Welcome to Nym’s Medium. Here you will find updates to our project and explanations of our technology, FAQs, and commentary from both the core team and Nym guest contributors, friends and advisors.
The rise of surveillance capitalism
Data harvesting has dominated Silicon Valley business models over the past decade and has rapidly become the norm for monetizing online activity. Understanding and predicting user behaviour is now core to both old and new media businesses, for example, from the Financial Times to Facebook, who famously sold its users out to its commercial clients like Cambridge Analytica.
These data-driven models, collectively known as surveillance capitalism, have produced giant tech monopolies that oversee an unprecedented system of control. Governments, meanwhile, are fighting to preserve centralized power and manage polarized populations by heavily censoring and controlling the internet, fragmenting it even further.
In this climate, the prospect of having any privacy online is disintegrating. It is important to realize just how lacking current technology is with regards to maintaining privacy. A private messenger like Signal might encrypt a message’s contents, but metadata identifying the timing, sender and receiver is accessible by powerful third parties that monitor the internet and can readily identify users.
In this world of big data, this information is in many ways more valuable than the contents of messages — it can be used by sophisticated and ubiquitous analytic systems to determine the nature of your social relationships and thus predict your personal characteristics and preferences.
The necessary technology to guarantee online privacy has remained underdeveloped until now for reasons related to limitations in computing, networking, research and funding. We believe that it is now possible to overcome these limits and deploy technology that provides strong privacy guarantees, avoids trusted third parties, and is resistant to surveillance.
Introducing the Nym Protocol
Last year, a team of researchers and programmers working in privacy-enhancing technology founded Nym in order to create unstoppable privacy infrastructure that could end corporate and government surveillance of personal user data.
While existing blockchain technologies like Zcash can protect user privacy on-chain using zero-knowledge proofs, they still rely, like all internet-facing applications and services, on the network layer itself to transfer data between machines.
Analysis of these patterns in network traffic can deanonymize any internet-based communication, and hence any user. Services and applications also collect data that can be used to violate the privacy of their users.
Nym provides full-stack privacy so any application, service or blockchain can defend its network traffic against even the most sophisticated surveillance systems, pooling resources without the need to build privacy from scratch, while maintaining operational and financial sustainability.
How Nym can make the internet private
Nym itself is neutral to the technology interfacing with it, providing an open-ended anonymous overlay network that works to irreversibly disguise patterns in internet traffic. The more activity on the network, the more private it becomes — and so users have safety in numbers, just like in the real world.
Nym improves on existing alternatives via mix-networking. The Sphinx packet format renders all data packets a uniform size, the traffic is mixed probabilistically with timing obfuscation, cover traffic is added, and multiple hops ensure users do not have to trust a single node. This mixing defeats the kinds of traffic-analysis attacks that can deanonymize packets on VPNs, Tor and I2P. In addition, Nym uses blockchain technology to decentralize the operations of the mixnet so that the network has no centralized points of failure.
A major obstacle for any decentralized network is assembling real-world resources to run nodes. Tor and I2P’s volunteer model works but has limitations. With the logistical complexity of finding trusted and reliable volunteers, global reach is difficult: volunteers tend to be centralized in wealthy Western countries, with the majority of Tor relays in places like Germany and the US. We think incentives can fix this problem.
Nym uses anonymous authentication credentials based on the Coconut signature scheme to enable privacy-enhanced data transfer and decentralized identity. Nym credentials can embed the data needed for a given service (including zero-knowledge proofs of private data), and these credentials are validated in a decentralized and public manner without linking a user to the service they want to access.
And importantly, Nym is sustainable because it uses incentives to decentralize and maintain the quality of service of the network. Inspired by Bitcoin, Nym’s breakthrough proof-of-stake system rewards nodes for mixing traffic rather than solving arbitrary merkle puzzles. Instead of a proof-of-work system, Nym node operators are rewarded for proof of mixing, ensuring privacy for all.
It’s clear that internet privacy has never been weaker, but it’s not down for the count — and the ground is ripe for change. Our experienced, committed team is excited to be taking the first steps.
Soon we will launch our whitepaper, further research, code and testnet, and are looking for skilled and passionate people to join us.
We look forward to your code contributions and comments on GitHub.
To meet us in person, find us next week at Berlin Blockchain Week: