Conceal Me If You Can: A CCX Interview
This article was originally published on The Daily Chain, 7th June 2020.
“Conceal Network is a secure peer-to-peer privacy framework empowering individuals and organizations to anonymously communicate and interact financially in a decentralized and censorship resistant environment.”
“We have a collection of very eclectic and driven individuals who are hyper focused on progress. We all come from different backgrounds, cultures and even different parts of the world. However, we definitely all have one common goal and that is to create a private and secure ecosystem for both the decentralization of financial services and communication.” — The Conceal Network team, May 2020
You’d be forgiven for thinking of a Tarantino movie when glancing at a photo of the Conceal Network development team; nine guys dressed mostly in black, and wearing shades.
“Instead of robbing a bank, these guys made one!” could have read the movie’s tagline, since Conceal Network (CCX) is designed to operate like a private bank.
But who are “they”, and what is this CryptoNote privacy coin with a twist called “cold staking”?
CryptoNote privacy coins conceal their transactions in cryptography’s equivalent to a game of thimblerig, known better as the cup and ball game. My simplistic metaphor is described in greater detail in the Loki Review. Since there is so much to discuss in CCX, any mention of how ring signatures work can happily be shelved.
Conceal has a large team and surprisingly active community for such a small cap coin. Some great tools are provided for its users, most notably Conceal Cloud, a very polished web wallet, and a human-readable (and immutable) addressing system called Conceal-ID.
In addition to the many other exciting features planned and discussed in the interview, Conceal Network is working on Conceal-Card, a card that facilitates $CCX NFC payment.
All together these features vivify the analog to a real world bank account and make it easy for users to handle and spend the currency. Conceal Pay was launched last year to make it “simple for anyone to accept payments or donations in CCX.”
In recent times the team have run an AMA, overhauled their website, added to their numerous exchange listings, and enhanced their mobile private messaging application.
The CCX Milestones & Roadmap found on their website is genuinely impressive. I’d like to draw special attention to Conceal Labs which provides funding for developers who want to implement their ideas in the CCX ecosystem.
Conceal’s major achievement to date is the development of Cold Staking. This technology permits users to lock funds for fixed periods of time in order to earn a predetermined rate of interest. Wallets holding the locked funds can be kept offline, or cold.
Cold Staking is not useful for securing the chain since wallets are offline, and Conceal operates as a Proof-of-Work coin. The feature is unique to Conceal and provides good returns for those willing to lock their funds. Once locked the funds are held in an on-chain contract until the date of unlocking and no power can release them any sooner.
Staking might be a misnomer since in actuality the feature is an on-chain contract created using programming opcodes similar those employed in Bitcoin’s Script language (initially developed by Satoshi).
Indeed, the idea of Cold Staking originates in Bitcoin with the advent of time-locking, or Hash Time Locked Contracts (HTCL). HTLCs are used in atomic swaps on sidechains and in Layer 2 payment channels like Lightning.
A Hash Time Locked Contract or HTLC is a class of payments that use hashlocks and timelocks to require that the receiver of a payment either acknowledge receiving the payment prior to a deadline by generating cryptographic proof of payment or forfeit the ability to claim the payment, returning it to the payer.
The cryptographic proof of payment the receiver generates can then be used to trigger other actions in other payments, making HTLCs a powerful technique for producing conditional payments in Bitcoin.
Conceal has combined these ideas with an interest rate pegged to the amount of time the funds are locked. Given that CCX is a CryptoNote coin in the Bytecoin family of privacy coins and not a fork of Bitcoin, this represents a significant achievement.
To better understand the relationship between Bytecoin and Monero (and the mysterious origins of the CryptoNote protocol), readers can check out the recent interview with the original author of the first CryptoNote implementation, Andrey Sabelnikov.
The Conceal developers have attracted a good deal of press recently, and a good breakdown of the coin’s specifications can be found here on The Daily Chain in a recent HASHR8 review.
In the following interview I decided to ask the CCX team about their “bank” security with regards to 51% attacks, find out more about the crew and try to learn what other types of services, such as on-chain contracts, could be facilitated in future. Since CCX has a capped total supply, I also ask what happens to the bank’s interest rates when mining ends?
Q. To begin, introductions are in order. How would you collectively describe yourselves?
We have a collection of very eclectic and driven individuals who are hyper focused on progress. We all come from different backgrounds, cultures and even different parts of the world. However, we definitely all have one common goal and that is to create a private and secure ecosystem for both the decentralization of financial services and communication.
