How the biggest proof-of-work algorithms for cryptocurrencies compare

Not all coins are created equal.

Some cryptocurrencies require the equivalent of hours of computing time and energy to mine, while others are produced in a matter of minutes.

The term “mining” in cryptocurrencies refers to a collection of techniques to validate transactions known as proof of work (PoW). This is when a computer performs many calculations to try and solve a mathematical puzzle.

These puzzles use are typically based on cryptographic hash functions, which are designed to be one-way. The nature of these functions is exploited so that a miner must make many millions or even trillions of guesses per second to find a solution. It is then usually possible for any other computer to easily check that the solution is true.

In the case of distributed ledger systems like Bitcoin, other computers on the network can easily check someone else’s calculation, and must then build upon it to generate solutions for the next block of transactions.

Each block of transactions is its own mathematically difficult puzzle to solve, and becomes part of the puzzle for the next block of transactions, creating a chain. Hence the term “blockchain”.

By building the next block of transactions on one which came before, a network is able to come to a consensus of which transactions are valid. Proof-of-work algorithms are therefore also referred to as a consensus mechanism.

Other examples of consensus mechanisms is proof-of-stake and Istanbul Byzantine Fault Tolerance, but this article is only going to look only at proof-of-work algorithms, and how they compare.

Among the factors mentioned below will be resistance to mining hardware based on application specific integrated circuits (ASICs).

Application-specific integrated circuits, as the name implies, are chips designed for a specific use, as opposed to general-purpose computers. In the case of blockchains, they are chips designed to perform the calculations of a particular proof-of-work algorithm as efficiently as possible.

Criticism of ASICs is that they are expensive and make it difficult for people to participate in mining a blockchain without a significant capital investment. They also skew the ability mine a particular coin in favour of companies who can develop their own ASICs.

While some mining algorithms are designed with ASIC resistance in mind, it is worth keeping in mind the comments the lead developer of Sia made earlier this year: “At the end of the day, you will always be able to create custom hardware that can outperform general purpose hardware.”

SHA–256 — Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash

What better place to start with a comparison of algorithms than where the cryptocurrency craze all began — Bitcoin.

The Secure Hash Algorithms are a family of cryptographic hashing functions published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Short for Secure Hash Algorithm, the first variants of the SHA family, SHA–0, SHA–1 and SHA–2, were developed by the U.S. National Security Agency. SHA–256 and its bigger brother, SHA–512, are part of the SHA–2 family.

SHA–256 is not designed to be ASIC resistant, and ASICs to mine Bitcoin are readily available.

Scrypt — Litecoin, Dogecoin, Neo

Scrypt was designed to make it more difficult for specialised hardware like ASICs to be used to crack passwords that were hashed using the algorithm.

It did this by using a large amount of memory compared to similar functions, making it more expensive for an attacker to target.

However ASIC-based miners for cryptocurrencies which use Scrypt, like Litecoin, have been available since at least 2014.

Ethash — Ethereum, Ethereum Classic

Ethereum’s proof-of-work algorithm is a modified version of Dagger-Hashimoto, which was designed to be memory hard and ASIC resistant.

This means it tends to favour graphics cards with higher memory bandwidth, and has been the domain of people who want to mine a cryptocurrency with standard computer hardware (like high-end graphics cards) rather than specialised components.

Bitmain has produced a specialised Ethereum miner, but the creator of the platform, Vitalik Buterin, surmises that the “ASIC” is just an optimised regular computer with non-essential components stripped out.

Equihash — Zcash, ZenCash, Bitcoin Gold

Similar to Ethereum, the developers of Zcash created a memory-oriented proof-of-work algorithm for their cryptocurrency to make it ASIC resistant.

It uses Blake2b in the proof-of-work, and as a key-derivation function.

Bitmain has sold ASICs for Equihash, defeating its originally stated goal of democratising mining, rather than having it limited to only those who could afford specialised gear.

Blake, Blake2, and Blake2b — Siacoin, Decred

Blake was an entry into the competition by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology for a new SHA algorithm to complement its older SHA-1 and SHA-2 standards.

It made it to the final round, but ultimately lost to Keccak.

The algorithm is fast, and was not designed specifically with resistance to ASIC mining in mind.

Bitmain has released as ASIC miner for Blake2b-based coins. The developers of Siacoin themselves also launched an ASIC project called Obelisk about a year ago, and reported in detail about their findings of the state of the mining space.

Keccak — SmartCash, MaxCoin

Keccak won a competition in 2012 to become SHA–3, the next variant of the Secure Hash Algorithms family.

