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It’s effectively July 2017 in the world of decentralized finance (DeFi), and as in the heady days of the initial coin offering (ICO) boom, the numbers are only trending up.
According to DeFi Pulse, there is $1.9 billion in crypto assets locked in DeFi right now. According to the CoinDesk ICO Tracker, the ICO market started chugging past $1 billion in July 2017, just a few months before token sales started getting talked about on TV.
Debate juxtaposing these numbers if you like, but what no one can question is this: Crypto users are putting more and more value to work in DeFi applications, driven largely by the introduction of a whole new yield-generating pasture, Compound’s COMP governance token.
Governance tokens enable users to vote on the future of decentralized protocols, sure, but they also present fresh ways for DeFi founders to entice assets onto their platforms.
That said, it’s the crypto liquidity providers who are the stars of the present moment. They even have a meme-worthy name: yield farmers.
Where it startedEthereum-based credit market Compound started distributing its governance token, COMP, to the protocol’s users this past June 15. Demand for the token (heightened by the way its automatic distribution was structured) kicked off the present craze and moved Compound into the leading position in DeFi.
The hot new term in crypto is “yield farming,” a shorthand for clever strategies where putting crypto temporarily at the disposal of some startup’s application earns its owner more cryptocurrency.
Another term floating about is “liquidity mining.”
The buzz around these concepts has evolved into a low rumble as more and more people get interested.
The casual crypto observer who only pops into the market when activity heats up might be starting to get faint vibes that something is happening right now. Take our word for it: Yield farming is the source of those vibes.
But if all these terms (“DeFi,” “liquidity mining,” “yield farming”) are so much Greek to you, fear not. We’re here to catch you up. We’ll get into all of them.
We’re going to go from very basic to more advanced, so feel free to skip ahead.
What are tokens?Most CoinDesk readers probably know this, but just in case: Tokens are like the money video-game players earn while fighting monsters, money they can use to buy gear or weapons in the universe of their favorite game.
But with blockchains, tokens aren’t limited to only one massively multiplayer online money game. They can be earned in one and used in lots of others. They usually represent either ownership in something (like a piece of a Uniswap liquidity pool, which we will get into later) or access to some service. For example, in the Brave browser, ads can only be bought using basic attention token (BAT).
If tokens are worth money, then you can bank with them or at least do things that look very much like banking. Thus: decentralized finance.
Tokens proved to be the big use case for Ethereum, the second-biggest blockchain in the world. The term of art here is “ERC-20 tokens,” which refers to a software standard that allows token creators to write rules for them. Tokens can be used a few ways. Often, they are used as a form of money within a set of applications. So the idea for Kin was to create a token that web users could spend with each other at such tiny amounts that it would almost feel like they weren’t spending anything; that is, money for the internet.
Governance tokens are different. They are not like a token at a video-game arcade, as so many tokens were described in the past. They work more like certificates to serve in an ever-changing legislature in that they give holders the right to vote on changes to a protocol.
So on the platform that proved DeFi could fly, MakerDAO, holders of its governance token, MKR, vote almost every week on small changes to parameters that govern how much it costs to borrow and how much savers earn, and so on.
Read more: Why DeFi’s Billion-Dollar Milestone Matters
One thing all crypto tokens have in common, though, is they are tradable and they have a price. So, if tokens are worth money, then you can bank with them or at least do things that look very much like banking. Thus: decentralized finance.
What is DeFi?Fair question. For folks who tuned out for a bit in 2018, we used to call this “open finance.” That construction seems to have faded, though, and “DeFi” is the new lingo.
In case that doesn’t jog your memory, DeFi is all the things that let you play with money, and the only identification you need is a crypto wallet.
On the normal web, you can’t buy a blender without giving the site owner enough data to learn your whole life history. In DeFi, you can borrow money without anyone even asking for your name.
I can explain this but nothing really brings it home like trying one of these applications. If you have an Ethereum wallet that has even $20 worth of crypto in it, go do something on one of these products. Pop over to Uniswap and buy yourself some FUN (a token for gambling apps) or WBTC (wrapped bitcoin). Go to MakerDAO and create $5 worth of DAI (a stablecoin that tends to be worth $1) out of the digital ether. Go to Compound and borrow $10 in USDC.
(Notice the very small amounts I’m suggesting. The old crypto saying “don’t put in more than you can afford to lose” goes double for DeFi. This stuff is uber-complex and a lot can go wrong. These may be “savings” products but they’re not for your retirement savings.)
Immature and experimental though it may be, the technology’s implications are staggering. On the normal web, you can’t buy a blender without giving the site owner enough data to learn your whole life history. In DeFi, you can borrow money without anyone even asking for your name.
DeFi applications don’t worry about trusting you because they have the collateral you put up to back your debt (on Compound, for instance, a $10 debt will require around $20 in collateral).
Read more: There Are More DAI on Compound Now Than There Are DAI in the World
If you do take this advice and try something, note that you can swap all these things back as soon as you’ve taken them out. Open the loan and close it 10 minutes later. It’s fine. Fair warning: It might cost you a tiny bit in fees, and the cost of using Ethereum itself right now is much higher than usual, in part due to this fresh new activity. But it’s nothing that should ruin a crypto user.
So what’s the point of borrowing for people who already have the money? Most people do it for some kind of trade. The most obvious example, to short a token (the act of profiting if its price falls). It’s also good for someone who wants to hold onto a token but still play the market.
Doesn’t running a bank take a lot of money up front?It does, and in DeFi that money is largely provided by strangers on the internet. That’s why the startups behind these decentralized banking applications come up with clever ways to attract HODLers with idle assets.
Liquidity is the chief concern of all these different products. That is: How much money do they have locked in their smart contracts?
“In some types of products, the product experience gets much better if you have liquidity. Instead of borrowing from VCs or debt investors, you borrow from your users,” said Electric Capital managing partner Avichal Garg.
Let’s take Uniswap as an example. Uniswap is an “automated market maker,” or AMM (another DeFi term of art). This means Uniswap is a robot on the internet that is always willing to buy and it’s also always willing to sell any cryptocurrency for which it has a market.
On Uniswap, there is at least one market pair for almost any token on Ethereum. Behind the scenes, this means Uniswap can make it look like it is making a direct trade for any two tokens, which makes it easy for users, but it’s all built around pools of two tokens. And all these market pairs work better with bigger pools.
Why do I keep hearing about ‘pools’?To illustrate why more money helps, let’s break down how Uniswap works.
Let’s say there was a market for USDC and DAI. These are two tokens (both stablecoins but with different mechanisms for retaining their value) that are meant to be worth $1 each all the time, and that generally tends to be true for both.
The price Uniswap shows for each token in any pooled market pair is based on the balance of each in the pool. So, simplifying this a lot for illustration’s sake, if someone were to set up a USDC/DAI pool, they should deposit equal amounts of both. In a pool with only 2 USDC and 2 DAI it would offer a price of 1 USDC for 1 DAI. But then imagine that someone put in 1 DAI and took out 1 USDC. Then the pool would have 1 USDC and 3 DAI. The pool would be very out of whack. A savvy investor could make an easy $0.50 profit by putting in 1 USDC and receiving 1.5 DAI. That’s a 50% arbitrage profit, and that’s the problem with limited liquidity.
(Incidentally, this is why Uniswap’s prices tend to be accurate, because traders watch it for small discrepancies from the wider market and trade them away for arbitrage profits very quickly.)
Read more: Uniswap V2 Launches With More Token-Swap Pairs, Oracle Service, Flash Loans
However, if there were 500,000 USDC and 500,000 DAI in the pool, a trade of 1 DAI for 1 USDC would have a negligible impact on the relative price. That’s why liquidity is helpful.
You can stick your assets on Compound and earn a little yield. But that’s not very creative. Users who look for angles to maximize that yield: those are the yield farmers.