Privacy is very important to us. The autonomy that privacy provides is essential to Conceal.Network. Privacy enables us to protect ourselves from unauthorized monitoring in our lives. This freedom gives us the ability to be who we want to be and interact with the world around us, without being judged or discriminated against. Privacy is a fundamental right for everyone. As a team, we all strive for a better future for everyone.
Collectively, we value four fundamental pillars that serve as the foundation for our ecosystem and community: privacy, social inclusion, decentralization and censorship resistance.
Ambitious? Yes, and we like it that way.
Q. And whose idea was it to open a bank in the first place, and why?
A small group of us met over the internet in late 2017. We all shared a common interest centered around privacy, human rights, cryptography, economics, decentralization and cryptocurrencies.
We quickly realized that there wasn’t a single cryptocurrency project that could fulfill all our expectations, of a truly privacy protected and decentralized cash alternative. Our goal was to digitize the anonymity provided by cash or paper money.
One thing led to another and we collectively decided to start Conceal.Network. In January 2018, we worked on the economic model and by April 2018 we had a proof of concept ready. Mainnet went live in May of 2018.
Q. Security. How do you prevent a 51% attack draining the bank vault?
In terms of security, we are one of the few PoW blockchains with 51% attack protection. Our code is open source and reviewed by the community. We monitor the network constantly with state-of-the-art tools that allow us to detect anomalies sooner than in any other privacy coin.
At Conceal we helped alleviate concerns with 51% attacks by creating Conceal.Keeper — a 51% Attack Protection Mechanism. Conceal has four different layers of 51% attack protection:
Increased confirmations for exchange deposits: Since an attacker will use a 51% attack to send money to an exchange and undo that transaction in an alternate chain he is mining, the longer the exchange confirmation window, the longer the alternate chain will need to be in order to be able to replace the chain. That means n confirmations at an exchange, will need a privately mined chain larger than n to succeed.
Limit chain reorganizations to the mined money unlock window: To make the above restrictions more effective, we also restrict chain reorganizations to the mined money unlock window, which at present is 10 blocks. Now any node will not switch to an alternate chain that is longer than 10 blocks. With almost all exchange confirmations at higher levels than this, if an attacker attempts to switch to a chain that is longer, both chains, the main and the alternate chain will remain in a permanent split, with the attacker’s private chain remaining split from the main chain.
Ensure that the alternate chain contains all transactions in the main chain: Another protection is that, regardless of the length of the alternate chain, the node will not switch to the alternate chain if it does not contain all the transactions of the main chain. This also prevents switching to an attacker’s chain that is trying to undo a transaction on the main chain. This check comes into effect if the alternate chain is larger than the regular reorganization of two to three blocks.
DNS Checkpoints: We also use DNS Checkpoints to ensure that all nodes are on the correct main chain, in the event of a chain split as a result of an attack. All nodes load checkpoints from DNS during startup or whenever there is an attempt to switch to an alternate chain.
Q. Funds cold staked are time-locked. These contracts cannot be cancelled once started. Does this ever lead to user frustration, and are there plans to add the ability to cancel a time-lock?
Hashed-Timelock-Contracts (HTLC) are immutable and can not be canceled until the duration of the contract is reached (“timelock”). Unless you introduce a middle-man, you can’t change it. So, that will never happen in a trustless setup. Users are made aware of this feature before finalizing a deposit (HTLC).
We are researching the possibility of enabling HTLC transfers. This feature will allow someone in an emergency situation to have liquidity by transferring the ownership of a deposit to someone else.
Q. Can this technology (HTLC) be used to facilitate loans with interest rates? Will it be?
In practical terms, this technology per se, no. Technically, you would need at least two different assets to secure the loans with collateral. The new Conceal-CAP platform would be the perfect place to implement any lending solution because it will support a broad range of different assets.
Q. CCX has a total supply of 200 million. What happens to cold staking when this total is hit?
The interest paid through compounding in the main chain will terminate long before reaching the maximum supply. Deposits are intended to be an incentive during the ascending mining block reward curve to keep the circulation supply low (4 years).
We set a new 30 year time frame to continue with the existing interest rates (Conceal Deposits v3.0). Also, our current block reward model is capped at 15 $CCX per block (20 $CCX was proposed but never got enough votes for approval). This emission plan, combined with the maximum supply remaining unchanged at 200M, allows miners to be rewarded for over 100 years and deposits extended for 30 years.
The whole economic ecosystem (PoW mining and Cold Staking/Deposits) was carefully designed to assure an equitable distribution of $CCX for generations to come.
