Aleph Zero represents an advanced, scalable Layer-1 blockchain platform, characterized by its rapid transaction finality, enhanced privacy features, and focus on both enterprise adoption as well as DeFi and GameFi use cases. The protocol successfully launched its mainnet in the latter part of 2021. Developed as an open blockchain environment, it is based on the Substrate framework of Polkadot and utilizes ink!—a specialized version of the Rust programming language tailored for smart contract development. Other factors that make Aleph Zero unique are its original AlephBFT consensus protocol and its utilization of both zero-knowledge proofs (ZK-SNARKs) and secure Multi-Party Computation (sMPC).
Aleph Zero is tailored to cater to business needs, enabling the creation of decentralized applications and solutions on its infrastructure. This is particularly advantageous for enterprises aiming to safeguard data privacy and maintain their competitive edge.
Aleph Zero’s speed and scalability come from the unique design of AlephBFT, an original consensus protocol co-authored by the core team. The paper has been peer-reviewed and presented at the Advances in Financial Technologies (AFT) 2019 conference in Zurich. The Rust implementation of the consensus has also been audited by Trail of Bits.
The BFT model is designed to ensure the network's resilience, even in scenarios where < 33% of nodes might act in a malicious manner. An innovative aspect of Aleph Zero's approach is the integration of rotating committees within the BFT framework. These committees add a dynamic layer of security, enhancing the system's capability to handle diverse and large-scale network operations. The rotating nature of these committees ensures a constant refresh in the makeup of network overseers, thereby preventing stagnation, increasing decentralization, and reducing the likelihood of systemic vulnerabilities.
Additionally, the BFT implementation in Aleph Zero is asynchronous. This means that the network is designed to handle periods of asynchrony effectively. In practical terms, even when the network experiences total asynchrony, it possesses the capability to correctly order transactions once normal operation is resumed. This feature significantly bolsters the platform's overall security, ensuring that transaction integrity is maintained even under challenging conditions.
Industry experts, such as IOTA’s core developer, Hans Moog, noted that AlephBFT is “most probably very close to the best totally-ordered DLT you could possibly ever build, and it’s able to totally order transactions at almost real time” in his tweet from April 9th, 2022.
The novel consensus mechanism used by Aleph Zero combines a modified Proof of Stake (PoS) model with Directed Acyclic Graph (DAG) technology. This combination creates a distinctive approach to validating and recording transactions on its network. A DAG, in the context of network theory, serves as a mathematical model for representing nodes within a network, or graph. In this structure, the connections between nodes, referred to as 'edges', have a directional attribute. This means that each edge in a DAG points from one node to another in a specific direction, unlike in undirected structures like trees where the connections are bidirectional.
DAGs differ from typical blockchain data trees in several ways. While trees are a type of graph known for their inability to form closed loops and one-way directional progression, DAGs do not have these restrictions. This property allows for more complex relationships and structures within the network. Additionally, trees are unique in being both a graph and a data structure, making them well-suited for modeling data on networks.
The applications of DAGs are broad and varied, extending across numerous scientific and computational fields. They are instrumental in domains ranging from epidemiology, where they can model the spread of diseases, to scheduling, where they help optimize processes and resource allocation. In the context of blockchain technology, DAGs contribute to enhancing efficiency and scalability, offering a robust framework for transaction processing and network organization.
Aleph Zero's integration of DAG with a PoS consensus model represents an innovative approach in the blockchain landscape that has also been utilized by protocols like Avalanche and Fantom. However, the implementations differ. Aleph Zero leverages the DAG structure as an intermediary framework for simply processing transactions, not becoming a DAG unto itself. This design helps Aleph Zero maintain its security and operational integrity even in periods of asynchronicity. The network possesses the capability to accurately sequence blocks once normal operations resume, ensuring continuous and reliable transaction verification. Additionally, this approach allows for faster transaction speeds, higher throughput, and substantially lower transaction fees, making the technology more accessible and feasible for mass adoption, and enhancing its appeal in the competitive blockchain market.
