Enabling secure multiparty computation: a life journey

Enabling secure multiparty computation: a life journey

by Jesper Buus Nielsen, Chief Cryptographic System Designer

This brief post explains why I believe secure multiparty computation (MPC) is a key technology for creating a better version of the internet and why we founded Partisia Blockchain to unlock its potential.

First, a bit about myself: I am a professor of computer science at Aarhus University in Denmark. For me, MPC and blockchain represent a professional life journey. My PhD thesis in 2003 focused on cryptographic consensus protocols, threshold signature schemes and MPC. Twenty-one years later, these technologies are starting to flourish. Today, they are often known as blockchains, distributed wallets and, well, MPC, and I am still researching them.

If you are reading this post, you probably already know what MPC is. If not, MPC allows multiple servers–each holding private data–to perform computations on the joint dataset without exposing any private data and without revealing anything beyond the computed output. It may sound like magic, but it is just cryptography. For details, see our book here.

I believe MPC has the potential to solve many of the current problems with the internet. The internet was initially envisioned as a space for sharing public information. Instead, it has become a space where we often pour private information into informational black holes, which monetize it in opaque ways, from programmed outrage to influencing voting behavior. You might argue that people should simply stop trading their privacy for trivial rewards. However, when faced with a choice between functionality and privacy, people tend to choose functionality. It is unrealistic to expect this to change, as humans are short-sighted utility optimizers. Fortunately, there is no need to choose between functionality and privacy. MPC demonstrates that you can eat your cake and have it too.

We just need to integrate MPC into everything. Imagine a dream world where using MPC is easy and free. If you wanted to compute on a dataset from several sources, you would simply specify the desired computation in your favorite programming language, indicate where the data is located, compile the code, deploy it, run it. And voilà, the desired result would magically appear where it should, with no leaks. And this process would be as efficient as computing the result on a single computer. Moreover, it would be completely transparent, allowing you to know and control exactly how and when your data was used. Had the internet looked like this from the beginning the way we store and process private data would be completely different, and thousands of new applications would be possible. This does not have to remain a dream world. We can build it, and we should build it!

Two decades ago, I thought researching better MPC protocols would be enough for the world to adopt them. However, implementing and deploying MPC turned out to be more challenging than I anticipated. In 2008, I co-founded Partisia ApS to put MPC into practice. This experience taught me a lot about the real-world challenges of using MPC. For each new use case, we often had to design a new optimized protocol, implement it, and find servers to run it. The hardest part was finding mutually trusted, organizationally separate parties to run the servers and teaching them how to use MPC. While there is still a place for such deployments, it became clear that this approach would not scale if we wanted MPC in everything. If each use case had to bear the cost of developing and implementing a protocol, and if we had to constantly find relevant organizations willing to host the servers, it would not be widely adopted. The solution we came up with was Partisia Blockchain.

Let us look back three decades at how the internet was organized when I was a kid to illustrate why Partisia Blockchain is the way to go. Technologies like FTP, Gopher, Usenet, and Archie technically allowed everything the World Wide Web does today, but there was no dot-com boom. It took Tim Berners-Lee’s 1989 paper, “Information Management: A Proposal”. He rather modestly wanted to improve the way information was shared and managed among researchers at CERN and other institutions. He did not know he had just invented Amazon, eBay, Google, Yahoo, PayPal, Priceline… And of course he had not. He had invented an incredibly potential enabling technology. There might have been a short window where one boomer got the chance to ask “but what is WWW really useful for?” In fact, I know that guy. He was one of my professors the first year at my university. But it quickly turned out that the answer was “Everything!” 

In my opinion, one of the most important developments happened in 1995, where the world saw the first version of the open source Apache web server. Now everyone could contribute to developing the WWW and everyone could almost by a single click install a web server and become an “Internet company”. After that no one looked back. There was no reason to ask what WWW was useful for. Everyone started to build what we have today, bottom up. By the early 2000s, Apache had become the dominant web server, powering over 70% of all websites. Apache was very much the enabler and the workhorse of the dot-com boom in the 1990s. Apache’s influence persists today, where 30% of all web servers still run Apache. 

So, that was the question: How do we build the “Apache of MPC”? How do we make it possible for everyone to integrate MPC with a “single click”? Instead of having a few MPC companies pursue use cases, we needed to make the technology seamlessly available to everyone to kickstart the building of the MPC internet bottom up. The MPC equivalents of Amazon, eBay, Google, Yahoo, PayPal and Priceline would follow. You will build those! Of course, we needed programming languages and compilers to facilitate this. And we needed tools for integrating MPC with the existing internet technology. That is a lot of work, but it is not fundamentally different from building something like Apache. It is software. However, a major obstacle we were left contemplating was the problem of finding servers to run the protocols. This was an organizational problem, not a software problem. The solution we went for was a blockchain organizing staked and vetted organizations and individuals willing to run the MPCs. Servers hosted by blockchain participants can programmatically be scrambled when needed for an MPC: MPC-as-a-service. You can read more about the Partisia Blockchain architecture here [TBA]. Crucially this converted an organizational problem into a software one. And Partisia Blockchain was born. 

There is still a lot of work to be done towards the ultimate dream of making MPC as efficient as computing on a single machine. This is one of the problems I focus on as a university researcher. However, in Partisia Blockchain we are now finally implementing a full-stack, single-click solution to integrate MPC into everything. You should join us in building the workhorse of the MPC internet and start integrating MPC into everything. The rest, I hope, will soon be internet history.