Q. Are you happy having account holders store large amounts of CCX in your Cloud Wallet, or is that discouraged?
Absolutely happy having Conceal holders stockpile any amounts of $CCX in our Cloud environment. Conceal.Cloud provides a secure encrypted ecosystem to handle any and all Conceal business. Users own the secret keys to access their funds. Also, users have the option to import any wallets to our desktop wallet option.
Our cloud platform is structured and prepared to sustain DDoS attacks. At the cloud-API level, our security is reviewed by experienced (AWS) security analysts in addition to all the Conceal.Network activity being conducted and stored on a decentralized and encrypted blockchain.
Data is always encrypted both in transit and at rest giving our community an added level of assurance of safety of their data.
With Conceal.Cloud you have a web-based wallet and dashboard that is secure, fast, and easy to use. All you need to get started is an account.
Q. Encrypted messaging. What sets yours apart from the many on offer?
Despite the ubiquitous transition to the mobile domain and the multitude of messaging apps coming out every day, a lot of users still rely on email communication. Encryption made its way into this technology some time ago, but messages do not always stay intact throughout their journeys from one user to another. Usually, an email is encrypted between a sender’s browser and email servers and then between these servers and the recipient’s browser, which still makes the contents of an email message available to the email provider on their servers.
Our encrypted messaging changes this panorama, giving its users the peace of mind of true privacy. Messages are totally confidential and immutable. No one could spy or tamper with them. There are permanent and self-destruct features available, allowing users to force their messages to become permanent or deleted from both the sender and recipient’s history all together after a specified amount of time, without leaving a trace on the blockchain.
Q. “Contrary to some of the competition, users are still able to audit the data (including TX amounts, total coins in the chain, coins locked through deposits, interest paid) in the blockchain without compromising privacy and preserving the transparency required by a global economic ecosystem.”
So you go beyond the power of a ‘viewkey’ to audit data? Please discuss “transparency required by a global economic ecosystem”
$CCX privacy is at the protocol level. Conceal uses ring signatures and one time stealth addresses that allow us to be audit-able without compromising privacy and fungibility. It also helps identify a variety of outliers (like double spending, abnormal coin creation, odd episodes in case of attacks, etc.).
We opted for the original Cryptonote protocol instead of a fork/clone with RingCT. RingCT transactions are unnecessarily big for the little privacy increment they would bring to users and RingCT doesn’t necessarily bring huge improvements on privacy.
Our definition of transparency goes hand in hand with accountability. We offer a private financial ecosystem that is used in day-to-day commerce. Confidence and trust is gained by being able to audit that ecosystem on both a macro and micro scale (a top-down approach).
Demand for transparency comes from our need to offer the world a mechanism to properly govern Conceal.Network and users to be able to inspect their Peer-to-Peer (P2P) financial activity.
Through the use of Conceal.Network Explorer, you can oversee Conceal economics, community operational funds and users can audit their P2P transactions (including wallet balance proofs and private data included in transactions not viewable using the Conceal.Network Explorer).
In the end, we believe that privacy with the right amount of transparency leads to more active community participation and better governance.
Q. Please talk a little about Conceal ID, and how it relates to Open ID. Are the protocols inter-operable? What are the use cases?
Conceal-ID gives you the ability to make a memorable alias for any Conceal wallet address so your friends or anyone else can easily remember the alias instead of long addresses. The alias provides a simple, fast and private method to handle transactions and messaging. Conceal-ID will be implemented across all our products and services. At the moment, Conceal-ID is exclusive to our network and is not related to Open-ID but in the future, if justifiable, inter-operations could be implemented.
Q. “Conceal Labs” is aimed at providing funding to help community members build their ideas for the Conceal.Network ecosystem. How’s it going?
Conceal Labs is doing fantastic! Just recently we had a Conceal Labs proposal submitted and voted on (which was unanimously approved) from one of our Discord community members ThrownLemon#9356 [BlueRockPools] to build an alternate desktop wallet, Conceal Lite Wallet based on Electron.
The Conceal Lite Wallet also integrated several Conceal features including:
- Conceal-Smart Node service/infrastructure
- Conceal-Cloud Wallet service/infrastructure
This is just one excellent example of how anyone can participate and contribute to the Conceal ecosystem.
Conceal Labs provides a mechanism for the community to cultivate and financially encourage having anyone build upon the Conceal ecosystem. We invite anyone to showcase their work. Anyone can apply to Conceal Labs with their project. The community then decides by vote if the project gets approved. Conceal Labs is just another step to a broader adoption of the Conceal ecosystem.
