Figure 2. Turtlecoin.lol Homepage.

There’s no shortage of ideas or coins. With small market capitalizations and lots of room for ‘mooning,’ it’s a penny trader’s dreamland; an early adopters clearinghouse. Even in this bear market, these little-known coins are being pumped and dumped on a daily basis. All happening on courageous homebrew exchanges like TradeOgre.com.

The “Penny Stocks” of Crypto

TradeOgre
Figure 2. Tradeogre.com

Established in January 2018 Trade Ogre has become a consistent, and little known, exchange with coin offerings rarely seen on major exchanges. Offering more than just Monero forks and CryptoNight coins, such as Ethereum and XRP,  Trade Ogre’s is an altcoin feeding frenzy all to itself. Its user interface is simple and Trade Ogre is K.Y.C free (no need to verify your ID). It even has 2FA.

Intuitive and easy-to-use, Trade Ogre’s offerings may even seem overwhelming; much like Cryptopia’s. All you need is some Bitcoin, or Litecoin, an email you can verify and you’re ready to go. You may need to invest some time downloading, learning how to use new wallets, and visiting a couple Githubs. But that’s part of the fun.

If you’d like to join Monero’s renaissance without trading, your Bitcoin mining is always an option as well. You can view a list of CryptoNight coins and mine at https://cryptoknight.cc/. Most of which are listed for trade at Trade Ogre and Cryptopia.

Figure 4. Cryptoknight.cc Mining Pools.

Either way, let’s hope this trend continues and more exchanges like Trade Ogre begin popping up; as well as a few more coins. Be careful out there!

Disclaimer: the author is involved in the Wownero project as a designer and artist.

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Monero cryptocurrency best privacy coin

The US government is tentatively exploring ways to forensically analyze privacy coins like Monero and Zcash. 

That’s according to a document published by the Department of Homeland Security. Specifically, the document “seeks applications of blockchain forensic analytics for newer cryptocurrencies, such as Zcash and Monero.”

Unlike Bitcoin, transactions on the Monero network are completely private, utilizing “burn-after-reading” stealth addresses and decoy transactions to obscure the true sender’s information.

Zcash offers the choice between transparent and fully private transactions, using zero-knowledge-proof cryptography to obscure the data.

The Department of Homeland Security document wants to analyze Monero and Zcash for criminal activity. The document reads: “There is similarly a compelling interest in tracing and understanding transactions and actions on the blockchain of an illegal nature.”

How exactly they will achieve it is not yet outlined in detail and the report stresses that it is not an explicit request for proposals. However, the report tentatively suggests: “[Designing] a blockchain analysis ecosystem or modify an existing one, that enables forensic analysis for homeland security.” Further, it invites interested parties to comment on the topic.

Further reading: Best Privacy Coins: Monero vs Zcash (Ranked Against 5 Privacy Criteria)

Monero cryptocurrency best privacy coin

Privacy is a topic that doesn’t come up as often as it should in the cryptocurrency world, which is funny, considering their cryptographic background. 

Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin have a reputation for anonymity, but they are not as private as you think. Most don’t offer any explicit or built-in privacy features. 

Take Bitcoin, for example. Every transaction is recorded in an open and public place – the blockchain. Due to this, a malicious actor can see every transaction ever made with a simple search. They can see every public address and potentially link it to a person’s true identity.

Your transactions can be traced in much the same way a bank can trace your transactions as they move through its system.

What Features Should a Privacy Cryptocurrency Have?

Now that we know why privacy is a good idea, let’s put together a wishlist of what we’d want in the perfect privacy cryptocurrency.

a. Opaque Transactions

Opaque transactions are those that do not show the sender’s address, the receiver’s address or the amount transferred. 

The rationale behind wanting opaque transactions is very simple, why should everyone be able to know who you are transacting with?

If a malicious actor knows who you are transacting with, they may be able to use that information to pressure you. Or, a malicious actor can figure out which addresses are worth attacking by looking at the amount being transferred in and out.

b. Provable Transactions

Opaque transactions are wonderful but sometimes you need to be able to prove to someone that the transaction was sent. For example, to prove that a donation took place, prove that you actually paid a vendor for goods or to prove a transfer to an escrow took place.

c. Default On Privacy

Having private transactions is great, but the next problem is getting people to use them. 

Only one privacy coin is automatically private right now. All others offer an option between a standard transfer and a private transfer.

