Microsoft Joins IC3 To Advance Work On Blockchain Infrastructure

Microsoft Joins IC3 To Advance Work On Blockchain Infrastructure

Microsoft will work with university faculty members in an initiative that seeks to change the financial system through the application of blockchain technology.

On August 31, 2017, Microsoft announced it has joined the Initiative for Cryptocurrencies and Contracts (IC3), comprised of faculty members at Cornell University, Cornell Tech, UC Berkeley, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Technion.

IC3 and Microsoft will work together to make the financial system more flexible, transparent, and secure by researching blockchain applications for enterprise adoption. Other industry partners include IBM, Intel, Fidelity Labs, and Digital Asset. IC3 continues to receive funding from a three-year $3 million National Science Foundation grant issued in 2015.

Yorke E. Rhodes III, Global Blockchain Business Strategist at Microsoft, elaborated on the partnership.

“As we continue our journey in blockchain, we have watched and read the work of the IC3 team and are impressed with their thinking and the perspective they bring to the community.  We are very aligned with the approaches IC3 blockchain experts are taking to address scale, simplification, and other topics of interest for enterprise adoption.  The synergies in their research fit well with our visions for enterprise scale blockchain solutions.”

Ari Juels, Co-Director of IC3 and professor at the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech in New York City, expressed a shared vision between Microsoft and the initiative. “IC3 was founded to advance blockchain science, technology and applications,” he said. “We’re delighted to work more closely with Microsoft’s blockchain experts, who share our vision of blockchain-based solutions for next generation financial services.”

“We are excited to work more closely with IC3 through this membership,” added Rhodes.

Jeremy Nation is a writer living in Los Angeles with interests in technology, human rights, and cuisine. He is a full time staff writer for ETHNews and holds value in Ether.

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IC3 Bootcamp Winners – ETHNews.com

IC3 Bootcamp Winners – ETHNews.com

The KEVM project team was declared the winner of the IC3-Ethereum Crypto Bootcamp for creating a human-readable model of reference for Ethereum Virtual Machine programs that is reliant on the K-framework.

IOHK, a self-described blockchain engineering company, has revealed that a research project in conjunction with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) has generated a fully-executable formal semantics model of the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM), called KEVM.

As per the announcement, KEVM assists in the execution, analysis, and verification of EVM executable distributed code contracts (EDDCs). It also has the distinction of being selected as the winner of the IC3-Ethereum Crypto Bootcamp, which the Ethereum Foundation hosted in partnership with the Initiative for Cryptocurrencies and Contracts (IC3). Prof. Grigore Rosu and PhD student Everett Hildenbrandt competed alongside nine other teams, rising to the top with their KEVM project, the funding for which stems from IOHK. The team’s first place prize included bragging rights, and $256 USD in Ether.

Runners up included second place winner Phil Daian of Cornell, with a project called “Writing Secure Smart Contracts,” for which 10,000 Dogecoins were awarded. An undisclosed quantity of Useless Ethereum Tokens were awarded to Nate Rush of Berkeley and Loi Luu, founder of SmartPool and developer of Oyente, from National University of Singapore, for their “ETH-ETC Peace Relay.” A similar award of UET was given to the recipients of an honorable mention, Haseeb Qureshi and Preethi Kasireddy, for their “Frontrunning Bancor” project.

Rosu expressed his delight in announcing KEVM as “the first complete and fully executable formal semantics of the Ethereum Virtual Machine.” He went on to say:

“KEVM, which allows us to formally verify properties of EVM-based smart contracts in a correct-by-construction and cost-effective manner, is significant because Ethereum users need the guarantees of formal verification to safeguard against financial losses due to software bugs. This work serves as a foundation for the development of new smart contract analysis tools; more importantly, it gives us invaluable insight on how to design better programming languages for smart contracts.”

KEVM is built upon the rewrite-based executable semantic K-framework. It passed the official 40,683-test stress test suite which was designed to ready EVM implementations, and exposes errors present in paper representations of EVM semantics, according to IOHK.

“KEVM has demonstrated that our unique approach based on K formal executable semantics is feasible and not computationally restrictive,” said Rosu. “We hope our work serves as a strong basis for the development of a wide range of useful, formally-derived tools for Ethereum, like model checkers, certified compilers, and program equivalence checkers.”

