Why Is Zcash Investing In Tor To Ditch C Language For Rust?

Zcash Open Major Grants (ZOMG) has invested $670,000 in Tor to develop Arti (a Rust Tor implementation), a new coding language.

The privacy project is well underway, and the Zcash blog said the project would yield a “next-generation codebase that will focus on flexibility in embedding, straightforward maintenance, flexible deployment and performance.” The cryptocurrency firm aims to make financial transactions even more private, while Tor focuses on the holistic need for privacy and censorship resistance on the internet.

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The need for Arti

Tor is written in the C programming language as a standalone network proxy and has now started showing signs of ageing. C lacks high-level features for complex programming tasks, making it a slow and painstaking process. Not to mention error-prone, increasing the cost of adding new features. The situation called for a more modern language. 

Rust is a high-level modern programming language with innovative features and safety properties. Tor has been tracking bugs since 2016 and found half of the bugs were due to C language mistakes. Arti is expected to solve many of Tor’s long-term software issues. 

“We’ve found over the recent years that the complexity of the existing C code, and the fragility of the C language, make it unnecessarily difficult to improve the code while maintaining our security and privacy guarantees,” Nick Mathewson, one of the founders of Tor, said. 

Arti in cryptography

With the new code, Tor’s relay cryptography can be split across multiple CPU cores. Earlier, Zcash has tapped Tor to incorporate it as a new layer of security for its transactions. However, Tor’s problem is, it’s difficult to embed (standalone proxy), and its timeline is slow due to its legacy code. Further, Zcash wouldn’t have fine-grained control over Tor’s behaviour in its current form. Arti uses modular design, making it easier for projects to replace pieces of Tor implementation. With Arti as the foundation to build on, most problems become easier to solve.

Tor now aims to become a communications privacy wall for Zcash and enable all communication tools for Zcash users in a secure and anonymous environment. 

Most cryptocurrencies provide decentralised and anonymous communication. The user’s private key gives access to transactions. Still, over time, the user’s public address can be linked to these transactions and enable parties to identify a public address holder. Zcash uses the cryptographic tool zk-SNARKs (Zero-Knowledge Succinct Non-Interactive Argument of Knowledge), allowing users to carry out transactions without revealing addresses, making users untraceable in the blockchain. 

Zcash was endorsed by Edward Snowden in 2016, where he commented on the coin project as a solution to the surveillance risks of Bitcoin’s public transaction record.

Of late, cryptocurrencies’ potential risks and benefits have come under close scrutiny as countries are calibrating their stance on digital currency. Studies showed malicious actors use decentralised currencies for money laundering, trade of illicit goods and services and bankrolling terrorism financing, among others. The same is true for Tor with its infamous use for accessing the Dark Web. Research, however, suggests that only 6.7 percent users turn to Tor to enter the Dark Web. That works out to 150,00 out of Tor’s 2 million users. Instead, most use it as a secure alternative to Firefox or Chrome. 

So, can Zcash be appropriated for criminal purposes? A recent study on Zcash found no credible evidence pointing to the large-scale use of Zcash for illicit activities. The findings suggested Zcash has had a minor presence in forums and marketplaces as opposed to other cryptocurrencies with clear links to malicious activities. The study, however, stated the cryptocurrency was lesser known in the research community, with no substantial research being conducted on the topic. Hence, there is little proof that Zcash has been used in harmful ways. However, as the aphorism goes, the absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence. 

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Prajaktha Gurung
I am a literature, media and psychology grad which explains much of my confusion in life. I like writing, especially about music. You'll find me clicking photographs and playing music on my guitar most of the time!

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