If your privacy system requires extra steps to use, most users will end up taking the easier, less-private approach. 

Having some transactions be private and others not private simply draws attention to the ones made private. All transactions being the same makes the attacker’s job a lot harder, as there’s nothing drawing attention to itself.

default on privacy

d. Trustless

“Trustless” means not having a third-party store data or make the transaction. The current banking system, for example, is not trustless, because you must trust the bank to verify your funds and make the transaction on your behalf.

It’s a pretty standard request for any cryptocurrency, but more so for privacy cryptocurrencies due to the fact that any hole in the armor makes the entire cryptocurrency weakened at best. 

Any privacy cryptocurrency that requires a trusted setup should be considered very carefully.

e. Obfuscated IPs

One issue that doesn’t come up as often as it should, even some of the most private cryptocurrencies, is that your IP address is exposed to the network when you broadcast transactions. 

This means that someone listening very carefully can figure out where in the world a transaction came from, and potentially which transactions belong to you. From there they may or may not be able to find out further information about the addresses involved, and how much was transferred. In general, it’s a good idea to look as uninteresting as possible.

Keeping your IP to yourself, or using some sort of anonymization layer (like Tor, or I2P) is a good idea. For a privacy coin, having first-party support for such anonymization layers is definitely a plus.

Monero vs Zcash: Best Privacy-Oriented Cryptocurrencies

Now that we have some grounding in what it means for a cryptocurrency to be private and why privacy is a good thing. Let’s take a look at the two best-known privacy cryptocurrencies, Monero and Zcash, to see how they stack up against our wishlist.

Monero

Monero tends to be the flagship privacy cryptocurrency. It offers various features and covers our wishlist well.

Monero infographic

a. Does Monero Use Opaque Transactions? ✔

Monero’s transactions are opaque. They make use of a technology called Ring Signatures (and, more recently, Bullet Proofs) to hide the sender and amount transferred in a transaction. It does this by mixing various transactions together, creating “decoys” that are difficult, if not impossible, to trace back to a specific person

A one-time-use stealth address is also used for receivers so you can’t be linked to multiple transactions.

monero-ring-signature
Credit: BitcoinKeskus

b. Does Monero Offer Provable Transactions?  ✔

You can prove a transaction occurred on the Monero network by use of a view key, which can be created for both a single transaction and an address.

c. Is Monero Private by Default? ✔

Monero’s privacy model does not allow for non-private transactions to occur on the blockchain. No matter what, your transaction will be private, though you can share a key with others to allow them to look at your transactions in the same way your wallet does.

d. Is Monero Trustless? ✔

Monero’s entire network requires no external trust to use, assuming you are running your own node, anyway. Like with most cryptocurrencies using an external node for your transactions carries some risks around logging. Though even if your transactions are logged, they will remain private.

e. Does Monero Obfuscate IPs? ✘

Monero does not currently have any sort of built-in IP obfuscation. Meaning that your IP can be logged by other nodes when broadcasting transactions. 

Though there are some plans for this in Monero’s future, namely, a technology called Kovri which will route and encrypt transactions through I2P Invisible Internet Project nodes. 

For the moment, if it is required, IP obfuscation can be achieved via third-party anonymization tools like Tor and I2P.

Zcash

Zcash offers both private and transparent transactions. A few of the boxes in our wishlist are checked by Zcash, but unfortunately, some of the more major ones are not.

zcash transaction types

a. Does Zcash Use Opaque Transactions? ✔

ZCASH offers a completely private transaction, known as a “shielded” transaction. With a shielded transaction, neither the addresses or amounts involved are visible on the blockchain. To achieve this, Zcash uses a cryptographic technique called “zero-knowledge proofs.”

Monero also uses a version of zero-knowledge proofs, but Zcash’s system is different in that it requires a small level of trust in its setup. We discuss this in the fourth section below.

b. Does Zcash Offer Provable Transactions? ✔

When the private transaction type is used, those on the secure side can disclose information via an experimental system. It allows you to prove a transaction was made without revealing information about the sender. However, it’s not a simple process.

c. Is Zcash Private By Default? ✘

ZCASH’s privacy scheme is not on by default, meaning that some effort is required for its users to send private transactions. There are four different possible ways for a transaction to occur. Only one of which is completely private for both parties. The other three are sender private, receiver private, and completely public.

