During the Second World War, the Enigma Code proved one of the toughest to break. Eventually, Alan Turing, one of a group of elite code breakers working at Bletchley Park in the UK devised a technique to unravel the messages being sent out by the Enigma machine and he became known as the father of modern computing. Fast -forward to 2018 and we are seeing the emergence of another Enigma, a blockchain startup that enhances the privacy of smart contracts.
Privacy and secret contracts
Enigma is working with Intel on perfecting secret contracts. These are a type of smart contract for public blockchains that use cryptographic tricks to keep transaction data hidden from view. The project started at MIT with the aim of creating a more private platform for decentralised applications. To do this it is using Intel’s Software Guard Extensions (SGX).
A spokesperson for Enigma said: “Privacy is currently the biggest barrier to smart contract adoption. Blockchains are good at correctness, but bad at privacy by design. Smart contracts and decentralized applications will need to be able to use private and sensitive data to see global adoption.”
Trusted execution environments
It is expected that a ‘proof of concept’ product will be launched late in 2018 and that it will demonstrate the way the two technologies can work together. The team is also exploring trusted execution environments (TEEs), which are an integral part of Intel’s SGX technology that securitises data and code.
The urgent need for secret contracts
The announcement of the Enigma-Intel comes at a good time. The Bithumb hack this week and memories of past attacks, such as Mt Gox and DAO, are still quite fresh. The DAO hack in 2016 is particularly relevant, because it happened due to flaws in a smart contract.
Enigma’s CEO Guy Zyskind, has been talking up the need for secret contracts for some time and has pointed out the issues “with coin-mixing and zero-knowledge proofs, the latter of which he said are particularly vulnerable in multi-party cases where several “untrusted and pseudonymous” parties are executing computations,” as he wrote in Medium. Zyskind also said, “secret contracts provide the ‘missing piece’ by executing computations using encrypted data that stays hidden from network nodes.”
Churchill said that the work Alan Turing did shortened WWII by two years; perhaps the ‘new’ Enigma will fast-forward the crypto industry into a more secure marketplace before 2020.