Similar effects hold across DeFi, so markets want more liquidity. Uniswap solves this by charging a tiny fee on every trade. It does this by shaving off a little bit from each trade and leaving that in the pool (so one DAI would actually trade for 0.997 USDC, after the fee, growing the overall pool by 0.003 USDC). This benefits liquidity providers because when someone puts liquidity in the pool they own a share of the pool. If there has been lots of trading in that pool, it has earned a lot of fees, and the value of each share will grow.
And this brings us back to tokens.
Liquidity added to Uniswap is represented by a token, not an account. So there’s no ledger saying, “Bob owns 0.000000678% of the DAI/USDC pool.” Bob just has a token in his wallet. And Bob doesn’t have to keep that token. He could sell it. Or use it in another product. We’ll circle back to this, but it helps to explain why people like to talk about DeFi products as “money Legos.”
So how much money do people make by putting money into these products?It can be a lot more lucrative than putting money in a traditional bank, and that’s before startups started handing out governance tokens.
Compound is the current darling of this space, so let’s use it as an illustration. As of this writing, a person can put USDC into Compound and earn 2.72% on it. They can put tether (USDT) into it and earn 2.11%. Most U.S. bank accounts earn less than 0.1% these days, which is close enough to nothing.
However, there are some caveats. First, there’s a reason the interest rates are so much juicier: DeFi is a far riskier place to park your money. There’s no Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) protecting these funds. If there were a run on Compound, users could find themselves unable to withdraw their funds when they wanted.
Plus, the interest is quite variable. You don’t know what you’ll earn over the course of a year. USDC’s rate is high right now. It was low last week. Usually, it hovers somewhere in the 1% range.
Similarly, a user might get tempted by assets with more lucrative yields like USDT, which typically has a much higher interest rate than USDC. (Monday morning, the reverse was true, for unclear reasons; this is crypto, remember.) The trade-off here is USDT’s transparency about the real-world dollars it’s supposed to hold in a real-world bank is not nearly up to par with USDC’s. A difference in interest rates is often the market’s way of telling you the one instrument is viewed as dicier than another.
Users making big bets on these products turn to companies Opyn and Nexus Mutual to insure their positions because there’s no government protections in this nascent space – more on the ample risks later on.
So users can stick their assets in Compound or Uniswap and earn a little yield. But that’s not very creative. Users who look for angles to maximize that yield: those are the yield farmers.
OK, I already knew all of that. What is yield farming?Broadly, yield farming is any effort to put crypto assets to work and generate the most returns possible on those assets.
At the simplest level, a yield farmer might move assets around within Compound, constantly chasing whichever pool is offering the best APY from week to week. This might mean moving into riskier pools from time to time, but a yield farmer can handle risk.
“Farming opens up new price arbs [arbitrage] that can spill over to other protocols whose tokens are in the pool,” said Maya Zehavi, a blockchain consultant.
Because these positions are tokenized, though, they can go further.
This was a brand-new kind of yield on a deposit. In fact, it was a way to earn a yield on a loan. Who has ever heard of a borrower earning a return on a debt from their lender?
In a simple example, a yield farmer might put 100,000 USDT into Compound. They will get a token back for that stake, called cUSDT. Let’s say they get 100,000 cUSDT back (the formula on Compound is crazy so it’s not 1:1 like that but it doesn’t matter for our purposes here).
They can then take that cUSDT and put it into a liquidity pool that takes cUSDT on Balancer, an AMM that allows users to set up self-rebalancing crypto index funds. In normal times, this could earn a small amount more in transaction fees. This is the basic idea of yield farming. The user looks for edge cases in the system to eke out as much yield as they can across as many products as it will work on.
Right now, however, things are not normal, and they probably won’t be for a while.
Why is yield farming so hot right now?Because of liquidity mining. Liquidity mining supercharges yield farming.
Liquidity mining is when a yield farmer gets a new token as well as the usual return (that’s the “mining” part) in exchange for the farmer’s liquidity.
“The idea is that stimulating usage of the platform increases the value of the token, thereby creating a positive usage loop to attract users,” said Richard Ma of smart-contract auditor Quantstamp.
The yield farming examples above are only farming yield off the normal operations of different platforms. Supply liquidity to Compound or Uniswap and get a little cut of the business that runs over the protocols – very vanilla.