A private transaction takes longer and costs more in fees. However, a recent Zcash upgrade aims to reduce the friction and move Zcash to a privacy-by-default system.

d. Is Zcash Trustless? ✘

ZCASH’s zero-knowledge proofs, known as zk-SNARKs, do require trust of third parties. Specifically, some parameters need to be generated and the source material destroyed. The issue with this is that if the source material for the parameters is not destroyed, those that have it can use it to create verified transactions.

The risk is mitigated somewhat by making the source material distributed. That way any one person that helped generate the data can destroy their source material and render the rest useless. Though that does not make the fact that a trusted setup is required, which, in the world of cryptocurrency, is a bad idea.

e. Does Zcash Obfuscate IPs? ✘

Much like Monero, ZCASH does not currently support any built-in IP anonymization technologies. Though running a ZCASH node over Tor does work. So if you do need the additional privacy you have the option of using Tor.

Monero vs Zcash: Which is Better?

While Monero and Zcash have their merits, Monero takes the crown for privacy, checking all but one of the items off our list. But Zcash has more control over how your transactions are done, at the cost of always-on privacy. Zcash’s trusted setup is also questionable, but unlikely to cause an issue in all but the most extreme case.

Bottom line, It’s up to you as the user to decide what cryptocurrency to use. And to weigh pros and cons against your use case. If you want absolute privacy, Monero is your go to, there is nothing quite like it currently. Otherwise, if you want to be able to send both private and transparent transactions, consider Zcash.

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cryptocurrency communities

If it weren’t for strong cryptocurrency communities, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

There would be no debates on whether Bitcoin is better than Bitcoin Cash. Telegram wouldn’t have raised  $1.7 billion in its token sale, EOS probably still wouldn’t have launched its mainnet, and, well, it’s hard to tell for sure if crypto would even exist as we know it.

Block Explorer identified the strongest crypto communities and figured out why they were so important for the blockchain universe.  

The Strongest Crypto Community #1:  Bitcoin 

Bitcoin began as a small community of cryptography geeks and cypherpunks. They shared ideas on obscure forums and mailing lists years before it gained mainstream attention.

Satoshi Nakamoto was the one who created and envisioned bitcoin, but it gained traction because a dedicated community worked together on the development. (Note: you can read the very first community thread about bitcoin here)

In the ten years since, the bitcoin community has grown across the world. Bitcoin has suffered some huge price drops and dips in popularity, but every time, it comes back stronger. After bitcoin reached almost $1,200 in December 2013, it went down to $400 in just three months and did not grow back till the beginning of 2017.

But even in spite of all the roller coasters and bad publicity, bitcoin is still alive and thriving due to the large community of believers around. At the moment of writing, the Bitcoin Core client is the product of almost 19,000 unique code contributions from almost 600 individual developers. 

Its public Github repository also tracks so-called “forks” of the code, the copies that can be modified for any specific purpose. To this date, the developers have forked Bitcoin Core reference client over 21,000 times. That’s a massive amount of people involved. 

And let’s not forget the number of bitcoin wallets created so far – more than 30 million people have registered Blockchain wallets, and more than 20 million created Coinbase accounts. 

No, bitcoin most likely won’t be disappearing any time soon.

The Strongest Crypto Community #2:  Ethereum 

purple ethereum logo on blue background

If it wasn’t for the strong community, we can’t even imagine where Ethereum would be right now. 

Let’s recap some disasters. Remember 2016 and the imperfections of the DAO (Decentralized Autonomous Organization)? At that time more than $50 million worth of ether was stolen from the infamous DAO and transferred into its smaller version called “child DAO.”

DAO explained: A DAO is an organization or business without a central authority. Instead, it makes decisions using digital “smart contracts” and voting mechanisms on the Ethereum blockchain.

Forking the blockchain was the only way to fix it. That meant a change to Ethereum’s code that split the currency into two versions. Users had to choose between by either updating their software or not. 

It was risky. However, the fork was successful with 85% of users moving over to the new version.

Want to know more about this hack? Read our beginner’s guide to Ethereum.

What is Ethereum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2017, another hack breached a vulnerable Ethereum wallet, but the community quickly stepped in to re-route the funds and prevent a further theft. And, well, Ethereum is still around. 

The Strongest Crypto Community #3: EOS  

EOS was developed by Block.one, as a faster, cheaper alternative to Ethereum. EOS begins with one of the most respected minds in the industry, Dan Larimer, who also created Bitshares and co-founded Steemit. 

