Let me start with full disclosure of my stake in Anoncoin. I currently own a couple, rounded up, and I intend to mine a whole lot more on my (t)rusty Sapphire 5850, difficulty permitting. Having mined the major alternatives to Bitcoin, namely Litecoin and Peercoin, I chose Anoncoin as an alt which offers real innovation. As the name suggests, that innovation is improved anonymity.
Yesterday I had a conversation with Meeh, Anoncoin’s lead developer. Also on the team are K1773R, who prefers programming and security concerns to media enquiries, BroTroxer the project manager and infrastructure guy, JackOfAll who handles PR and community issues and Gnosis, whose focus is cryptography and Anoncoin’s implementation of the Zerocoin protocol.
So, Anoncoin… Is it related to hacktivist / meme appreciation group, Anonymous? Meeh says, “no.” Of course, members of Anonymous could be using it. So could top Scientologists, paying to level up their wizard powers. The whole point is that nobody knows who is using it.
Meeh told me Anoncoin, ticker symbol ANC, began as a Litecoin fork around the time the ASICs were coming online in mid-2013. Only 4.2 ANC will issued in total. Litecoin’s scrypt basis was chosen to give the average user a chance against the industrial-scale ASIC mining ops which have since come to dominate Bitcoin’s sha256 infrastructure. In fact, this philosophy of giving the little guy an edge over the big boys seems to be Anoncoin’s reason for existence. Like many involved in cryptocurrency, Meeh is no fan of central banks. With historical justification, he categorises them as war profiteers and seems to regard them as vaguely threatening goliaths.
Meeh warns that central bankers are likely to become increasingly adversarial to cryptocurrency as it erodes their control over the world’s money. Personally, I agree with this assessment. Expecting centralised institutions to surrender their supreme monetary power to upstart cryptocurrencies is naïve, at best. However, as Meeh points out, the form which central banking’s reaction will take is unknown. A likely channel is increased regulatory pressure on all crypto market participants; registration requirements enabling taxation and potential restrictions. As any coinspend over the open internet can be traced to your computer’s unique IP address, the likely means by which “the authorities” might persecute cryptocurrency users is clear.Anticipating a day when this becomes problematic, Anoncoin offers its users the anonymising protection of the darknet.
The best-known “darknet” is, of course, Tor; the IP-obscuring network which enabled the notorious Silk Road bazaar to openly defy government substance prohibitions for years. Tor obscures a user’s IP by routing their connection through a series of hops; an initial entry server accepts a user’s datastream and channels it to a relay server. This relay server routes the data (now seen as coming from the entry server’s IP address) to an exit server. The exit server then connects the user with the relevant clearnet (meaning unencrypted, regular internet) or Tor-exclusive “.onion” site. All data is encrypted en route, such that entries and relays can’t read the content. An exit server can potentially monitor what sites are being viewed but – critically – not by whom.
Interestingly, Meeh tells me that, due to support for proxy mode being a feature of Bitcoin’s original design, it’s possible to configure any cryptocurrency to work via Tor. As far as he knows though, only Anoncoin offers blockchain-broadcasting .onion nodes. These allow ANC clients to restrict their traffic entirely to Tor. Although Tor is believed to be generally secure, Anoncoin doesn’t place all its eggs in one basket.
Support for I2P, another anonymising network, is standard in Anoncoin. I2P works in a similar manner to Tor, albeit with some improvements like further layer of encryption, but has the drawback that access to regular clearnet websites is extremely slow. As such, I2P is more of a self-contained network or “internal internet,” where participants are mostly confined to “eepSites.” Unlike Tor, which strives to preserve its bandwidth for censorship evasion, political activism and even military usage, peer-to-peer file-sharing is encouraged within the I2P network. Although slower than regular torrents, the built-in I2Psnark client is great for sharing files without being hit with nastygrams from your ISP. And now, thanks to Anoncoin, I2P is also an anonymous way to keep your cryptocurrency wallet synced up and trading digital cash. It should be stated that neither Tor nor I2P are essential to running the Anoncoin client. The client will sync with and broadcast to any combination of clearnet, Tor or I2P. At this point in the interview, Meeh mentions that Anoncoin is based on a largely unknown and unofficial patch for Bitcoin, which allows it to run through I2P. Meeh states that he wishes to bring the developer of that patch onboard the I2P project, or at least send some Bitcoin his way for his pioneering work.
We move to the future of Anoncoin. The next update will implement of Coin Control. This feature, also promised for Bitcoin and other cryptos, is essentially a fix for the quirky way in which coins are sent. Simply put, Coin Control conveys privacy benefits by allowing users to select which of their wallet addresses will send coins, rather than the client selecting coins. In many instances, an address you’d rather keep private will become linked to a more public address by the standard wallet’s shenanigans.
So, with your IP address safely hidden and control over inadvertent address linkages, all that remains to truly anonymise cryptocurrency is the small matter of the permanent, time-stamped record of every transaction by address: the blockchain, which forms the backbone of all peer-to-peer currency. Already forensic analysis of the blockchain can reveal a surprising depth of information on the holdings and transactions of Satoshi Nakomoto, not to mention other high-profile heroes (and villains) of the crypto world. The proposed solution to this is Zerocoin. I’m still wrapping my head around how Zerocoin will function but it sounds very promising. I ask Meeh if we’ll be able to send our ANC into the Zerocoin ‘pool’ then pull out some different, random ANC? He agrees that, “in simple untechnical terms,” this is how it’ll work.
So, Zerocoin can be thought of as a built-in, no trust coin-mixing service. Right now, the Anoncoin team are deciding on a sensible exchange rate between Anoncoin and Zerocoin, and what percentage of Anoncoin block rewards will be paid out in Zerocoin – given the latter will be incorporated as an additional part of the ANC blockchain. In fact, Zerocoin was initially developed as an addition to Bitcoin. For whatever reason, perhaps caution against adding complex new features by the developers, or perhaps privacy being lower on their agenda than mainstream / regulatory acceptance, it seems unlikely the Bitcoin will adopt Zerocoin into its protocol any time soon.
This opens the door for Anoncoin, likely the first altcoin to integrate Zerocoin, to become the preferred coin for those who value their financial privacy. Let’s face it; such a privilege has long been lost to users of credit cards, electronic banking, wire services, PayPal or anything that isn’t cash, barter or carefully-deployed cryptocurrency. Anoncoin is shaping up to be the complete privacy package. I suspect it will function as a great testbed for anonymity features, as well as having a bright future of its own.