Validators play a pivotal role in the Aleph Zero PoS mechanism, operating nodes that produce blocks and secure the chain. Validators bear the responsibility of operating nodes that authenticate the legitimacy of transactions on the Aleph Zero blockchain. Their role is central to the decentralized governance structure of the blockchain, underscoring the importance of trust and reliability in their function.
To qualify as a validator in this network, there are specific prerequisites to meet. A prospective validator is required to bond a minimum of 25,000 AZERO tokens and must conform to the network's hardware specifications.
The platform adopts a mechanism that employs a rotating committee of random members, chosen from the available nodes to maintain the network's decentralization, reinforcing the platform's security and operational efficiency. As of the time of writing, the network operates with nearly 132 active validators while 50 are chosen for block production and 14 for block finalization. Importantly, Aleph Zero started onboarding enterprise validators in 2023, starting with Telekom MMS, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom (owner of the T-Mobile brand among others).
An integral aspect of this ecosystem is the interaction between validators and nominators. Nominators are stakeholders who delegate their stake to validators they trust, playing a significant role in the network's governance by supporting validators they believe to be competent and trustworthy.
The reward mechanism in the Aleph Zero network is designed to incentivize both validators and their nominators. Rewards accrued by a validator are distributed between the validator and their nominators, proportionally to the stake each party has contributed. This system aligns the interests of validators and nominators, promoting a cooperative and productive network environment.
However, this mechanism also includes a safeguard against misconduct. In the event of malicious behavior by a validator, a penalty, known as slashing, is imposed. This penalty affects both the validator and their nominators, as it entails a reduction in the staked coins. This punitive measure serves as a deterrent against any actions that could compromise the integrity or security of the network, ensuring that validators and nominators maintain a high standard of conduct in their roles. At the moment, slashing does not occur automatically, but is imposed after manual reviews from the core team. At a later stage of network decentralization, this decision will be up to the holder’s governance.
Security and Audits
In June 2021, the Aleph Zero Foundation commissioned Trail of Bits, a well-regarded security firm, to conduct a thorough security audit of AlephBFT. This review, executed over a period of two weeks by two engineers, focused on the AlephBFT repository.
The review involved a deep dive into the codebase, supplemented by a comprehensive study of the accompanying documentation and the Aleph Zero whitepaper. The team concentrated on identifying common security vulnerabilities specific to Rust programming and commenced a detailed evaluation of key components such as Terminal, Reliable Multicast, and Alerts.
The assessment culminated in the identification of nine findings, classified from informational to low in terms of severity. The most notable low-severity issue pertained to the handling of asynchronous code errors, which posed a risk of leading to inconsistent node states in panic scenarios. The findings of informational severity were related to minor issues that, while not currently impacting the system's security measurably, if addressed, would enhance the robustness of the protocol.
Notably, the review highlighted that due to the abstraction of several critical components in AlephBFT, such as signing, key management, and networking processes, assessing AlephBFT alone does not provide a complete picture of the end system's security. Consequently, Trail of Bits recommended additional security assessments of the systems into which AlephBFT is integrated to ensure a comprehensive evaluation of overall security.
Aleph Zero, in collaboration with Immunefi, has recently strengthened its bug bounty program, an admirable strategic initiative designed to bolster the security of its network. This program is structured to incentivize white-hat hackers, offering rewards for their contributions in identifying and reporting vulnerabilities in the Aleph Zero blockchain.
The reward system of the bug bounty program is aligned with the Immunefi Vulnerability Severity Classification System V2.1, which employs a 5-level scale to assess the potential harm of identified threats, focusing specifically on their impact within the context of blockchains and Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLTs). The rewards are tiered based on this classification, offering different amounts for varying levels of threat severity:
- Critical Threats: Rewards of up to $50,000
- High Threats: Rewards of up to $15,000
- Medium Threats: Rewards of up to $5,000
- Low Threats: Rewards of up to $1,000
At the time of writing Hats.Finance announced an upcoming audit bounty competition with Aleph Zero, further strengthening the network’s approach to external security verifications.
