As the founder of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakomoto’s grand vision is to foster a vibrant, global ecosystem of highly secure, peer-to-peer currency transactions. As articulated in his whitepaper entitled Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System:
“Commerce on the Internet has come to rely almost exclusively on financial institutions serving as trusted third parties to process electronic payments, but no mechanism exists to make payments over a communications channel without a trusted party. What is needed is an electronic payment system based on cryptographic proof instead of trust, allowing any two willing parties to transact directly with each other without the need for a trusted third party.”
However, as the digital currency continues its explosive rise worldwide, a major question of profound importance remains; is Nakamoto’s true vision and intent being realized?
Arguably, his vision hasn’t quite happened. Cryptocurrency remains challenging for the average person to manage and use. Moreover, the protocols undergirding bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies struggle from scalability and transaction traffic jams.
Even more troublesome, large troughs of bitcoin activity are being funneled through centralized services like Coinbase, thereby increasing security and privacy vulnerabilities. While platforms like Coinbase represent a natural entry point for the average, everyday user, their centralized approach runs counter to the private, decentralized models that crypto enthusiasts champion.
In a move that is likely to be closely watched by both crypto enthusiasts and regulatory bodies alike, Moxie Marlinspike the brainchild behind the end-to-end, encrypted messaging app Signal, is on an ambitious quest to mitigate these limitations. He hopes to achieve this by fostering a highly efficient digital currency that’s private and user-friendly, delivering rapid transactions from any device.
Amid the torrent of new cryptocurrencies being launched, Marlinspike’s track record with Signal brings credibility to this project and the organization cultivating it, Open Whisper Systems.
A fringe-living anarchist known for his highly noticeable dreadlock hairstyle, Marlinspike in partnership with technologist Joshua Goldbard has been engaged of late in the development of a cryptocurrency known as MobileCoin. It’s reportedly based on the open-source Stellar Consensus Protocol platform, an alternative payment network that undergirds several projects in Europe and the South Pacific.
The value proposition of MobileCoin; to simplify real privacy protections in a way that mitigates attack vulnerabilities that foster privacy and security concerns. Moreover, it endeavors in Satoshi-like fashion to make MobileCoin as an intuitive and prevailing payment system.
All of this aligns with the broader purpose of Signal, and its ongoing quest to simplify and secure end-to-end encrypted communication through the use of robust cryptographic communication protocols.
So how exactly does it work? In short, MobileCoin transitions all the complicated and processing-intensive work involving blockchain ledgers and transaction validation to nodes, servers with 24/7 connectivity which store and curate fully updated copies of a currency’s blockchain. These nodes can then deliver solutions to users, such as apps that easily and rapidly integrate MobileCoin transactions.
The nodes also manage keys, the public and particularly the private keys for users, a critical element for encrypting each user’s transactions stored and utilized by the node. It’s here where MobileCoin is ideally suited to ensure that node operators never have direct access to users’ private keys.
This is where MobileCoin’s unique model comes into play. The currency utilizes an Intel processor component known as Software Guard Extensions or a “secure enclave.” This sequestered processor element runs code like any other, with the advantage of not being accessible or alterable by a device’s larger operating system. In other words, neither MobileCoin users nor node administrators can decrypt and look at the enclave.
The MobileCoin network’s enclaves contained in all of the nodes keep hidden the currency’s indelible ledger. In addition, the private keys of users are also stored and securely protected in the enclave.
While secure enclaves create some technical challenges, due to their limited processing capacity, efficiency has been central to MobileCoin’s development process. Without the need to trust the nodes because sensitive data isn’t exposed to them, more can occur through a user’s device without sacrificing privacy. This makes transactions quick and easy with having to trust a server in the event of a hack.
An additional bonus of the Stellar Consensus Protocol; the nodes don’t need to store a full transaction history in the blockchain. Rather most of this data can be discarded after each payment is completed. This feature allows MobileCoin greater resistance to surveillance, whether from a government or a criminal seeking to monitor or engage in nefarious acts against users.
While there are lots of potential applications for MobileCoin, a logical early integration would likely involve chat apps like Signal or WhatsApp. These and other opportunities appear promising although it’s still a bit early in the game. But Signal’s excellent track record in the encryption market make it a solid bet to make some noise.