From Harry Potter to Cryptocurrency: An Introduction to the Mimblewimble Protocol

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On Jan 3, Beam released its mainnet using a Wimblewimble privacy protocol. The same protocol was implemented within Grin’s various testnets, the first of which was launched in Nov 2017. Using Mimblewimble, Beam and Grin define themselves as a new type of privacy coin. However, these are not the first privacy coins — nor is Mimblewimble the first privacy protocol integrated within crypto assets.



On July 19, 2016, the Mimblewimble whitepaper was published by pseudonymous Tom Elvis Jedusor. This is the French name of antagonist Voldemort in the Harry Potter series. Mimblewimble is a reference to a spell used by characters within the series.

Harry Potter references aside, Wimblewimble is also the name of a privacy protocol that uses two technologies to ensure the privacy of transactions made and received within a peer-to-peer network:



  1. Confidential Transactions use randomized blinding factors to encrypt the amount of each transaction being sent and received to prevent onlookers from knowing the actual value of the transaction.
  2. CoinJoin combines multiples payments from several sources into a single transaction. This increases the difficulty of determining where any single transaction originated.

Using both technologies, Mimblewimble encrypts the amount sent while making the sender’s information more anonymous.

https://twitter.com/RealTimeCrypto/status/1081342148342149121

Beam vs. Grin

Sources like Coindesk have reported Beam as the first Mimblewimble privacy coin to launch, but this is only partially true.

While Beam has launched its mainnet ahead of Grin, Grin launched its first testnet in Nov 2017. Since then, it has launched three other testnets, all before the Beam mainnet launch on Jan 3, 2019.

There are several other similarities and differences between Beam and Grin:

Similarities

In addition to using Mimblewimble, both Beam and Grin allow interactive and non-interactive transactions. This means that only one wallet will have to be online when a transaction is initiated or completed.

As well, both the Beam and Grin wallets will implement atomic swaps; however, BEAM will use Bitcoin (BTC) while Grin will use Ethereum.

Differences

In addition to similarities, there are also several important differences.

First, while both offer desktop wallets, Beam has announced its intention to develop mobile wallets for Android and iOS whereas Grin has not.

They will also use different programming languages and mining algorithms. Furthermore, unlike Beam, Grin will change its mining algorithm every six months (for at least the first two years) after its mainnet release to prevent ASIC manufacturers from becoming centralized authorities over the network.

As well, the total supply of Beam coins will be capped at approximately 263 million. Grin, however, will be non-capped. It will emit one grin every second to generate an indeterminate and possibility infinite supply.

Beam will also include opt-in auditability whereas Grin will not allow audits.

Lastly, Beam will allow the issuance of additional tokens as confidential assets on its blockchain whereas Grin will not.

Privacy Before Mimblewimble

Mimblewimble is not the first privacy protocol created for crypto assets. There are a large number of other protocols implemented in other coins and tokens over the last several years. Protocols used by other privacy coins include:

Zerocoin Protocol

The Zerocoin protocol was first proposed by Dr. Matthew D. Green, an associate professor at John Hopkins University, and his graduate students, in 2013.

By erasing the transaction history of every coin after it first emerges, Zerocoin was developed to add increased anonymity into the Bitcoin network.

The Bitcoin community, however, did not accept the Zerocoin protocol. Nonetheless, it has been successfully implemented within Zcoin and Private Instant Verified Transaction (PIVX).

The Dark Web

The dark web can be accessed using various browsers including the Invisible Internet Project (I2P) and The Onion Router (TOR). By accessing the dark web, a user’s IP address is effectively hidden from public eyes.

Verge, originally launched with the name “DogeCoinDark” in 2014, can only be accessed via the dark web. This is supposed to make the identity of a user anonymous, increasing overall privacy on the network.

The Four Privacy Technologies of Monero

Monero is a privacy coin first released on Apr 18, 2014. It integrates four separate technologies as part of its privacy protocol:

  1. Ring Signatures which encrypt the origins of a transaction
  2. RingCT which encrypts the value of a transaction
  3. Kovri which prevents transactions from being visibly broadcast to the public by hiding user IP addresses
  4. Stealth Addresses which encrypts the location to where a transaction is sent

zk-SNARKs and Zerocash

Another privacy protocol includes the implementation of zk-SNARKs. These enable the creation of shielded addresses which encrypt transaction data so that it is not publicly available. It allows the data to be verified, however, by those who have access to specific secret keys.

After developing the Zerocoin protocol, Dr. Green developed the Zerocash protocol using zk-SNARKs. In 2016, he released the mainnet version of ZCash, the first coin to implement the Zerocash protocol. With the Byzantium hard fork, Ethereum also integrated zk-SNARKs into its network.

Conclusion

Mimblewimble is not the first privacy protocol developed for crypto assets. Over the last several years, a variety of protocols have been implemented within several privacy coins and tokens. These include the Zerocoin protocol, the use of the dark web, the Zerocash protocol, zk-SNARKS, and the four technologies integrated by Monero.

[bctt tweet=”Perhaps Mimblewimble will prove itself useful for maintaining the anonymity of users by privatizing transaction data, but only time will tell.” username=”beincrypto”]

What do you think of the Mimblewimble protocol? Do you think it could become a feasible alternative to these other privacy protocols? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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Alexander Fred writes for BeInCrypto where he completes technical analyses of various alt-coins and qualitative commentary and analysis about various cryptoassets and their potential for social integration.

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