Aleph Zero's decision to utilize Substrate, a comprehensive framework developed by Parity Technologies, represents a strategic move in its blockchain development process. Substrate is designed to facilitate the easy creation of diverse blockchain networks, and in the own words of Michal Swietek, co-founder at Aleph Zero, "We should just use Substrate; there’s no point in reinventing the wheel.” Aleph Zero's decision was solidified by its acceptance into the Parity Substrate Builders Program and a Web3 Foundation grant for Cardinal Cryptography, the core team behind Aleph Zero, in 2021. This program aims to nurture and support promising Web 3.0 projects, leveraging Parity Technologies' expertise and resources to foster a rich ecosystem of blockchain solutions.
The Substrate framework encapsulates the collective insights gained from the development of Ethereum and Bitcoin, with the goal of making blockchain creation as straightforward and adaptable as possible. Substrate is distinguished by its modular design, which not only offers technical flexibility but also simplifies the integration of fundamental functionalities like accounts, balances, governance, and smart contracts, akin to incorporating a library. This framework modularizes the various functionalities of a blockchain, generalizing them to suit a range of scenarios while ensuring their ease of use and quick implementation.
Aleph Zero’s strategy hinges on leveraging existing, well-developed components from Parity’s stack, focusing on integration rather than redevelopment. An important distinction is that Aleph Zero, while utilizing Substrate, is not a parachain within the Polkadot ecosystem. It is a sovereign L1 with its own consensus and security. Parachains, as per their design in the Polkadot ecosystem, follow the Polkadot Relay Chain's consensus and do not possess independent finality mechanisms. In contrast, sovereign chains like Aleph Zero, which must connect to the Relay Chain via a bridge, have the autonomy to determine their consensus protocols.
Aleph Zero distinguishes itself in the domain of privacy protection through its innovative software-based multichain privacy layer, named Liminal. This layer is designed to enhance privacy across various blockchains, with plans for integration with major networks like Polkadot, Ethereum, Cosmos, Solana, and others through cross-chain bridges. Liminal offers privacy and ensures security through the employment of zero-knowledge proofs (zk-SNARKs) and Secure Multiparty Computation (sMPC).
Zero-knowledge Proofs (zk-SNARKS)
Zero-knowledge proofs (ZKPs) are a cryptographic method in transaction verification, where a prover develops a proof for specific information, and a verifier confirms its validity. This technique allows the prover to demonstrate possession of certain information without revealing the specifics, thereby providing remarkable privacy benefits. One of the key advantages of ZKPs in blockchain technology is their efficiency in reducing the computational and storage resources needed for validating transactions, as they require zero knowledge of the entire data set.
The establishment of ZKPs typically begins with a Setup Phase, as is the case for zk-SNARKs. zkSNARK (Zero-Knowledge Succinct Non-Interactive Argument of Knowledge) is a notable implementation of ZKP, coined by UC Berkeley professor Alessandro Chiesa.
The setup phase generates a Prover Key (PK) and a Verifier Key (VK). Following the setup, the process revolves around two main entities: the prover and the verifier. The prover, equipped with specific inputs including the computation they wish to verify and a 'witness' (evidence supporting the computation), must convincingly demonstrate knowledge of the witness. The verifier's role is to assess the validity of the prover's claim.
ZKPs are built on three fundamental principles:
- Completeness: Ensures that a truthful verifier will acknowledge the validity of an authentic proof generated by the prover.
- Soundness: Guarantees that a false claim cannot be substantiated with a deceptive proof.
- Zero-Knowledge: Ensures that the verifier gains no additional knowledge from the proof other than the fact that the statement is true.
Secure Multi-party computation (sMPC) is a cryptographic method that enables secure data processing among multiple participants while ensuring the privacy of each party's input. In an MPC system, every participant holds a fragment of confidential information, often a portion of a cryptographic key critical in operations like fund transfers or code modifications.