But Compound announced earlier this year it wanted to truly decentralize the product and it wanted to give a good amount of ownership to the people who made it popular by using it. That ownership would take the form of the COMP token.
Lest this sound too altruistic, keep in mind that the people who created it (the team and the investors) owned more than half of the equity. By giving away a healthy proportion to users, that was very likely to make it a much more popular place for lending. In turn, that would make everyone’s stake worth much more.
So, Compound announced this four-year period where the protocol would give out COMP tokens to users, a fixed amount every day until it was gone. These COMP tokens control the protocol, just as shareholders ultimately control publicly traded companies.
Every day, the Compound protocol looks at everyone who had lent money to the application and who had borrowed from it and gives them COMP proportional to their share of the day’s total business.
The results were very surprising, even to Compound’s biggest promoters.
COMP’s value will likely go down, and that’s why some investors are rushing to earn as much of it as they can right now.
This was a brand-new kind of yield on a deposit into Compound. In fact, it was a way to earn a yield on a loan, as well, which is very weird: Who has ever heard of a borrower earning a return on a debt from their lender?
COMP’s value has consistently been well over $200 since it started distributing on June 15. We did the math elsewhere but long story short: investors with fairly deep pockets can make a strong gain maximizing their daily returns in COMP. It is, in a way, free money.
It’s possible to lend to Compound, borrow from it, deposit what you borrowed and so on. This can be done multiple times and DeFi startup Instadapp even built a tool to make it as capital-efficient as possible.
“Yield farmers are extremely creative. They find ways to ‘stack’ yields and even earn multiple governance tokens at once,” said Spencer Noon of DTC Capital.
COMP’s value spike is a temporary situation. The COMP distribution will only last four years and then there won’t be any more. Further, most people agree that the high price now is driven by the low float (that is, how much COMP is actually free to trade on the market – it will never be this low again). So the value will probably gradually go down, and that’s why savvy investors are trying to earn as much as they can now.
Appealing to the speculative instincts of diehard crypto traders has proven to be a great way to increase liquidity on Compound. This fattens some pockets but also improves the user experience for all kinds of Compound users, including those who would use it whether they were going to earn COMP or not.
As usual in crypto, when entrepreneurs see something successful, they imitate it. Balancer was the next protocol to start distributing a governance token, BAL, to liquidity providers. Flash loan provider bZx has announced a plan. Ren, Curve and Synthetix also teamed up to promote a liquidity pool on Curve.
It is a fair bet many of the more well-known DeFi projects will announce some kind of coin that can be mined by providing liquidity.
The case to watch here is Uniswap versus Balancer. Balancer can do the same thing Uniswap does, but most users who want to do a quick token trade through their wallet use Uniswap. It will be interesting to see if Balancer’s BAL token convinces Uniswap’s liquidity providers to defect.
So far, though, more liquidity has gone into Uniswap since the BAL announcement, according to its data site. That said, even more has gone into Balancer.
Did liquidity mining start with COMP?No, but it was the most-used protocol with the most carefully designed liquidity mining scheme.
This point is debated but the origins of liquidity mining probably date back to Fcoin, a Chinese exchange that created a token in 2018 that rewarded people for making trades. You won’t believe what happened next! Just kidding, you will: People just started running bots to do pointless trades with themselves to earn the token.
Similarly, EOS is a blockchain where transactions are basically free, but since nothing is really free the absence of friction was an invitation for spam. Some malicious hacker who didn’t like EOS created a token called EIDOS on the network in late 2019. It rewarded people for tons of pointless transactions and somehow got an exchange listing.
These initiatives illustrated how quickly crypto users respond to incentives.
Read more: Compound Changes COMP Distribution Rules Following ‘Yield Farming’ Frenzy
Fcoin aside, liquidity mining as we now know it first showed up on Ethereum when the marketplace for synthetic tokens, Synthetix, announced in July 2019 an award in its SNX token for users who helped add liquidity to the sETH/ETH pool on Uniswap. By October, that was one of Uniswap’s biggest pools.
