Crypto Bits with Kristov Atlas
Kristov Atlas is a well known crypto-currency and bitcoin community member. He is an author to the book Anonymous Bitcoin. He has his B.S and M.S. in computer science and has worked independently as a security researcher. He’s well known on YouTube and his show Dark News. He’s an asset to the crypto-anarchy community and the Admins at The Art of Not Being Governed would like to thank him for doing this interview. Thanks for speaking with us Kristov.
So when did you first get into crypto-currency in general?
I had heard of Bitcoin periodically during 2012, but it really captured my attention in 2013. That was when I realized that the world was going to take this technology seriously, and that it wasn’t just some kind of digital analogue to Magic: The Gathering cards, valued only by a few nerds. In that moment, I realized that someone had invented a robust system for exchanging monetary value, controlled by no government and resistant to censorship. The world had seen non-government issued forms of money before, but the censorship resistance was the real breakthrough, in my opinion. Satoshi had the genius to couple this technological innovation with a sound understanding of economics to create something special and unprecedented.
What are your thoughts on anarchy and Agorism?
As a philosopher, I accept that the only system of morality that is internally consistent and which conforms to logic and empiricism is one based on the non-aggression principle. In other words, I’m a voluntarist.
I’ve had an ambivalent relationship with agorism over the years, however. Before crypto-currencies were invented, it seemed like the vast majority of people calling themselves agorists were just relegating themselves to poverty, and making little success in taking down immoral institutions. Now that we have independently operated, censorship-resistant form of money, however, I think agorism is not only viable, but the future of commerce. Whether intentionally or not, I think more and more people will respond to economic incentives to opt out of systems of coercion and violence.
Do you feel privacy is very important for individuals as well as transparency?
Privacy is a basic component of the human experience. It is our integral to our sense of human dignity. In many ways, it is woven into the concept of property rights. I only wish that more people had a respect for their own privacy. The notion that “I’ve got nothing to hide,” is still shamefully pervasive in U.S., and many other parts of the world.
Transparency is tricky. We desire for the people at the top of our hierarchies to be transparent, but they are the most difficult to enforce transparency upon. One day I suspect that the reputation-related benefits of transparency will make it much more useful than it is today and privacy less important, but we’ve got a lot way to go, first.
How anonymous is bitcoin?
Bitcoin is engineered to allow users to select their own desired level of privacy. Unfortunately, the software that we have for Bitcoin use today is heavily weighted toward a rather abysmal degree of privacy. Worse yet, users are often unaware of these compromises. Take, for example, a company like Blockchain.info, which pays its employees in Bitcoin. Those payments tend to come from a central pool of company funds, and are paid out employee’s personal addresses. How do you stop employees back-tracking on pay day and determining each other’s wages, then? It’s hard. Blockchain.info uses their own internal mixing service, Shared Coin, but earlier this year I demonstrated through my research that there are critical flaws that would potentially allow strangers to de-anonymize Shared Coin users, including those Blockchain.info employees.
We tend to leak information about our bitcoin holdings all over the place; we have static addresses that we continually re-use to accept payments, we post some of our addresses on social media, and we do business with companies that collect records about our transactions and personhood.
There’s a huge amount that can be done to improve Bitcoin’s privacy through software development. Unfortunately, with the exception of the Dark Wallet project, it hasn’t been a high priority for many Bitcoin developers.
Can you tell us a brief description of your book?
I have a background in computer security and privacy. When I first figured out the incredible potential of Bitcoin, I immediately started to analyze it from a security and privacy perspective. What I found was that, while the security was excellent in many areas and rapidly improving in others, there were rampant misconceptions in the community about how much privacy they were enjoying from Bitcoin use, and that improvements were relatively stagnant.
I wrote my book to detail these privacy weaknesses. However, I didn’t want to just leave people with the conclusion that Bitcoin privacy was lacking. After all, if Bitcoin is the beginning of a new era of emancipated global commerce, there’s no time to waste in waiting around for the software to improve. So I focused on turning the book into a guide on how Bitcoin users can use the currency as anonymously as possible today. Rather than everyone spending a week of their lives trying to figure out which pieces of software to cobble together — where do I buy the coins from? Do I use I2P or Tor Browser? Which mixing services are reputable and secure? — I wanted to give people a complete package that stepped them through the process of anonymizing their wealth.
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What sort of services/browsers or applications would you recommend to stay anonymous on the Internet?
For casual stuff like downloading pirated content, a proxy service is an affordable way to hide the origins of your traffic without your bandwidth suffering.