It proved to be faster than all other entrants to the competition, and faster than SHA–2 and SHA–1.

While Keccak was not designed to resist ASIC mining, it was built to resist cryptanalysis and brute-force attacks with specialised hardware like ASICs.

Keccak is therefore currently considered ASIC resistant, and there are no ASICs on the open market which target the algorithm.

CryptoNight — Monero, Bytecoin

CryptoNight was designed to be ASIC-resistant, and accessible. The aim was to close the gap between miners who only have access to consumer CPUs and can’t afford hardware like graphics cards and ASICs.

This is to foster more egalitarian mining, and greater decentralisation.

However, Bitmain announced in March that it developed an ASIC for the algorithm and was going to sell a specialised miner called the Antminer X3.

In response, the developers of Monero announced an emergency fork to update its hashing algorithm. They also announced that they will be forking Monero twice a year to try and ensure that it remains ASIC resistant for as long as possible.

X11 — Dash

X11 is an algorithm originally built for Dash which uses multiple rounds of 11 different hashes: Blake, BMW, Groestl, JH, Keccak, Skein, Luffa, Cubehash, Shavite, SIMD, Echo.

It was not designed to be ASIC resistant, and ASICs for X11 are available from several manufacturers including Bitmain, Baikal, iBelink, Innosilicon, and Pinidea.

Variants of this idea—in the form of X13, X15 and X17—are used by several other cryptocurrencies.

Multi-algorithm coins — Verge, Myriad

Where X11 uses multiple rounds of a number of different hashing algorithms to mine a coin, there are also coins which allow many different algorithms to be used to mine them.

The aim is to allow CPU, GPU, and ASIC miners a fair opportunity to mine the coin, and enhance the security of the cryptocurrency.

Essentially, multi-algorthm cryptocurrencies adjust the difficulty of mining their tokens for each algorithm independently to prevent one algorithm from becoming dominant.

In theory, this should also make “51% attacks” more difficult. Such attacks are possible when one person or group control the majority of the hashing power for a coin, allowing them to rewrite the blockchain as they see fit.

Verge supports Scrypt, X17, Lyra2rev2, Myr-Groestl, and Blake2s.

Myriad supports SHA256-D, Scrypt, Myr-Groestl, Skein, and Yescrypt.

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Five privacy-focussed cryptocurrencies you need to know about

While Bitcoin represents an open and transparent peer-to-peer monetary system, its use hasn’t granted participants the privacy once thought. While Bitcoin is pseudonymous in that the identities of transacting parties are obscured, trades aren’t anonymous – meaning that transaction details and transferred funds are open to all to see.

Those seeking to conduct private transactions can, however, turn to privacy coins – cryptocurrencies that intentionally obscure or obfuscate the details and/or identities of transacting parties.

Monero

Originally created in 2014, Monero is sometimes recognized as the most visible privacy coin.

Monero leverages the concept of ring confidential transactions – a means which essentially bundles together sending and recipient addresses and renders transaction flows opaque. Further, technologies such as ring signatures and stealth addresses can obscure both the sender and receiver in any given transaction.

For these reasons, Monero has quickly risen in popularity – and its focus on privacy has presented a strong focus on fungibility.

Zcash

In a somewhat alternative approach to the protocols leveraged by Dash and Monero, Zcash has risen to fame for its use of ‘zero-knowledge proofs’ (called zk-SNARKS).

Fundamentally, this allows data recorded on a blockchain to serve as a private means of verification. The Zcash enables the encryption of both sender and recipient addresses alongside transaction amounts – meaning that any analyst attempting to determine the origin, destination, and nature of a given transaction might well be stymied.

Importantly, Zcash does not obfuscate the IP addresses of its users – meaning that Zcash cannot hide personal identifiers linked to public data.

Bitcoin Private

A newer entrant on the list of privacy-focussed cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin Private has its origins as a ‘merge fork’ of Zclassic and Bitcoin.

If that doesn’t make any sense, let’s back up.

In the beginning, Bitcoin itself was forked into Zcash, which was then again forked into Zclassic. Earlier this year, Zclassic proponents elected to re-brand the cryptocurrency project to Bitcoin Private in a bid to enthrall new users by using the Bitcoin brand name. Fortunately, the bid paid off, and Bitcoin Private is now ranked as one of the top 100 cryptocurrencies by market cap.

Bitcoin Private essentially introduces Zcash’s zk-SNARKS technology to Bitcoin users, and offers both a larger block size and advocates ‘decentralized mining’ through ASIC resistance.