He has been described as a visionary and was very articulate about the need to eliminate fees in decentralized applications long before EOS appeared.

On top of the fees elimination, EOS intends to help fix the scaling problem in Ethereum. EOS implemented an alternative network that could, one day, manage millions of transactions per second and introduced a developer-friendly sandbox for creating new, fast decentralized applications (dapps). 

Also, it has a great appeal for new blockchain entrepreneurs since it suggests a simple alternative for fundraising – switching from initial coin offering (ICO) to airdrops and airgrabs.

So, it’s not surprising that in a year-long ICO, EOS raised $4 billion for its blockchain and smart contracts platform.

However, even though the project is in its early stages, it has already experienced significant shakedowns. At one point hackers managed to gain control of Block.one’s Zendesk account and used it to send persuasive phishing emails. 

Hackers could have got away with millions of dollars if it weren’t for the community to spread the word about the incident. 

Less than a week away from the EOS mainnet launch, an internet security firm from China, called Qihoo360, reported that it found several vulnerabilities in the EOS system. The holes would allow hackers to gain remote control of EOS nodes and even access private keys. 

Then, the much anticipated mainnet launch event was a disaster by itself. It was scheduled on the 2nd of June, 2018. But almost a week later the blockchain was not yet live because it required EOS token holders to vote. 

And the voting process itself was very confusing and not very friendly to a non-techy audience. But that case only demonstrated the power of the project’s community. At the time, dozens of brilliant and helpful members of the EOS ecosystem developed a bunch of handy tools for voting along with the sets of instructions and guidelines. That promptly enabled the ability of token holders to vote for the mainnet launch and the network was successfully started on the 14th of June, 2018.

The Strongest Crypto Community #4: Monero

Monero logo

Monero’s community is united around a core group of principals: privacy, security, and decentralization.

Recently, the Monero community rallied together to fund a deep audit of its new bullet-proofs technology. The audit ultimately turned up a vulnerability that could have lead to a 51% attack.

It would have been easy to ignore a security audit, but the Monero community felt strongly enough about security to fund it themselves.

Further, the Monero community actively fights against the use of mass-market mining tools (ASICs) to protect its decentralized nature. A community that puts its core principals ahead of economic gain is one worth keeping an eye on.

What’s your favorite story about the strongest crypto communities? Go ahead and share it in the comment section below.

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Monero logo

A huge upgrade to Monero, the 10th largest cryptocurrency network, just made transactions 97% cheaper while maintaining its privacy features. Monero, which is best-known for its anonymous transfers, now uses technology called “Bullet Proofs” to scale up. Armin Davis explains further.

Another six months have gone by, and as such, Monero has performed its bi-yearly network upgrade hard fork. Specifically, the hard fork took place on the 18th of October, at block height 1685555. 

Of the numerous changes made over this upgrade, a few stand out:

  • “Bullet Proofs” greatly reduce transaction size (and therefore transaction fees)
  • Monero’s upgrade further discourages specialist mining tools like ASICs.
  • To maintain privacy, the ring size for all transactions on the Monero network has been fixed to 11.
Monero infographic
Credit: Reddit u/cryptoKL

Explaining Monero’s New “Bullet Proofs”

Prior to this upgrade, Monero used a version of what is called a “range proof”, or zero-knowledge proof”. 

A zero-knowledge proof means that something can be proven true without knowing the actual data. For example, I can prove that it is less than 0°c outside without knowing the actual temperature data. All that I need to do is place some water outside and see if it freezes.

For Monero, range proofs allow outside observers, like other Monero nodes, to confirm that a transaction took place using cryptocurrency that already existed. Rather than currency created out of thin air, or currency already spent elsewhere.

The Downside of the Previous Monero System

The downside of these range proofs is that they are large, each transaction takes up somewhere around 13 kilobytes, which is significantly larger than Bitcoin’s ~ 300-byte transactions. 

With large transactions comes large fees, as the fee you pay is (mostly) based on the size of your transaction in the block. And, while not an issue for Monero, larger transactions can cause network congestion on blockchains with small, fixed size blocks.

bullet proofs

Enter Bullet Proofs: A great improvement on the previous range proofs, reducing transaction size by as much as 80% while maintaining the same level of privacy and ensuring that no foul play occurs. 