For everything else, Tor is still the undisputed champion of anonymity networks. Tor Browser has made it really easy for people to start using Tor on their PC or Mac computer. The most robust but still user-friendly way to use Tor is Tails Linux, an operating system you can copy to a USB drive or DVD, and run on your computer temporarily instead of Windows or Mac OS X.
It’s important to keep in mind that, no matter how you connect to the internet, you’ll still need to develop some operational security skills to maintain privacy. If you’re buying stuff with your real name and home address on Amazon.com, the fact that you’re using Tor to do so doesn’t help your purchasing privacy very much.
You have researched projects like Darkcoin can you tell us what kind of anonymity DRK provides?
One of the Bitcoin developers, Gregory Maxwell, came up with a scheme to make Bitcoin transactions more anonymous in 2013, which he named CoinJoin. Evan Duffield decided to launch his own crypto-currency in 2014 that would be improve on Bitcoin’s privacy, and he chose to implement CoinJoin on a grand scale. CoinJoin and Darkcoin work by allowing users to mix their funds together in a single transaction, while preventing the participants from stealing each other’s funds. They obviate the need for trusting any third-party mixing service not to steal your coins. Mixing funds together adds ambiguity to the blockchain, the permanent ledger that records all crypto-currency transactions.
I’ve written a paper about how Darkcoin’s privacy technology works, for those who want to learn more details about it.
There’s a whole lot of Anon-Alt coins out there. Coins like XCurrency, Monero and the Crypto-Note coins, Cloak, Razor, Stealth, BitcoinDark and it seems like a new one just about every day. Are any of these other coins worthy in the Anon universe?
The ingenuity and diversity that has gone into privacy development in the altcoin space in the last year is really inspiring. Given the lack of progress in Bitcoin, it’s a relief, really. Any coin that takes a novel approach to improving Bitcoin’s privacy is inherently useful in advancing the state of the art, and I deeply appreciate the authors of each of those currencies bringing their passion and creativity to the competitive marketplace.
Out of the coins that are available today, I would say the most practically useful coins for privacy appear to be CryptoNote-based currencies like Monero, and Darkcoin. That said, any of these young upstart anon-coins have the potential to make breakthroughs and rise to the top of the pack.
The technology that has not yet been released, but which I am most excited for is Zerocash. It has the potential to be a real game changer, obscuring not only the flow of funds in a scalable fashion, but also hiding other transaction details like the time and amounts transacted. I think we will see many currencies implement Zerocash-based schemes in the coming year.
It’s a brutally difficult space to be a currency speculator. In order to be successful, you need to understand a lot of computer science in order to see what each coin brings to the table, have a sense about the competence of the development teams, and predict how their future changes will stack up against one another.
Do you see bitcoin and blockchain technologies changing the world immensely?
Undoubtedly. I’m content for now to merely consider how Bitcoin 1.0 will impact the world. Taking control of the money supply away from the State is huge, and will have sweeping changes that we can’t possibly anticipate yet. The “Bitcoin 2.0” technologies are, of course, interesting, but are unlikely to effect such a tremendous moral change in the world as the invention of Bitcoin will. It’s important to resist the temptation of neophilia and not skip over the importance of Bitcoin.
Do you think the Nation State has some competition now that protocols like these have arrived?
More than that, I think the Nation State is now an unstable model. Modern governments rely on a monopoly over endless money printing. Without that, their control will be inevitably undermined. There is certainly the possibility for military industrial complexes to kill a lot of people first, WWIII-style, and I hope we respect that threat enough not to let it happen.
I’m wondering your thoughts on two projects. DarkWallet and OpenBazaar. What do you think about these projects in their infancy?
Both of these projects will down in history as important, and for similar reasons. They bolster human beings’ abilities to trade without coercion. Dark Wallet gives market participants a wider shadow under which to hide their funds from censors. Open Bazaar eliminates central planners from the marketplace, permitting free trade and drastically reducing the costs of business. This is why it is so stunning when mainstream journalists invoke the Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse in relation to either project. The worst evils of the world are committed openly by institutions like the State, and such technology can only hinder — and hopefully atrophy — their growth.
Thank you Kristov for doing this interview with us. We at The Art of Not Being Governed think anonymity is important for every individual. Thank you for chatting with us on this level and we appreciate it.
Crypto Bits is a new interview series on NotBeingGoverned.com focusing on the movers and shakers in the Crypto-Anarchy universe.