Dash

Digital Cash, or Dash, originally started life as DarkCoin – a privacy-focussed effort. Today, Dash is one of the largest cryptocurrencies by its market capacity alone, which presently stands at some $2 billion USD.

Dash is unique in the sense that it provides both a transparent and ‘opaque’ method of transaction. While Dash users can opt to issue Instant transactions which are recorded on a blockchain similarly to how the Bitcoin blockchain functions, transacting parties can also use its PrivateSend feature, which uses a decentralized ‘mixing’ service.

Essentially, this enables three or more participants to pool their funds – leaving any intended transaction obfuscated. The cryptocurrency has its limits, however, and at present only allows 1,000 DASH to be spent per PrivateSend transaction.

Verge

Similarly to Dash, Verge is a newer cryptocurrency which offers its users the option to either send public or private transactions.

Verge leverages its ‘Wraith Protocol’ to enable users to differentiate between sending transactions on a private or public ledger.

Unlike other privacy-focussed cryptocurrencies, Verge does not ensure cryptographic privacy – instead, the cryptocurrency uses Tor and I2P routing to conceal a user’s identity when participating in transactions.

Verge has, however, suffered numerous hacking attempts in the recent past, which has seen malicious parties walk off with undisclosed sums.

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Bitmain launches new cryptocurrency ASIC focused to mine Zcash

Bitmain, a Chinese company dedicated to mining cryptocurrency and design application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs), unveiled their shiny new product on the market – an ASIC mining hardware invention called the Antminer Z9 mini. The product is dedicated to the Equihash algorithm which is used by Zcash (a cryptocurrency known for its emphasis on privacy).

The new ASIC’s release was announced by Bitmain in a tweet yesterday:

Sales of the product are already available on Bitmain’s website and shipments are expected to initiate in June.

ASIC chips offer a new alternative cryptocurrency mining method, opposed to the excessively expensive central processing units (CPUs) and graphical processing units (GPUs), so generally individuals interested in getting involved in cryptocurrency mining are more likely to turn to the new kid on the block. Owing to this, ASIC inventions come with an element of controversy because their introduction to the market generally leads to centralize mining into a few large operations – which can lead to a few large corporations having an excessive amount of control of the mining industry. Those enthusiastic about the concept of the decentralization in cryptocurrencies are often opposed to the monolopy of mining and are subsequently averse to ASIC mining.

The creator of Zcash’s, Zooko Wilcox, commented on the issue that lies within the controversial prospect of ASIC miners being developed for his cryptocurrency saying that he is “chagrined that [he] let it sound like [they] were committing to a social contract of ongoing ASIC-resistance” and continued:

That is absolutely never what I had intended to commit to, because (a) I always thought that it would probably become impossible long-term, and (b) I always believed that there was a fundamental trade-off between widespread distribution of the coins on one hand“.

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Circle Invest ropes Zcash into list of available cryptocurrencies

Circle has announced with excitement that  Zcash has been added to its list of cryptocurrencies offered on the investment app.

According to the announcement on the startup’s blog, that Zcash, a cryptocurrency which is becoming a pioneer for privacy advocacy, is joining the ranks of those available on the platform namely Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, Ethereum Classic, and Litecoin.

Circle Invest explains that users “will now be able to enjoy instant purchases, no minimums and a seamless investing experience”.

The company expressed that the “mission for Circle Invest is to democratize access to investing in crypto assets for every consumer. Making the wider breadth of assets available on Circle Invest will continue to be a part of this mission, and of course doing our best to ensure that we bring the crypto without the cryptic to everyone, anywhere.

The application which is still a youngling, having only seen its launch recently, was promoted as an “app that’s actually built around investing, not trends”, and punted itself as a way which is “cheap and simple to invest in crypto and digital assets”.

The announcement of the launch of the application came very soon after Circle – which itself is still a young five-year-old startup – confirmed its acquisition of Poloniex in February and, even then, the deal was suggested to increase the chances of future cryptocurrency-related efforts and platforms that might emerge.

Circle Invest senior product manager Rachel Mayer allegedly reported that “Circle has an established working group dedicated to finding the best crypto assets for our customers,” but did not explain why Zcash, in particular, was chosen to be added to the listed tokens. She continued that a requirement for coins to be listed is that they must be “consistent with [their] regulatory licensure”.

The startup also said that this will be the first a series of exciting announcements – so we can only expect more announcements on the horizon.

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The Blockchain Awakens: Imagining cryptocurrencies as Star Wars characters

When Star Wars (today retroactively titled A New Hope) first premiered in 1977, the emergence of what would become one of the most celebrated science fiction franchises of all time reignited not only a passion for fantasy, adventure, and mysticism, but further lead revolutions in both sound design, practical effects, and, more broadly speaking, the cultural adoption of film.