According to the whitepaper, KEVM reduces the probability of bugs that can arise from encoding semantic models in existing software by creating a wide range of tools from the same reference semantics, reinforcing the team’s “semantics first” development approach. The authors affirm a commitment towards contributing to the secure development of a bug-free EDCC ecosystem.

According to IOHK some of the advantages of the K-framework that drew the company’s attention included its language independent nature, an ability to meet a wide range of applications, and academic adoption. The framework has already been utilized in the formalization of JavaScript, Java, C, Python, and PHP. The K-framework also boasts an extensive toolkit that includes a semantic debugger, symbolic execution engine, and a verification infrastructure.

IOHK CEO Charles Hoskinson made comments on the next steps for IOHK, based on the groundwork his team has done.

“This research has given us a great degree of insight into what one should do to redesign the EVM to make it more secure, faster, and more efficient. It will now be easier to build tooling for the EVM, such as verified compilers. This white paper is the result of our first wave of research into this area. Based on this research, IOHK will begin building prototypes and our hope is to have an EVM 2.0 ready next year, as part of Cardano, a product we are currently building.”

As an open source project, KEVM will continue to be developed in the public realm, and ETHNews will continue to provide coverage of new innovations the team brings to light.

Jeremy Nation is a writer living in Los Angeles with interests in technology, human rights, and cuisine. He is a full time staff writer for ETHNews and holds value in Ether.

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Blockchain’s Best And Brightest Gather At IC3 Ethereum Crypto Boot Camp

Blockchain’s Best And Brightest Gather At IC3 Ethereum Crypto Boot Camp

Professors, Ethereum Foundation (EF) contributors, and top students and developers join the Initiative for CryptoCurrencies & Contracts (IC3) Ethereum Crypto Bootcamp in Cornell for a weeklong hackathon.

IC3’s second annual Ethereum Crypto Bootcamp ends today at Cornell University’s campus in Ithaca, New York, concluding a weeklong intensive aimed at fortifying Ethereum’s strength and community. The “Coding and Learning Experience in Blockchains and Smart Contracts” offered emerging blockchain development stars the chance to network with high-profile industry leaders while collaborating to advance some of Ethereum’s most cutting-edge projects. Notable attendees included Ethereum Inventor Vitalik Buterin, Ethereum Core Developers Alex Van De Sande, Vlad Zamfir, and Nick Johnson, as well as Cornell blockchain professors Ari Juels and Andrew Miller.

Participants were sorted into six teams tasked with solving some of the problems currently facing the Ethereum ecosystem:

  • Team One, “Distributed Key Generation (DKG)” (led by Prof. Andrew Miller): This team worked to improve the Honey Badger Byzantine Fault Tolerance agreement protocol, which can theoretically be deployed on blockchains to enable fast and robust transaction settlements. Honey Badger currently relies on one trusted party or entity to create and manage the private keys for multisig-based operations. The team was challenged to develop a method for utilizing trustless or decentralized DKG methods to create those private keys so that they are mathematically related and unknown to any single party.
  • Team Two, “Town Crier Applications” (led by PhD student Ethan Cecchetti): In a follow-up to a similar undertaking at last year’s Bootcamp, this team was tasked with researching and developing new uses for the “Town Crier” oracle. Town Crier is a tool that privately and verifiably translates information from the legacy internet into an Ethereum-readable format so that executable distributed code contracts (smart contracts) can operate based on information outside of the blockchain using new Intel processors.
  • Team Three, “White-Hat Blockchain Hacks” (led by IC3 Co-Director Ari Juels): This team was asked to do its best “Mr. Robot” impressions and hack several known security problems in Ethereum products – such as a Denial of Service vulnerability in Storj or a query command exploit in Oraclize – in order to identify their sources and how to fix them.
  • Team Four, “Sleepy + Thunderella Implementation” (led by IC3 Co-Director Elaine Shi): This team sought to implement a “simple but provably secure blockchain protocol” that does not rely on Proof-of-Work and allows for instantaneous confirmation, independent of the next block being added to the blockchain.
  • Team Five, “Offline Payment Channels with SGX” (led by Dr. Ittay Eyal): Scaling transaction capacity is a major issue facing every public chain ecosystem, reflected in the ongoing controversy in the Bitcoin community. A recently proposed solution utilizes new Intel processing units to allow transaction processing off the blockchain in a secure environment, thereby drastically increasing on-chain transaction capacity. This team worked to implement that solution onto Ethereum.
  • Team Six, “Writing Secure Smart Contracts” (led by Ph.D. student Phil Daian): With the DAO exploit still fresh in the community’s mind and the EF working to identify ways that solidity can be used maliciously, many are calling for new smart contract development and auditing methods to ensure that contracts will not suffer more problems due to faulty coding. This team was charged with building, auditing, and hacking its own smart contracts in a lab setting in order to progress toward a more secure Ethereum.

