'Zero Knowledge Proofs' Could Boost Blockchain Adoption on Wall Street

Among other things, blockchain is known for its transparency. The public ledger records each transaction and traces it back to a miner. That transparency, however, has prevented the technology's adoption on Wall Street, where client and transaction confidentiality are necessary for operations. But that might change soon. 

According to a recent Bloomberg article, a "mind-boggling" mathematical operation known as "Zero Knowledge Proof" has made it possible to encrypt transactions on the platform, thereby widening the scope and uses for blockchain on Wall Street. The Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, whose member include the likes of JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and Credit Suisse Group AG (CS), is already said to be at work to include the proof in Quorum, its distributed ledger

Only one public company – Zcash​ – is using the proofs to guarantee privacy in transactions on blockchain. The service allows user identity and the amount of money being transacted between parties to remain hidden. Ethereum​, the most popular implementation of blockchain, does not have that capability. The main node of blockchain itself is being upgraded with the proofs as part of the Metropolis project.

Transparency in transactions is blockchain's unique selling point for network effects. However, that transparency is also the system's biggest stumbling block for adoption on Wall Street. On a blockchain network, orders are disseminated as smart contracts, which are visible to miners. It is possible for unscrupulous miners and traders to profit from this knowledge through front running, or jumping queues. According to Zooko Wilcox, co-founder of Zcash, zero-knowledge proofs "cryptographically demonstrate the truth of something without revealing any information about it other than it's true."

Several financial services firms have explored the use of blockchains in their transactions in recent times. For example, The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. (GS) recently announced its intentions to set up a bitcoin trading operation. Similarly, JPMorgan is part of the consortium that has developed Quorum, a ledger built on Ethereum. The World Economic Forum conducted a comprehensive survey of global financial services and found that 80% of such banks were poised to start blockchain-related projects. The international agency stated that the internet was entering a second era based on blockchain. (See also: BlackRock CEO Is a 'Big Believer' in Blockchain.)

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