The paradigm shift Star Wars brought with it to cinema isn’t difficult to compare with the impact of cryptocurrencies on modern monetary systems. Cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology propose a shift in thinking that empowers a new generation of personal finance and peer-to-peer trade.

Like Star Wars, cryptocurrency hinges on an intersection where technology meets humanity, culture, and belief – and it’s not without a wry smile that we admit that like the story of a galaxy far, far away, the cryptocurrency world has brought with it its own slate of characters peppered with personas ranging from the heroic, the ominous, and at times, the plain silly.

Warning: If you haven’t watched the Star Wars saga, there may be some key spoilers in the content below.

Bitcoin: R2-D2

Though R2-D2 may be far from the most significant character in the Star Wars saga, everybody’s favorite trashcan-on-legs droid has witnessed the entirety of eight (and soon to be nine) feature films that comprise the core Star Wars story. There’s the argument to be made that Star Wars could be a story of R2-D2’s telling, given the plucky droid’s presence throughout the saga, his interaction with main characters, and his unwavering ability to save the day throughout many key moments in film.

Arriving on screen as the creation of an unknown creator, R2 succeeds in driving Star Wars’ plot forward – whether it be through acts as grand as saving starships or as simple as unlocking doors.

Bitcoin‘s emergence as the first decentralized, peer-to-peer money represents the genesis from which thousands of other cryptocurrencies have leaped forward – enabling a new belief in currency through reliance on cryptography, privacy, and technical soundness. Like R2-D2, had Bitcoin not existed, there may be no Star Wars story – or cryptocurrency ecosystem – to talk about.

Star Wars

Bitcoin Cash: C3-PO

R2-D2 needed a plucky companion with talents he didn’t possess, and George Lucas coupled the intrepid droid with C3-PO; the erstwhile protocol droid with talents in translation, functional modification, and incessant bickering with his partner.

Having been built by Anakin Skywalker, C3-PO serves the Star Wars saga as both a source of humor and context – extrapolating different dimensions to key plot scenes and bridging characters and audiences together.

That’s not to say we’re claiming that Roger Ver might be Anakin Skywalker in the world of cryptocurrency, but every hero needs a villain…

Bitcoin Cash, as the foremost hard fork to emerge from Bitcoin Core, is the scion of both love and scorn. Executing an alternate scaling path to the approach championed by Bitcoin Core, Bitcoin Cash brings with it inter-operability, several notable use cases, and a refreshing reminder that sometimes cryptocurrency developers just don’t have all the answers – something that C3-PO has proved especially good at in the Star Wars saga.

Ethereum: Darth Vader

Anakin Skywalker’s story in Star Wars is one that marks hope, a fall from grace, and eventual redemption as the Chosen One; a title which several cryptocurrency investors tout when referring to the Ethereum platform.

Like Anakin Skywalker (and his darker half, Darth Vader), the concept of Ethereum has enabled a wider revolution in blockchain platforms that could feasibly intersect with everyday life in many ways. Just as Anakin Skywalker was prophesized to defeat the Sith and bring balance to the Force, so to might Ethereum be the lynchpin that decentralizes applications and, more broadly, the web.

Though not explicitly a moral debate, the character’s transition from man to machine brings with it interesting parallels to Ethereum’s planned change from proof-of-work to proof-of-stake mechanics.

XRP: Emperor Palpatine

Courting foundations on Julius Caesar and other dictators, Star Wars’ Emperor Palpatine (in the prequels, Darth Sidious) represents one of film’s best-loved (and most-hated) machiavellian masterminds, whose scheme underpins both a galaxy-wide war and later a galaxy-wide despotic regime.

Ripple’s XRP is both loved and hated for similar reasons; rolling together the best and most applicable aspects of blockchain technology and the cryptocurrency ecosystem, yet meeting modern banking in a way that many cryptocurrency die-hards find abhorrent.

Palpatine’s ability to both play the likes of the Jedi, Republic, and later the Empire reflect just some of XRP’s utility and usability – where its speed and efficiency has rapidly found a home in several banking use-cases to the furor (and in some cases, admiration) of cryptocurrency enthusiasts.

EOS: Luke Skywalker

The principal hero of the original Star Wars trilogy, Luke Skywalker is the son of Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader) – and the dynamic between the two is more than slightly reminiscent of that between Ethereum and EOS.

Similar in nature to Ethereum, EOS is a platform for decentralized applications that provides services like user authentication, server hosting, and cloud storage. 