As discussed above, the size of your transaction is what determines your fee (mostly). By reducing the transaction size, transaction fees are also greatly reduced (as much as 97%)

A Two-Stage Monero Upgrade

The upgrade to Bullet Proof based transactions will happen in two stages. Starting at height 1685555, the Monero network will be upgraded to v8. On v8, transactions using both the old range proof and the new Bullet Proof system will be accepted on the network. 

Shortly after, at height 1686275, a second hard fork will occur that upgrades Monero to v9. This will cause the Monero network to reject any non-Bullet-Proof based transactions and implements a number of patches to Bullet Proofs.

Crucial Monero Audit Halts Threat of 51% Attack

On the 22nd of October, an embargo was lifted on some major bugs found during an audit of the code around Bullet Proofs. 

Of the few bugs found, the most major involves a method to perform a 51% attack on the Monero network. Due to the magnitude of this bug, information around it was embargoed until a patch was live. As is standard practice for most major bugs. 

The flaw was discovered by OSTIF (The Open Source Technology Improvement Fund) during its audit of Monero’s Bullet Proofs.

A 51% attack involves gaining the lion’s share of mining power on a given blockchain. Once you have the most mining power, you can begin to rewrite history, and otherwise change the blockchain. This is because most blockchain nodes follow the longest chain. If you have the lion’s share of mining power, you control the longest chain.

51% attack explained

There are various methods one can use to gain 51% mining power on a given network. In Monero’s case, a vulnerability was discovered that would allow malicious actors to crash other nodes remotely.

By crashing nodes other than yours, you can begin to chip away at the mining power that is not yours. Once you have removed enough rival mining power, you gain two things; most of the mining profits on the blockchain, and the ability to perform a 51% attack.

Monero Continues to Deter Mining Hardware (ASICs)

Monero developers purposely try to deter giant mining companies (like Bitmain) from monopolizing, and therefore centralizing, the network.

Earlier this year, specifically just before the previous hard fork, Monero’s network “difficulty” (a measure of how difficult it is to mine a block) began to rise uncharacteristically quickly.

It was discovered that the cause of this was that Bitmain had developed a working mining device (ASIC) for the CryptoNight algorithm – the backbone of Monero’s network. 

At the time, a small change to the algorithm was made as a hotfix to make the ASICs unusable on Monero. Said change was referred to as CryptoNight v7.

Monero blocks ASIC miners

Fast forward to this month, and the Beryllium Bullet network upgrade, Monero’s algorithm has once again been changed. Now called CryptoNight v8, it is intended to make producing an ASIC for Monero even more difficult.

How Does CryptoNight Prevent ASIC Miners?

CryptoNight v8 continues the work done by v7, in that it further increases the amount of memory bandwidth used by the algorithm. Specifically, the increase is by a factor of four. 

Unfortunately along with this comes with a slight performance hit to regular CPUs of around 5-20%. The Monero developers and community feel that the performance drop is worth the gained protection from ASICs. And the performance may be gained back through optimizations of mining software.

This change works on the basis that it is prohibitively expensive to add large amounts of fast and high-speed memory to ASICs. A regular desktop CPU usually has somewhere between 4-64MB of cache, of which 2MB will be used per CryptoNight mining thread. 

So for an ASIC looking to run a large number of threads, a large amount of high-speed, cache-like memory will be required. And further still, v8 now requires a 64-byte wide memory access. Which, for a desktop CPU is easy as it should already have the required hardware.

Keeping Monero Private With Fixed Ring Size

Beryllium Bullet changes two things about how Monero users can structure their transactions.

Fixed Ring Size: First off, Monero users can no longer select the ring size of their transactions. Ring size is the number of decoy transactions added to every Monero transaction in order to hide which transfer is the real one in the transaction.

monero-ring-signature
Credit: BitcoinKeskus

This change, while controversial, is intended to help keep all users on the network private. Specifically, keeping transactions private while also keeping some transaction sizes down.

Ring Size Increased to 11: Secondly, the minimum (and now fixed) ring size has been set to 11. This is greater than the previous minimum of 5.

The rationale behind locking the ring size to 11 is that by making all transactions look exactly the same, it’s harder still to trace a given transaction across the network. You want to look the same as everyone else, rather than making a transaction with a massive ring size, which will stand out. While it is true that a larger ring size makes the transaction more private, it also makes the transaction as a whole a lot easier to spot.

Conclusion

Together, these upgrades combine to make Monero transactions 97% cheaper, while deterring mining centralization and maintaining its core privacy features. The upgrades make Monero truly bulletproof.

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