Q. “This sidechain design will have unlimited scalability and instantaneous payments that will rival Visa or any other distributed technology available today.” The plan is ambitious. Could a sidechain enable a stablecoin, and what makes you guys think you can pull this off?
Everything is possible. This “sidechain” project is an entire new platform being created named Conceal-CAP (Confidential Asset Platform). Anyone can issue new assets on Conceal-CAP, including stablecoins and security tokens. Each asset can be traded freely within the network, taking advantage of CAP’s privacy, speed, and secure trading features. The speed of the transactions will depend on the size of the platform (the number of people using it). So, the more the merrier.
To access Conceal-CAP you will need to swap $CCX for its native asset, making access to Conceal-CAP exclusive to $CCX. Future advancements also include a way to have DAPS built on top of it. This last feature will allow developers to implement new products and services, including a stable coin if they want it.
Aside from Conceal-CAP, we are also developing Conceal-Card, a card that facilitates $CCX NFC payments.The idea is to have a proof of concept for stores to have a card reader and a payment terminal. Whoever wants to pay with $CCX (or any other asset from the Conceal-CAP), can just tap the card instead of doing a regular transfer. The terminal will pre-set the amount and so on. Based on whatever item is being sold pretty much like a regular contactless payment terminal for credit/debit cards.
To make the card work you will need to register it in the cloud, set up a PIN and select from which wallet it will withdraw to use.
Every terminal is a IoT device that will connect to our cloud API, request a payment to an address associated with this terminal, and it will ask for a PIN that was set by the user.
Users can put a threshold on when the pin is required. Otherwise it’s touch-and-pay. The card will complete the Conceal-Pay payment system.
Q. Banking and exchange licenses to process payments and create fiat on-ramps, and even a debit card. Are these options being explored?
Our goal is to bring economic freedom to people in a privacy protected environment. We have no plans to run our own gateways or exchanges pegged to FIAT, but any individual or organization will be able to run several different services on top of our privacy protected network (Conceal-CAP).
Q. To wrap it up, is there anything you’d like to add which we haven’t discussed?
Yes, our miners.
Securing the network is a high priority to protect our users. Miners are a fundamental piece of securing our ecosystem, they do all the PoW needed to validate every transaction and generate new blocks. They are an important part of our community too. Some of the most engaged users are miners. Miners are so important to us that we have invested a lot of time and resources developing the best mining algo possible — Cryptonight Conceal (CN Conceal).
CN Conceal is a variant of the original Cryptonight mining algorithm designed to achieve maximum PoW hash function for egalitarian CPU & GPU mining and ASIC/FPGA resistance. Conceal is the most energy efficient of the FPGA-Resistant algos. It uses a scratchpad of 2MB with FPM (Floating Point Math) that makes programmed FPGAs inefficient. The FPGAs don’t have any advantage over high-end GPUs. Another main advantage is the performance efficiency across multiple generations of GPUs. It is extremely efficient on all GCN architectures from multiple cards across the last 8 years. All these qualities allow CN Conceal to be one of the most decentralized mining algos in the crypto space.
Also, Conceal has a very unique block reward scheme that increases to a max block reward, instead of decreasing as in most other Proof of Work (PoW) coins. With this simple and logical approach we avoided the unfair enrichment of early miners during the initial stages of the project where mining difficulty is low and successfully reached one of the lowest coin emission curves throughout the crypto space without affecting mining profit. Conceal.Network miners get 100% of the PoW mining fees.
And finally, but most importantly, we are a community.
We take pride in the fact that every single team member came from the community. The community is the foundation of Conceal and everyone has a voice. Each year we have an annual consensus where anyone can participate. We keep an exclusive channel in Discord that allows any community member to propose an idea to the team for consideration and consensus voting. We truly value our community.
Conceal Network sets itself apart from all other competing CryptoNote coins with many features including cold staking. An eclectic team of developers have provided real innovation in the privacy coin space, and plan to build on their technology by adding more complex services to this would-be bank.
“Everything is possible. This “sidechain” project is an entire new platform being created named Conceal-CAP (Confidential Asset Platform). Anyone can issue new assets on Conceal-CAP, including stablecoins and security tokens.”
The sidechain project is much more complex than the cold staking technology already implemented, but the team seem confident in their ability to pull it off. Should they succeed, Conceal Network will cement a reputation as a genuinely innovative coin.
The Daily Chain readers can expect updates on Conceal Network over the coming months, as the team and community bring their vision of private banking into sharp focus.