In practice, MPCs divide a private key into several segments distributed among the participants. When executing a transaction, a select group of MPC nodes independently signs the transaction and communicates it to the wider network. This process involves each participant combining their secret portion with a public input (the message to be signed) to produce a digital signature. Subsequently, anyone with the public key can validate these signatures. Since the key fragments are combined and the signature is generated off-chain, transactions via an MPC wallet are indistinguishable from those made with a standard private key wallet.
A key strength of MPC lies in its resilience against coercion or dishonesty within the group. If some parties decide to deviate from the protocol or disclose confidential information, the MPC setup prevents them from influencing honest participants to produce incorrect results or leak sensitive data.
Other strengths of MPC include:
- No single point of failure.
- Flexible and configurable signing schemes.
- Detailed control over access and signing.
- Simplified recovery processes.
However, MPC is not without drawbacks. Off-chain coordination and accountability challenges arise due to the need to manage signing policies and approval quorums externally, posing risks of centralized failure, unlike traditional cold storage methods.
Zero-Knowledge Proofs + sMPC
Aleph Zero’s Liminal integrates both ZKPs and sMPC to offer a comprehensive privacy solution. ZKPs ensure the privacy of data, while sMPC brings an additional layer of security by dispersing data off-chain across various nodes. This dispersed data is encrypted in such a way that no single participant in the network can decipher the full content.
A groundbreaking aspect of Liminal is its capacity to make privacy features programmable. It enables the preservation of the private state of smart contracts from other chains within the Aleph Zero framework. This functionality offers developers the flexibility to either build directly on Aleph Zero or utilize Liminal as a secondary privacy layer. This layer is characterized by low transaction costs and swift processing times. Such attributes make Liminal particularly appealing for numerous applications and verticals.
Aleph Zero's newest DeFi product, Common DEX, is a new solution in the on-chain trading sphere. Common introduces an innovative design addressing two fundamental challenges in the DeFi space: price inefficiency and lack of user privacy. This innovative platform is reshaping the DeFi landscape by addressing some of the most pressing issues faced by existing platforms, particularly in terms of price efficiency and user privacy.
While privacy is a cornerstone in the Common platform, it is important to note that privacy is also optional. Users have two ways of using Common:
- either in a completely permissionless manner but public
- after compliance checks, in private
Recognizing the growing concern among users for maintaining discretion in their crypto trades, Common incorporates advanced privacy features as outlined in its whitepaper. The use of zk-SNARKs ensures the anonymity of transactions. Furthermore, the innovative implementation of a Decryption Oracle, built on secure Multi-Party Computation (MPC), provides an additional layer of security, particularly in safeguarding the confidentiality of trade amounts. It also eliminates the risk of having a centralized actor that would be responsible for the privacy aspect.
Orders on Common are only revealed upon execution and are processed in batches, mitigating the MEV issue and reducing front-running risks. Shielded pools on Common provide an added layer of privacy, where asset holders remain unknown to external observers. This feature prevents profiling based on asset holdings or trading activities.
Moreover, Common will adhere to regulatory requirements such as GDPR, KYC/KYB, CFT, and AML laws. This compliance is facilitated through integrations with on-chain monitoring solutions like Coinfirm and decentralized identity solutions like Gatenox and idOS, striking a balance between enhanced privacy and regulatory obligations.
Another one of the standout features of Common is its approach to countering front-running, a prevalent MEV issue experienced in DEXs. By implementing measures that effectively reduce the influence of MEV bots, Common enhances the integrity and fairness of trading on its platform. This is particularly beneficial for facilitating large-scale transactions, which are often the targets of front-running and MEV strategies.
In terms of order-matching, Common introduces a novel two-tiered system designed to enhance price efficiency. The first tier involves internal matches that are free of charge, while the second tier employs a transparent Dutch Auction for Market Makers, optimizing the price discovery process. A Dutch auction is a distinctive type of auction mechanism where the auctioneer starts with a high asking price when selling an item. This initial price is progressively lowered until a participant agrees to accept the price. Alternatively, the process continues until the price reaches a pre-set reserve price, which is the minimum amount the seller is willing to accept. This auction format is quite different from traditional auctions, where bidders typically drive prices upward from a low starting point. In a Dutch auction, the downward pricing strategy creates a different dynamic, often leading to a quicker sale process as participants are motivated to act before the price drops to a level that would attract other interested parties. This system not only benefits users in terms of reduced costs but also contributes to more efficient and fair pricing in DEX trading.
