Exclusive Interview with Hush Developers (Part I)

In this exclusive interview, we sit down with Hush evangelist Duke Leto and the Hush core development team to get a first-hand account on what Hush is, what they’re up to development-wise, why they forked ZCash, and why anonymity is crucial—in cryptocurrency and online.

The Hush Team

The Hush core development team is comprised of founder demartini (Iolar Demartini Junior), lead developer radix42 (David Mercer), core developer for tooling and forum matthewjamesr (Matthew Reichardt), core developer and infrastructure madbuda (Larry Ludlow), and developer kentsommer (Kent Sommer). Former core developer leto (Duke Leto) recently shifted roles to focus on other products in the Hush ecosystem.

What Is Hush?

Hush is a blockchain and cryptocurrency downstream from Zcash, but it’s also a lot more than that.

We aim to provide an easy to use, OS (operating system) independent, decentralized, and private communications platform. While blockchain and the Hush asset are technologically central to the Hush platform, our primary use cases are more along the lines of TOR Browser, Signal, and other private communications systems. We see ourselves as building on the shoulders of teams which have developed these and other privacy-centric communication tools. By combining their techniques with newly-emerging technologies such as blockchain, zerocash, and IPFS, we are able to provide a much deeper guarantee of privacy and decentralization within an all-in-one communications stack that comes with a robust profile management system.

We are also porting the Ethereum Virtual Machine to Hush. Developers and users will be able to write and execute smart contracts to act as the decentralized “business logic” in our stack, and Ethereum smart contracts written in Solidity will port directly over to the Hush Virtual Machine. This allows us to provide a private and decentralized full web stack to our community.

Why Did You Decide To Fork Zcash?

In addition to a vibrant development community and a well-vetted, ASIC-resistant mining algorithm, Zcash goes above and beyond other privacy coins by providing an implementation of the zerocash protocol, which allows it to send private transactions with an absolute guarantee of anonymity. The sender, recipient, and value of a shielded transaction are never even recorded in the blockchain! That information never leaves your computer. Instead, zerocash uses an algorithm called zkSNARK to produce an irreversible hash corresponding to the computation involved in that transaction, and the hash is stored on the blockchain instead of the actual transaction data. With zerocash, this information isn’t just obfuscated via a mixing service or even encrypted. It’s simply not there. There’s very little that’s more private than that.

In addition to providing private transaction of the Hush cryptocurrency, we’re applying zkSNARKs to the transmission of messages, web pages, and files. This allows users to easily communicate without leaving a trail of metadata behind them.

The Hush zcash fork concentrately on messaging and smart contracts, without any Founders Reward or corporate ownership. The community decides the path the Hush community takes.

Hush road map
Image courtesy of Hush

Why Does the World Need Hush?

You are being tracked. And, honestly, by this point, you’re probably getting sick of being reminded. In the last decade or so, both developers and the public at large have begun to wake up to the sheer degree of surveillance we are all exposed to every day of our lives. And we’re starting to push back against this brave new world that we’ve stumbled into.

It’s finally becoming chic to encrypt your communications. You see this with end-to-end encryption coming baked into many new messaging apps, for example. Encryption is even supported as an opt-in feature in Facebook Messenger now. This is a great step forward. Unfortunately, it isn’t quite enough.

When you encrypt your communications, you make the data very difficult for malicious actors to access. But you’ll usually still create large amounts of metadata, and, often, the metadata is what an attacker cares the most about. The National Security Agency’s PRISM project, for example, focused specifically on cataloging and analyzing the metadata created by our communications. Sometimes the way you say something is more important than what you say.

By shielding users from exposing their metadata, we believe that Hush can help whistleblowers feel more comfortable with speaking out and can help them sleep soundly once they do. We can help journalists do important investigative work without putting their wellbeing and the wellbeing of their loved ones at stake. A student can gain access to the near total sum of human knowledge without teaching advertisers tricking them into buying more stuff they don’t need. With Hush, we can create a new world where free communication and free exchange are both safe and easy.

Why is Anonymity Important?

The world we live in now is being hit with mass surveillance on two major fronts.

On one end of the spectrum, we’ve seen the rise of state surveillance programs. As these programs have been made public, as well as through simple and reasonable conditioning, we’ve been taught to believe that the government is always watching. In a sense, it’s a good thing that we’re becoming more aware of how thoroughly the state inspects our communication. On the other hand, realizing this has led to a generalized paranoia, which has altered what we’re willing to discuss online and what software tools we’re willing to use.

For example, I initially had a lot of trouble getting friends and family interested in Bitcoin when I first got into it, because if they had heard of it (or if they went home and Googled it), they inevitably connected it with drug markets. You can rightly point out that the vast majority of drug deals are still done in fiat currency, but that still doesn’t absolve the aversion. Something about a purely digital tool that is, sometimes, involved in criminal activity triggers the paranoia center in people’s brains.

On the other side of things, huge corporations have launched their own surveillance programs in order to determine how to distribute content, including advertisements, to users. I don’t think anyone is too afraid of getting imprisoned by Facebook or having their assets seized by Google, but we are all receiving very particular views of the web, determined by how profitable that view is to shareholders.

The end result is a bubble of information, where any idea that may just even be tangentially related to something criminal—or even simply critical of powerful institutions—is culled from your view. Meanwhile, the information which gets pushed down your throat is explicitly designed not to expand your view of the world, but to make your brain release as much dopamine as possible, because that’s the easiest way to keep people clicking and scrolling.

I think a naive solution to this conundrum would be to fall back on pseudo-anonymity, as exists with Bitcoin. Unfortunately, pseudo-anonymity is extremely fragile, especially in Bitcoin, where fractions of spent outputs must also be spent—presumably—to an address controlled by the sender. It becomes very difficult to keep your pseudo-identities from being linked to your real identity. Some second-layer solutions to this problem have been implemented for Bitcoin, but none are perfect, and vulnerabilities in these solutions may be discovered in the future, exposing anyone who has used them in the past.

The zerocash protocol, which is implemented in Zcash, Komodo, and Hush, provides for truly anonymous transactions and communication. zkSNARK, the proving mechanism used in zerocash, is “zero knowledge,” which means that information about the sender and recipient of a transaction or message are never recorded in the blockchain, even in an encrypted form. If our goal is to create virtual spaces composed of free and organic expression, then the strong anonymity guarantees of zkSNARK make it seem like an indispensable tool.

What Is Your Vision for Hush?

Hush aims to be a Full Stack Privacy Coin, with smart contracts running on top of the full power of Zero Knowledge data structures that exist in all Zcash forks. Hush is already part of the BarterDEX project by the superNET project, one of the first cryptocoins to be included in this peer-to-peer decentralized exchange and orderbook software, which provides a whole new type of liquidity.

 

In Part II of this interview, we will take a closer look at the technical aspects of this budding anonymity-focused blockchain technology.

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