When Compound Labs, the company that launched the Compound protocol, decided to create COMP, the governance token, the firm took months designing just what kind of behavior it wanted and how to incentivize it. Even still, Compound Labs was surprised by the response. It led to unintended consequences such as crowding into a previously unpopular market (lending and borrowing BAT) in order to mine as much COMP as possible.
Just last week, 115 different COMP wallet addresses – senators in Compound’s ever-changing legislature – voted to change the distribution mechanism in hopes of spreading liquidity out across the markets again.
Is there DeFi for bitcoin?Yes, on Ethereum.
Nothing has beaten bitcoin over time for returns, but there’s one thing bitcoin can’t do on its own: create more bitcoin.
A smart trader can get in and out of bitcoin and dollars in a way that will earn them more bitcoin, but this is tedious and risky. It takes a certain kind of person.
DeFi, however, offers ways to grow one’s bitcoin holdings – though somewhat indirectly.
A long HODLer is happy to gain fresh BTC off their counterparty’s short-term win. That’s the game.
For example, a user can create a simulated bitcoin on Ethereum using BitGo’s WBTC system. They put BTC in and get the same amount back out in freshly minted WBTC. WBTC can be traded back for BTC at any time, so it tends to be worth the same as BTC.
Then the user can take that WBTC, stake it on Compound and earn a few percent each year in yield on their BTC. Odds are, the people who borrow that WBTC are probably doing it to short BTC (that is, they will sell it immediately, buy it back when the price goes down, close the loan and keep the difference).
A long HODLer is happy to gain fresh BTC off their counterparty’s short-term win. That’s the game.
How risky is it?Enough.
“DeFi, with the combination of an assortment of digital funds, automation of key processes, and more complex incentive structures that work across protocols – each with their own rapidly changing tech and governance practices – make for new types of security risks,” said Liz Steininger of Least Authority, a crypto security auditor. “Yet, despite these risks, the high yields are undeniably attractive to draw more users.”
We’ve seen big failures in DeFi products. MakerDAO had one so bad this year it’s called “Black Thursday.” There was also the exploit against flash loan provider bZx. These things do break and when they do money gets taken.
As this sector gets more robust, we could see token holders greenlighting more ways for investors to profit from DeFi niches.
Right now, the deal is too good for certain funds to resist, so they are moving a lot of money into these protocols to liquidity mine all the new governance tokens they can. But the funds – entities that pool the resources of typically well-to-do crypto investors – are also hedging. Nexus Mutual, a DeFi insurance provider of sorts, told CoinDesk it has maxed out its available coverage on these liquidity applications. Opyn, the trustless derivatives maker, created a way to short COMP, just in case this game comes to naught.
And weird things have arisen. For example, there’s currently more DAI on Compound than have been minted in the world. This makes sense once unpacked but it still feels dicey to everyone.
That said, distributing governance tokens might make things a lot less risky for startups, at least with regard to the money cops.
“Protocols distributing their tokens to the public, meaning that there’s a new secondary listing for SAFT tokens, [gives] plausible deniability from any security accusation,” Zehavi wrote. (The Simple Agreement for Future Tokens was a legal structure favored by many token issuers during the ICO craze.)
Whether a cryptocurrency is adequately decentralized has been a key feature of ICO settlements with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
What’s next for yield farming? (A prediction)COMP turned out to be a bit of a surprise to the DeFi world, in technical ways and others. It has inspired a wave of new thinking.
“Other projects are working on similar things,” said Nexus Mutual founder Hugh Karp. In fact, informed sources tell CoinDesk brand-new projects will launch with these models.
We might soon see more prosaic yield farming applications. For example, forms of profit-sharing that reward certain kinds of behavior.
Imagine if COMP holders decided, for example, that the protocol needed more people to put money in and leave it there longer. The community could create a proposal that shaved off a little of each token’s yield and paid that portion out only to the tokens that were older than six months. It probably wouldn’t be much, but an investor with the right time horizon and risk profile might take it into consideration before making a withdrawal.