For me, blockchain and MPC represent an ongoing professional life journey. In the future I have two main means of transportation for the journey. From my role as a university researcher, I aim to continually develop better MPC protocols. Through Partisia Blockchain, I hope to help create “the Apache of MPC”. It has been a 21-year journey so far. We came a long way, but we also have a long road in front of us. Let us see where we are in 21 years from now. By 2045, I hope that if anyone asks, “But what is MPC really useful for?” the answer will be a bemused, “Everything!!!”, and that Partisia Blockchain is organizing 30% of the world’s MPC servers.

Until then, let’s get to work!

Stay updated: WebsiteXDiscord •  TelegramLinkedInFacebookInstagramGitLabMediumYouTube

Mithra — Market for Trust

Mithra — Market for Trust

There are 7 proprietary innovations that deliver Partisia Blockchain’s complete Layer 1+2 Blockchain. In this blog, we present the final and the seventh innovative feature — market for trust — we call it Mithra.

For an overview of all of the 7 features see the Zeus blog. We present each of the 7 innovations with a unique post leading up to TGE on May 31, 2022.

Mithra — Market for Trust

As any decentralized network, Partisia Blockchain relies on efficient node operators and no dominating numbers of malicious nodes. To grow a strong network of highly trusted efficient nodes, the Partisia Blockchain will gradually evolve into a market for trust — a market that rewards nodes that efficiently validate and propagate information and run zero-knowledge computation and token bridges trusted by the users.

The first part of the market for trust is to incentivize good performance by the individual nodes running basic blockchain services. This covers P2P propagation of information, validation and execution of transactions. The initial incentive provision will adjust the simple proportional reward sharing with direct observable measures such as the number of blocks produced as Sequencer. This rewards the best nodes performing the very basic operation as Sequencer. This basic incentive provision will be extended with an advanced incentive scheme that rewards nodes for revealing the otherwise hidden activities in the P2P network. The collected information is made public and used to reward the nodes that are the most active propagators of information in the P2P network. The intuition for this model is illustrated below.

The second part of the market for trust focuses on the ZK and Oracle services that are operated by subsets of ZK and Oracle nodes. As the network of ZK Oracle nodes grows the users will be able to impact the selection nodes for zero-knowledge computation and token bridges. This selection process will gradually involve a market where quality is rewarded and the most trusted nodes will be paid a higher price for the services performed.

In conclusion, on one hand, the basic blockchain involving all baker nodes is incentivized through relative performance and local information in the P2P network. On the other hand, the services performed by subsets of nodes are incentivized through competition driven by the users. In combination, this two-sided incentive provision sets a new standard for how to incentivize a decentralized network by creating a comprehensive and transparent market for trust for the greater good.

For more details, please check out the yellow paper, software documentation and the Medium blogs.

This concludes the blog series that briefly introduced the 7 main features defining the Partisia Blockchain mainnet, called ZEUS:

Poseidon — Provable Fast Track Consensus

Iris — Complete Sharding

Hermes — Collateralized Token Bridging

Athena — Zero-Knowledge Layer

Demeter — MPC-as-a-Service

Apollo — Unified Public and Private Smart Contracts

Mithra — Market for Trust

Please let us know what you think and thank you to everyone in our community for your support!

Apollo — Unified Public and Private Smart Contracts

Apollo — Unified Public and Private Smart Contracts

There are 7 proprietary innovations that deliver Partisia Blockchain’s complete Layer 1+2 Blockchain. In this blog we present the sixth innovative feature — public and private smart contracts — we call it Apollo.

For an overview of all of the 7 features see the Zeus blog here. We are presenting each of the 7 innovations with a unique post to explain each feature.

Apollo — Unified Public and Private Smart Contracts

Smart contracts are programs stored and executed on the blockchain. The automated execution of smart contracts based on predefined conditions is a significant part of the value proposition from the blockchain ecosystem in general. Today this kind of tailored services are managed by third parties in control of the users’ data — a situation that created the current internet economy or web 2.0 with large information giants.

The privacy-preserving computations built into the Partisia Blockchain add an essential dimension to smart contracts. With general privacy-preserving computation, smart contract automation enables a data driven economy with private digital agents that remain in full control of the private data involved. This is a new way forward for the internet economy with the users in control of their own data and hence their own bargaining power.

To realize this vision, the smart contracts on Partisia Blockchain are designed for general coordination of public and private computations — a unified public and private smart contract language. A very significant innovation is the private smart contracts that makes it simple for any developer to tap into zero-knowledge computation or MPC-as-a-Service. As MPC is a very advanced technology — it is an explicit goal that the expertise and knowhow of the Partisia expert team will be gradually built into the smart contract language. This will ensure the uptake of an otherwise complex technology and enable efficient execution and avoid security breaches.

We believe that general privacy-preserving computation and our private smart contract language will move the blockchain ecosystem to a new level and open up for an entire new field of use cases.

The smart contracts will enable users to take advantage of the full stack that has been designed to bring privacy to all platforms. The scalability provided by Poseidon and Iris enable efficient zero-knowledge computation and the Bring Your Own Coin (BYOC) provided by Hermes ensures economic alignment with the networks that integrate with Partisia Blockchain.

For more details, please checkout the yellow paper and software documentation.

Please let us know what you think and stay tuned for the next blog post about the market for trust, called Mithra.

Thank you to everyone in our community for your support!

Partisia Blockchain Team