In their free time, participants were able to unwind on excursions to Ithaca’s local gorges, parks, lakes, and other points of interest. Hopefully, this year’s event will produce some amazing solutions to the current set of Ethereum problems, perhaps besting last year’s Bootcamp which was hailed by Buterin as “one of the most productive hackathons [he has] ever attended!”

Jason Civalleri is a law student and MBA-graduate passionate for blockchain and distributed ledger innovation. His first exposure to blockchain was his investment in Bitcoin in 2011, and he built his first miner for the Ethereum network in January 2016.

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IC3 Debuts Upgraded Off-Chain Transaction Protocol ‘Teechain’

IC3 Debuts Upgraded Off-Chain Transaction Protocol ‘Teechain’

The Initiative For CryptoCurrencies & Contracts (IC3) has unveiled a new version of its Teechan off-chain transaction protocol.

First put forward last year, Teechan relies on the utilization of specialized hardware, the Intel SGX, which provides a kind of masking layer for the data it contains. Conceptually, the protocol is similar to the Lightning Network, a proposed transaction layer to bitcoin aimed at creating payment channels – and with them, the potential to enable millions of transactions per second.

It’s the promise of huge throughput that has led to projects like Teechan, and the Cornell University-based team behind it is releasing several new changes to the original design, now dubbed “Teechain”.

Among those upgrades: the ability to direct payments to parties that aren’t directly linked via an existing channel.

Cornell associate professor Emin Gün Sirer explained in an email:

“In the jump from ‘teechan’ (peer-to-peer TEE-backed payment channels) to ‘teechain’, we added the ability to route payments along paths. So, the system can now route money along teechan paths from one user to another, even if they are not directly connected. The system guarantees atomicity, namely, that no money will be lost or stuck if there’s a failure anywhere along a route while funds are being transferred.”

As previously reported by CoinDesk, IC3 – the research effort launched in 2015 with federal funding – has been pursuing a range of blockchain applications, including those that utilize trusted hardware.

The group also recently added asset manager Fidelity to its ranks.

Image by Stan Higgins for CoinDesk

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IC3 Researchers Propose ‘Solidus’ Protocol for Private Transactions

IC3 Researchers Propose ‘Solidus’ Protocol for Private Transactions

Researchers from three universities have proposed a new process for keeping transactions confidential over a public blockchain.

The proposal, dubbed Solidus and written by researchers from Cornell University, Shanghai Jiao Tong University and the University of Maryland, outlines a way in which network participants – cited as banks in the paper – could keep both transaction values and the identities of both payer and payee hidden.

At its heart, the proposal seeks to commit the concept of a bank-intermediated transaction system to a distributed ledger framework. Solidus, according to its authors, “closely aligns with the settlement process in the modern financial system”.

The authors explain:

“Solidus operates in a framework based on real-world financial institutions: a modest number of banks each maintain a large number of user accounts. Within this framework, Solidus hides both transaction values and the transaction graph (ie, the identities of transacting entities) while maintaining the public verifiability that makes blockchains so appealing.”

According to the paper, Solidus is “designed to be agnostic” when it comes to the kind of distributed ledger it is tied to, meaning that both permissioned and open systems could be utilized.

“While it does require a mutually-aware group of banks and transaction validation by the ledger maintainers, those maintainers can be a ‘permissioned’ (fixed-entity) group, an ‘unpermissioned’ (fully decentralized) ledger (a blockchain), or any other trustworthy append-only data structure,” the authors write.

The paper was released as part of the Initiative for CryptoCurrencies & Contracts, an ongoing research project that began in 2015 with a $3m grant from the US government.

Read the full paper here.

Network image via Shutterstock.

Academic ResearchCornellIC3Solidus

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