Our catch up with the team behind one of ETHBerlin’s winning projects… Sputnik.
After ETHBerlin was over, we were left hanging like the end of an episode of 24. We saw the incredible technical talent our community has through the projects that were built through the weekend. But we are too impatient to wait until next week’s episode, or ETHBerlinZwei in our case, so as promised we are on a continuous effort to see where the awesome projects, built out of ETHBerlin in September 2018, are at and if they have any advice for teams looking to take on the challenge at the next hackathon. So it is my pleasure to present to you the next project we are thrilled to have caught up with and been updated on… SPUTNIK! Here’s what they told us about where they are at now.
Hackathons, like ETHBerlin, are open to everyone and show that anything is possible within an incredible short space of time. Yes, there’s some very smart brains in our world. This super talented team rocked up to the event as sponsors. Next thing you know, FOMO kicked in and then they are one of the winning teams! So what exactly made them decide to join in and hack?
Sputnik, aka the NuCypher guys, found that many projects are taking the stance that private smart contracts are only attainable through two solutions, 1) Multi-Party Computation (MPC), and 2) Trusted Execution Environments (TEEs).However, as they worked together and began pondering more about the feasibility of Fully Homomorphic Encryption (FHE) in smart contracts and seeing other projects claim that it was not feasible. FHE allows computing a function on data that is encrypted so that the data is never in the clear while the computation is going on. It produces an encrypted result that a user with the right key can decrypt.
One of the suggestions was that Fully Homomorphic Encryption (FHE) isn’t feasible due to performance concerns. Therefore they found there was a very clear misunderstanding because both MPC and TEE based solutions are very flawed in many ways. Unfortunately this distorted
knowledge on the current state of the art research leads to the conclusion that FHE has performance issues. Performant FHE algorithms for different applications (arithmetic vs binary logic) are a reality.
“I came up with Sputnik because I wanted to prove to the community that FHE smart contracts are indeed feasible. They should not be discounted, nor should the community place their trust in half-baked security mechanisms that require flawed platforms like TEEs.” So, just before the hackathon officially kicked off, probably around midnight, John Pacific, the lead on Sputnik, informed the team that he was going to hack on the project and show how smart contracts can be attained through FHE.
“It was mostly a lone decision I made on the fly when I realized that I could, indeed, build Sputnik myself and could show off the feasibility of FHE applications. These FHE schemes may not be as fast as current CPU execution speeds, but we absolutely do not need them to be to execute smart contracts in a decentralized setting.”
Performance is not the largest of issues when it comes to FHE smart contracts. There are many more usability concerns with FHE smart contracts (other than performance) that are out of the scope of this post that pose a bigger threat.
Where is Sputnik now? Is it buried deep within NuCypher’s Mars office or somewhere in outer space?! John told us, “I haven’t updated Sputnik lately because it is an ongoing research project at NuCypher. We’d prefer to keep our developments private/stealth-mode until we have something more ready to show to the world.”
“Sputnik was only ever intended to be a hackathon project, nothing more. We have much more going on now with regards to FHE, but the developments there are actually deep in the secret research vaults here.” Looks like they are working on some top secret ways to improve FHE contracts so we will be waiting, anticipating until they give us some news.
We asked the team what was the takeaway from ETHBerlin and did they enjoy attending the hackathon? “I definitely enjoyed hacking at ETHBerlin and am very happy that I could participate! Simply sharing our names and what we’re working on will prove long term success for us.”
They presented their project a couple of times after ETHBerlin, so we asked them if they have any feedback or advice for all budding hackers out there? “To clarify here, we presented it after the hack because I actually forgot to run the code during our ETHBerlin presentation! I was so excited about winning (not expecting it at all) that I forgot to actually demo the smart contract during our presentation. We delivered a second presentation with a demo because I wanted to run it in front of an audience. The audience was very receptive and incredibly interested in the project. We still get quite a number of inquiries on FHE just from the two presentations we did.” To avoid all kinds of FOMO, you can watch Sputnik’s demo here.
Some solid feedback and advice from our friends over at Sputnik, thanks so much for your time to update us on your endeavours. We will have the next update on another of our winning teams coming to a blogpost near you…