(There are precedents for this in traditional finance: A 10-year Treasury bond normally yields more than a one-month T-bill even though they’re both backed by the full faith and credit of Uncle Sam, a 12-month certificate of deposit pays higher interest than a checking account at the same bank, and so on.)
As this sector gets more robust, its architects will come up with ever more robust ways to optimize liquidity incentives in increasingly refined ways. We could see token holders greenlighting more ways for investors to profit from DeFi niches.
Questions abound for this nascent industry: What will MakerDAO do to restore its spot as the king of DeFi? Will Uniswap join the liquidity mining trend? Will anyone stick all these governance tokens into a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO)? Or would that be a yield farmers co-op?
Whatever happens, crypto’s yield farmers will keep moving fast. Some fresh fields may open and some may soon bear much less luscious fruit.
But that’s the nice thing about farming in DeFi: It is very easy to switch fields.
The first church primers paralleled the introduction of school textbooks known as “the ABC”The Alphabet is a vessel for messages:
What's in a name?Indeed:
And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:
Obstetrics is the field of study concentrated on pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. As a medical specialty, obstetrics is combined with gynaecology under the discipline known as obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN) which is a surgical field.
And they had a king  over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon  , but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon.This is perhaps a dual - the Abaddon is both Father Beast (and Lord of the Harem, perhaps, given the plural 'them') and the Beastly Progeny (ie. King and Prince):
... He that ne'er learns his ABC,
... For ever will a Blockhead be.
... But he that learns these Letters fair,
... Shall have a Coach to take the Air.
Enregisterment is often partially, rather than completely, true, sort of like an accent viewed through a funhouse mirror.
Chinese researcher accused of trying to smuggle vials of ‘biological material’ out of US hidden in a sock
Sweeping ban on semiautomatic weapons takes effect in New Zealand
Does anyone know what this symbol represents, it's familiar to me and puts of a very unique energy and I cannot place it
These are things we can imagine Alphabet Sages might desire to encode and honour - as much for a mnemonic purpose, as for teaching purposes, or for archiving [...] knowledge [...] or purely for the sake of esoterica itself (ie. wizard just likes math, or architecture, and thus honours math and arches, secretely in words using basic algebra and references to certain idioms and golden numbers. Wizard works for King, shows him tricks. King decrees new Bible edition, and new Dictionary version).Today:
China orders Christians to rewrite the Bible for the era of President Xi
China orders Christians to rewrite the Bible for the era of President Xi
How Do Bullets Work in Video Games?
Q&A(stronony) —from The Comte De Gabalis, discourse 1: https://www.sacred-texts.com/eso/cdg/cdg04.htm
Lessons from scorching hot weirdo-planets
The first kind of exoplanet found, Hot Jupiters still perplex and captivate
He found me to be of a tractable, inquiring, and fearless disposition. A dash of melancholy is lacking in me, else I would make all, who are inclined to blame the Comte de GABALIS for having concealed nothing from me, confess that I was a not unfit subject for the Occult Sciences. One cannot make great progress in them, it is true, without melancholy; but the little that I possess in no wise disheartened him. You have, he told me a hundred times, Saturn in an angle, in his own house, and retrograde; some day you cannot. fail to be as melancholy as a Sage ought to be; for the wisest of all men, as we learn in the Cabala, had like you Jupiter in the Ascendant, nevertheless so powerful was the influence of his Saturn, though far weaker than yours, that one cannot find proof of his having laughed a single time in all his life. The Amateurs must, therefore, find fault with my Saturn and not with the Comte de GABALIS, if I prefer to divulge their secrets rather than to practise them.
Photons are (almost) supreme —
Why I dislike what “quantum supremacy” is doing to computing research
— A deep dive into threshold signature without mathematics by ARPA’s cryptographer Dr. Alex Susubmitted by arpaofficial to u/arpaofficial [link] [comments]
Threshold signature is a distributed multi-party signature protocol that includes distributed key generation, signature, and verification algorithms.
In recent years, with the rapid development of blockchain technology, signature algorithms have gained widespread attention in both academic research and real-world applications. Its properties like security, practicability, scalability, and decentralization of signature are pored through.
Due to the fact that blockchain and signature are closely connected, the development of signature algorithms and the introduction of new signature paradigms will directly affect the characteristics and efficiency of blockchain networks.
In addition, institutional and personal account key management requirements stimulated by distributed ledgers have also spawned many wallet applications, and this change has also affected traditional enterprises. No matter in the blockchain or traditional financial institutions, the threshold signature scheme can bring security and privacy improvement in various scenarios. As an emerging technology, threshold signatures are still under academic research and discussions, among which there are unverified security risks and practical problems.
This article will start from the technical rationale and discuss about cryptography and blockchain. Then we will compare multi-party computation and threshold signature before discussing the pros and cons of different paradigms of signature. In the end, there will be a list of use cases of threshold signature. So that, the reader may quickly learn about the threshold signature.
I. Cryptography in Daily Life
Before introducing threshold signatures, let’s get a general understanding of cryptography. How does cryptography protect digital information? How to create an identity in the digital world? At the very beginning, people want secure storage and transmission. After one creates a key, he can use symmetric encryption to store secrets. If two people have the same key, they can achieve secure transmission between them. Like, the king encrypts a command and the general decrypts it with the corresponding key.
But when two people do not have a safe channel to use, how can they create a shared key? So, the key exchange protocol came into being. Analogously, if the king issues an order to all the people in the digital world, how can everyone proves that the sentence originated from the king? As such, the digital signature protocol was invented. Both protocols are based on public key cryptography, or asymmetric cryptographic algorithms.
“Tiger Rune” is a troop deployment tool used by ancient emperor’s, made of bronze or gold tokens in the shape of a tiger, split in half, half of which is given to the general and the other half is saved by the emperor. Only when two tiger amulets are combined and used at the same time, will the amulet holder get the right to dispatch troops.
Symmetric and asymmetric encryption constitute the main components of modern cryptography. They both have three fixed parts: key generation, encryption, and decryption. Here, we focus on digital signature protocols. The key generation process generates a pair of associated keys: the public key and the private key. The public key is open to everyone, and the private key represents the identity and is only revealed to the owner. Whoever owns the private key has the identity represented by the key. The encryption algorithm, or signature algorithm, takes the private key as input and generate a signature on a piece of information. The decryption algorithm, or signature verification algorithm, uses public keys to verify the validity of the signature and the correctness of the information.
II. Signature in the Blockchain
Looking back on blockchain, it uses consensus algorithm to construct distributed books, and signature provides identity information for blockchain. All the transaction information on the blockchain is identified by the signature of the transaction initiator. The blockchain can verify the signature according to specific rules to check the transaction validity, all thanks to the immutability and verifiability of the signature.
For cryptography, the blockchain is more than using signature protocol, or that the consensus algorithm based on Proof-of-Work uses a hash function. Blockchain builds an infrastructure layer of consensus and transaction through. On top of that, the novel cryptographic protocols such as secure multi-party computation, zero-knowledge proof, homomorphic encryption thrives. For example, secure multi-party computation, which is naturally adapted to distributed networks, can build secure data transfer and machine learning platforms on the blockchain. The special nature of zero-knowledge proof provides feasibility for verifiable anonymous transactions. The combination of these cutting-edge cryptographic protocols and blockchain technology will drive the development of the digital world in the next decade, leading to secure data sharing, privacy protection, or more applications now unimaginable.
III. Secure Multi-party Computation and Threshold Signature
After introducing how digital signature protocol affects our lives, and how to help the blockchain build identities and record transactions, we will mention secure multi-party computation (MPC), from where we can see how threshold signatures achieve decentralization. For more about MPC, please refer to our previous posts which detailed the technical background and application scenarios.
MPC, by definition, is a secure computation that several participants jointly execute. Security here means that, in one computation, all participants provide their own private input, and can obtain results from the calculation. It is not possible to get any private information entered by other parties. In 1982, when Prof. Yao proposed the concept of MPC, he gave an example called the “Millionaires Problem” — two millionaires who want to know who is richer than the other without telling the true amount of assets. Specifically, the secure multiparty computation would care about the following properties:
IV. Single Signature, Multi-Signature and Threshold Signature
Besides the threshold signature, what other methods can we choose?