In addition to security, Common excels in liquidity provision. The platform aggregates liquidity from various sources and incentivizes attracting it to Common through the Dutch auction mechanism, significantly enhancing the depth and breadth of available liquidity. Common's integration of on-chain and off-chain liquidity, including bridges to Centralized Exchanges (CEXes) and other blockchain networks, is another feature that sets it apart.
idOS and AZERO.ID
Central to the evolution of privacy-enhanced ecosystems in blockchain technology is the creation of an identity management system. Such a system, ideally open-source and free from singular entity control, is vital for maintaining privacy and security within the network. The idOS network has emerged as one collaborative solution in this arena, combining the efforts of Alph Zero, Fractal ID, NEAR Protocol, and Gnosis Chain. This initiative was “soft launched” at TOKEN2049 in Singapore and remains under development.
Under the idOS framework, a pivotal feature is the provision for users to utilize Zero-Knowledge (ZK)-based IDs. These IDs allow users to engage with decentralized finance (DeFi) applications in a manner that is both private and verifiable. As the idOS network evolves, one of its primary objectives is to enhance the interoperability of Know Your Customer (KYC) and Know Your Business (KYB) processes. The aim here is to reduce the user experience (UX) burden that often accompanies these procedures.
A major leap in this direction is the integration of AZERO.ID into the identity stack. This integration promises to deliver an exceptional UX, facilitating easy onboarding for users. One of the most user-friendly features of this integration is the ability to consolidate all relevant credentials, wallets, and social links under a single domain. This consolidation eliminates the need for users to set up multiple addresses for pseudonymous transfers, thereby simplifying the process significantly. Users can now engage in transactions using a single address, benefiting from genuine privacy that enhances their overall experience on the platform.
In Q4 2023, Aleph Zero announced a partnership with Router Protocol, a bridging infrastructure provider supported by prominent entities like Coinbase and Wintermute. Router Protocol enables frictionless communication and transactions between diverse blockchain networks, enhancing the interoperability of blockchains. The collaboration marks Aleph Zero's integration into Router Protocol's multi-chain infrastructure, distinguishing it as one of the first non-EVM (Ethereum Virtual Machine) networks to join.
This integration with Router Protocol is a strategic move for Aleph Zero, broadening its horizons and enhancing its capabilities in the blockchain space:
- Cross-Chain Asset Bridging: The partnership will enable users to seamlessly transfer assets between Aleph Zero and other major blockchain networks, thereby expanding asset management and utilization possibilities.
- Seamless Onboarding of External Liquidity: By integrating with Router Protocol, Aleph Zero simplifies the process of infusing external liquidity into its ecosystem, which is a significant enhancement for both users and developers on the platform.
- Stablecoin Bridging: A crucial aspect of this integration is the facilitation of stablecoin bridging to and from the Aleph Zero network. This feature is instrumental in fostering a robust DeFi ecosystem on Aleph Zero, further supported by additional bridges.
Deutsche Telekom (T-Mobile)
Aleph Zero welcomed Deutsche Telekom’s subsidiary, Deutsche Telekom MMS, into its validator network in Q4 2023. This partnership marks a significant milestone, as Deutsche Telekom MMS is not only joining as a validator but is also committing its resources to bolster the network's security, governance, and decentralization efforts. As a trusted validator within the Aleph Zero ecosystem, Deutsche Telekom plays a pivotal role. The company leverages its cloud services to ensure the reliability of nodes, maintain high transaction throughput, and uphold stringent security measures. Notably, its infrastructure is designed to minimize failure risks and circumvent network punishment mechanisms, thanks to 24/7 monitoring and comprehensive backup services.