If Star Wars’ original trilogy is the story of sons transcending their fathers, EOS’ relationship with Ethereum bears a close mirror – in perhaps the duo’s most remarkable difference, EOS already functions through proof-of-stake rather than through proof-of-work mechanics.

Like Luke Skywalker, EOS has quickly become a favorite among cryptocurrency investors – propelling the platform’s market cap to well over $15 billion USD.

Litecoin: Rey

Arriving on scene as a lovable scavenger with prodigious talents, Rey takes the role of the principal protagonist of the Star Wars sequel trilogy – rounding together Disney’s new take on the ethos of the original Star Wars trilogy and the technical vision of its prequels.

Litecoin launched and gained a loyal fanbase given its technical improvements over the Bitcoin Core network as well as its ability to maintain steadfast support and values despite tumultuous markets.

Rey’s quick ascension as the newest (and last?) Jedi closely mirrors Litecoin’s journey to becoming a fan-favourite cryptocurrency – with many touting the speed, efficiency, and integrity of ‘the silver to Bitcoin’s gold’ as leading reasons as to why the cryptocurrency may see many new adoption cases in the near future.

Dash: Princess Leia

The secret daughter of Anakin Skywalker and the adoptive daughter of royalty, Princess Leia continues to inspire a generation of strong female leads in cinema – a factor not dissimilar to Dash‘s debut in the cryptocurrency market space.

As a young senator and later leader of the Rebellion and Resistance, Leia counsels support from both the official, the vulnerable, and the brave at once – championing virtues of democracy and freedom.

Dash’s presence on the market – and its direction under the Dash Foundation – has seen the digital currency integrated as a solution for traders and investors alike in emerging markets under the direction of authoritative governments, such as Zimbabwe.

Dash’s employ of its Private Send feature carves a similar profile to the early double-life led by Leia as both a senator and leader of the Rebellion, while its use of masternodes derives strong support form its community in a manner not dissimilar to Leia’s command of the Resistance in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.

NEO: Kylo Ren

If Ethereum were Darth Vader, it’d make sense that NEO took on the role of Kylo Ren – a fellow practitioner of the dark arts, aiming to emulate its forbear, all the while under the direction of a secretive and authoritative government.

Like Kylo Ren, NEO is a newer figure that has managed to quickly develop a dedicated following. The blockchain platform, like Ethereum, serves to create a scalable network of decentralized applications, and as per Ethereum’s aspirations functions through proof-of-stake mechanics.

Though NEO might well lack Kylo Ren’s ferocity and volatile temper, the cryptocurrency has succeeded in quickly garnering acclaim as a favorable avenue for investors in a fashion that quietly resembles Kylo Ren’s reception with the Star Wars fanbase.

Zcash: Boba Fett

The last word in icy coolness, Boba Fett inspired a generation of Star Wars fans following his debut in The Empire Strikes Back. Despite facing a quick end at the hands (or tentacles?) of the Sarlacc Pit in Return of the Jedi, the character went on to meet an expanded telling in the saga’s prequel trilogy.

While Zcash may not be headed for a similar pit any time soon, the appeal of the privacy-focused cryptocurrency has echoed much of Boba Fett’s initial appeal – anonymity and mystery.

Leveraging zero-knowledge proofs to anonymize the relationship between providers, verifiers, as well as transacting parties, Zcash has quickly risen to prominence as one of the foremost privacy coins on the market – tussling with the likes of Monero.

The comparisons between Zcash and its bounty hunter likeness only increase when one considers the that the legions of forks that have arisen from the cryptocurrency aren’t too dissimilar from the pool of clones Boba Fett emerged from in the first instance.

Dogecoin: Jar Jar Binks

Alright, we couldn’t resist.

Dogecoin is, at times, the marveling factor and laughing stock of the cryptocurrency community – an erstwhile ‘joke’ coin that has somehow succeeded in developing a market cap worth more than half a billion US Dollars.

Jar Jar Binks, praised and reviled as The Phantom Menace‘s worst introduction, has similarly gone on to carve out an abrasive profile amongst Star Wars fans.

Met with skepticism and revulsion upon the release of the first of the Star Wars prequels, Binks has gone on to become the center of mystery – with several fans wondering if the character was not intended for a wider role than the non-stop barrage of infantile jokes that informed The Phantom Menace.

Dogecoin, similarly, has gone on to find an awkward place at the heart of the cryptocurrency community – with several ICOs moving to accept the digital currency as tender for the release of future tokens.

Star Wars, its characters, trademarks and licenses are the property of Lucasfilm and The Walt Disney Company.

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