Bitcoin at the beginning, uses single signature which allocates each account with one private key. The message signed by this key is considered legitimate. Later, in order to avoid single point of failure, or introduce account management by multiple people, Bitcoin provides a multi-signature function. Multi-signature can be simply understood as each account owner signs successively and post all signatures to the chain. Then signatures are verified in order on the chain. When certain conditions are met, the transaction is legitimate. This method achieves a multiple private keys control purpose.
So, what’s the difference between multi-signature and threshold signature?
Several constraints of multi-signature are:
As for multiple signatures or threshold signature, the master private key has never been reconstructed, even if it is in memory or cache. this short-term reconstruction is not tolerable for vital accounts.
Just like other secure multi-party computation protocols, the introduction of other participants makes security model different with traditional point-to-point encrypted transmission. The problem of conspiracy and malicious participants were not taken into account in algorithms before. The behavior of physical entities cannot be restricted, and perpetrators are introduced into participating groups.
Therefore, multi-party cryptographic protocols cannot obtain the security strength as before. Effort is needed to develop threshold signature applications, integrate existing infrastructure, and test the true strength of threshold signature scheme.
1. Key Management
The use of threshold signature in key management system can achieve a more flexible administration, such as ARPA’s enterprise key management API. One can use the access structure to design authorization pattern for users with different priorities. In addition, for the entry of new entities, the threshold signature can quickly refresh the key. This operation can also be performed periodically to level up the difficulty of hacking multiple private keys at the same time. Finally, for the verifier, the threshold signature is not different from the traditional signature, so it is compatible with old equipments and reduces the update cost. ARPA enterprise key management modules already support Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Scheme secp256k1 and ed25519 parameters. In the future, it will be compatible with more parameters.
2. Crypto Wallet
Wallets based on threshold signature are more secure because the private key doesn’t need to be rebuilt. Also, without all signatures posted publicly, anonymity can be achieved. Compared to the multi-signature, threshold signature needs less transaction fees. Similar to key management applications, the administration of digital asset accounts can also be more flexible. Furthermore, threshold signature wallet can support various blockchains that do not natively support multi-signature, which reduces the risk of smart contracts bugs.
ConclusionThis article describes why people need the threshold signature, and what inspiring properties it may bring. One can see that threshold signature has higher security, more flexible control, more efficient verification process. In fact, different signature technologies have different application scenarios, such as aggregate signatures not mentioned in the article, and BLS-based multi-signature. At the same time, readers are also welcomed to read more about secure multi-party computation. Secure computation is the holy grail of cryptographic protocols. It can accomplish much more than the application of threshold signatures. In the near future, secure computation will solve more specific application questions in the digital world.
About AuthorDr. Alex Su works for ARPA as the cryptography researcher. He got his Bachelor’s degree in Electronic Engineering and Ph.D. in Cryptography from Tsinghua University. Dr. Su’s research interests include multi-party computation and post-quantum cryptography implementation and acceleration.
About ARPAARPA is committed to providing secure data transfer solutions based on cryptographic operations for businesses and individuals.
The ARPA secure multi-party computing network can be used as a protocol layer to implement privacy computing capabilities for public chains, and it enables developers to build efficient, secure, and data-protected business applications on private smart contracts. Enterprise and personal data can, therefore, be analyzed securely on the ARPA computing network without fear of exposing the data to any third party.
ARPA’s multi-party computing technology supports secure data markets, precision marketing, credit score calculations, and even the safe realization of personal data.
ARPA’s core team is international, with PhDs in cryptography from Tsinghua University, experienced systems engineers from Google, Uber, Amazon, Huawei and Mitsubishi, blockchain experts from the University of Tokyo, AIG, and the World Bank. We also have hired data scientists from CircleUp, as well as financial and data professionals from Fosun and Fidelity Investments.
For more information about ARPA, or to join our team, please contact us at [email protected].
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