This collaboration represents a strategic expansion for Deutsche Telekom MMS in the realm of blockchain infrastructure. This move is particularly notable as it signifies Deutsche Telekom's first partnership with a blockchain network that has a core focus on privacy enhancement. The involvement extends to both the mainnet and testnet of Aleph Zero, indicating a robust engagement with the platform.
Aleph Zero is poised for significant developments in 2024. Following the successful introduction of smart contracts on its mainnet in March 2023, the platform is now set to expand its horizons with cross-chain integration, linking its technology with several prominent networks, including Cosmos, Ethereum, and others.
Additionally, while Aleph Zero is not a parachain itself, it has strategically acquired a parachain slot. This move is to facilitate the creation of a unique cross-chain bridge to Polkadot. This bridge is distinctive in its reliance on the consensus models of both Polkadot and Aleph Zero, rather than on smart contracts. This approach exemplifies Aleph Zero's commitment to enhancing interoperability and connectivity in the blockchain space, leveraging the strengths of different blockchain platforms to achieve a more integrated and efficient network ecosystem.
Beyond a multi-chain future, the Aleph Zero team remains focused on successfully rolling out a complete implementation of Liminal, releasing Common DEX, improving on-chain governance, and onboarding more institutions.
This report has examined the significant technological innovations and advancements of Aleph Zero, particularly in the realms of blockchain consensus, security, and project developments. The core of Aleph Zero's innovation lies in its AlephBFT consensus protocol, which has demonstrated resilience and scalability through its unique design. The introduction of rotating committees within the BFT framework adds a dynamic layer of security, enhancing the network's ability to handle diverse and large-scale operations.
Another notable aspect of Aleph Zero is its asynchronous BFT implementation, designed to effectively handle periods of network asynchrony. This feature is critical in maintaining the integrity of transactions under challenging conditions, thus bolstering the overall security of the platform.
Furthermore, Aleph Zero's integration of a modified Proof of Stake model with Directed Acyclic Graph (DAG) technology marks a significant departure from traditional blockchain architectures. This combination allows for a more efficient and scalable approach to validating and recording transactions. The DAG structure facilitates complex relationships within the network, contributing to enhanced efficiency and scalability.
The security and audit measures undertaken by Aleph Zero, including the comprehensive audit by Trail of Bits and the ongoing bug bounty program, reflect the platform's commitment to maintaining high security standards. These efforts are crucial in identifying potential vulnerabilities and enhancing the robustness of the protocol.
In the privacy domain, Aleph Zero's Liminal software-based multichain privacy layer, utilizing zero-knowledge proofs (zk-SNARKs) and Secure Multiparty Computation (sMPC), sets a new standard for privacy protection in blockchain technology. This innovative combination offers a comprehensive solution to data privacy, enabling the preservation of the private state of smart contracts from other chains within the Aleph Zero framework.
Lastly, the developments in Aleph Zero's DeFi products, particularly Common DEX, and the partnerships with entities like Deutsche Telekom and Router Protocol, highlight the platform's ongoing evolution and expansion in the blockchain space. These developments not only enhance Aleph Zero's capabilities but also position it as a leader in the blockchain industry, driving innovation and setting new benchmarks for security, efficiency, and scalability.
Overall, Aleph Zero's advancements represent a significant contribution to the blockchain field, offering innovative solutions to some of the most pressing challenges in the industry. Its commitment to security, scalability, and efficient transaction processing positions it as a formidable player in the rapidly evolving landscape of blockchain technology.
Disclaimer: This report was commissioned by Aleph Zero. This research report is exactly that — a research report. It is not intended to serve as financial advice, nor should you blindly assume that any of the information is accurate without confirming through your own research. Bitcoin, cryptocurrencies, and other digital assets are incredibly risky and nothing in this report should be considered an endorsement to buy or sell any asset. Never invest more than you are willing to lose and understand the risk that you are taking. Do your own research. All information in this report is for educational purposes only and should not be the basis for any investment decisions that you make.