Keep Creates Randomness for Enhanced Privacy on Ethereum
The common perception that prevails the mainstream verdict on cryptocurrencies is that they are anonymous. However, the reality is much different, with Bitcoin only pseudonymous, and Ethereum predicated on an account-based system that provides publicly verifiable information and transparency.
Parallel with scalability, privacy is the major hurdle holding Ethereum back from reaching its full potential — and by extension, other public blockchains.
“I’m considerably more pro-privacy than I was a few years ago,” wrote Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin, and rightfully so. The promises of a privacy-centric Ethereum are much more compelling than its current iteration for users, developers, and businesses looking to tap the advantages of public blockchains.
While several projects are working on implementing privacy-preserving technologies, like zk-SNARKs, into Ethereum, they are sophisticated technologies that come with some specific limitations in enterprise application use cases.
Keep is building an off-chain network of ‘Keeps’ or private data containers hosted by groups of providers — secured by multi-party computation and fueled by randomness. Their goal is to provide the bridge between public blockchains and private data, and their Random Beacon will offer a source of randomness for dapps across the Ethereum network — a critical boon for privacy in application-specific cases.
The Need for Better Privacy in Ethereum
The lack of viable and consistent privacy on Ethereum helped, in part, to stoke the emergence of permissioned (i.e., private) blockchains. As enterprises sought access control and privacy that is more attuned to their business models, permissioned blockchains were the clear solution — fork Ethereum and create their own networks where their sensitive data was not broadcast to a global network of anonymous peers.
However, permissioned blockchains are missing one of the cardinal advantages of public blockchains, their ability to confer trust-minimization — becoming trust anchors. Without such an inherent benefit, permissioned blockchains are more akin to inefficient databases than novel distributed networks.
Privacy often goes hand-in-hand with data security, and Ethereum is currently not ideal for enterprise applications like private access delegation, autonomous trading, and advanced forms ofDAOs. The missing component of autonomous privacy is what restricts the evolution of many dapps that require privacy to attract users — such as location sharing apps where sensitive data needs to be hidden. As a result, many enterprises are taking the ‘wait and see’ approach with Ethereum as scalability and privacy mature.
The Oracle Problem further serves to compound the problem of dapps retrieving data from outside a public blockchain network without relying on a trusted source. Off-chain data is difficult to reconcile with privacy assurances, and so, the need for a secure bridge between private, off-chain data and public blockchains is evident.
The Importance of Randomness in Keep
Randomness is a fundamental component of privacy and can serve as a basis for masking the origins of data such as messages. Keep is focused on providing a proven source of randomness where trust-minimized interactions remain precisely that in a decentralized ecosystem: you don’t need to trust any single entity.
Keeps are off-chain, private containers of data that are hosted by groups of providers that are incentivized to compete for hosting these secure and private containers. The enclaves of data are secured using secure multi-party computation (sMPC), which is the missing link for providing autonomous privacy on the blockchain. The use of sMPC is complementary to a public, decentralized network like a blockchain, unlocking a slew of consumer and enterprise dapps.
Private, off-chain containers of data can effectively function as the privacy layer that Ethereum — and its applications — need to interact with outside data sources without the burden of data-heavy on-chain solutions. Hopefully, diminishing the future proliferation of ‘big, scary nodes.’
How is the integrity of providers that are hosting private data containers off-chain verified and maintained? Randomness.
Using an optimized version of DFINITY’s Threshold Relay consensus mechanism, Keep combines BLS threshold signatures, distributed hash tables (DHTs), and the libp2p networking library to ensure that providers cannot front-run the chain’s view of the selection process to discern, with accuracy, the container host group selection process. The overall design is known as the Keep Random Beacon, which not only randomly selects private data container hosts but also functions as a request-response method for dapps to obtain a completely random number for application-specific purposes, or masking random numbers from miners.
With an autonomous, random beacon to ensure trust-minimized interaction with private data, a suite of new applications is possible.
For example, Keep can build a Dead Man’s Switch on a blockchain, where explicit conditions secretly encoded into a smart contract can trigger an event execution — like transferring funds via an autonomous delegation process when third-parties interact with the smart contract.
A prominent example of a Dead Man’s Switch in programming without blockchains is WikiLeaks’ Insurance Files, where sensitive data is publicly encrypted and the ‘switch’ functions as the requested decryption key to view the data.
Imagine storing a secret key into Keep, and when certain conditions of a contract are met, the contract will automatically distribute the secret key to the interacting party (i.e., payment for a service) where they then decrypt the key and can access the service — all without revealing the secret key or data publicly.
The implications of such systems are enormous, and Dead Man Switches have a range of applications that are extended by their randomness-driven operation on the blockchain.
Keep is working with several leading projects in the Ethereum ecosystem including Aragon, district0x, and Lendroid to further explore the applications of Keep private data enclaves and their Random Beacon. They provided an early look into Random Beacon in October 2018 as well as anAlpha API Demo for the Beacon. The official launch of the Keep Random Beacon is scheduled for next month, and more in-depth information can be found on the technical components of Keep on their blog.
Ethereum needs better privacy to achieve its full potential as a ubiquitous world computer for censorship-resistant applications. Keep is building the bridge to facilitate a future ecosystem of private off-chain data and the Ethereum blockchain — the privacy layer that users and enterprises have been seeking.