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Multi-party Computation Alliance founded for digital privacy, security

threshold keys

Today, several tech firms have become founding members of the Multi-party Computation (MPC) Alliance for security and privacy in the digital age. Members include developers and practitioners of MPC hoping to protect the increasingly valuable ‘data footprint’.

Revealed at today’s Blockchain Expo in Santa Clara, the US, it aims to encourage MPC adoption and explore new solutions for online services.

MPC for blockchain and beet auctions

The technology works by distributing pieces, sometimes known as ‘shares’, of data to different servers, where computations are done separately. Storing a private key for use on a blockchain, for example, would split the key up and distribute it among distinct nodes.

To use the key, you would need to know where each fragment is kept. A single share is useless without knowing the other parts of the key and where they are held, so hackers have a much harder time compromising data.

MPC was first used in 2008, at a Danish sugar beet auction. Auctions are a fitting application for MPC since it can maintain the privacy of all parties, but produce a provably correct outcome. In 2008, the winning bids were matched up with sellers, without disclosing the prices or identities of any other bidders.

One of the people who created the Partisia MPC system used in that sugar beet auction was Jakob Illeborg Pagter, co-founder and CTO of Alliance member Sepior. Fellow co-founder Ivan Damgard wrote what is considered the book on MPC and is a professor at Aarhus University, where the firm began.

Alliance for distributed trust

“MPC is a game changer for multiple reasons,” said Damgard. “For starters, it provides the option to distribute trust, so that no one is entirely dependent on a single party that is subject to hacking or misbehavior. Distributing trust makes MPC-based systems inherently more secure and resilient.”

It’s already in use in many blockchain applications. Storing private keys is one example, which Sepior now does for VMware. Digital wallet platform Curv similarly uses MPC to secure consumer assets. Today’s announcement also mentions blind surveys, identity verification, and private computation on public blockchains.

Co-founder and CEO of Alliance initiator Unbound Tech, Yehuda Lindell, added: “And, it’s not just about improving security in legacy settings. It’s about unleashing service innovation through new security and privacy paradigms that are better aligned with today’s more distributed and increasingly collaborative services. Such services can provide more compelling user experiences and operational efficiencies with distributed trust.”

Sepior, Unbound, and ZenGo first suggested the MPC Alliance. Its founders include Curv, CYBAVO, Cybernetica, Enigma, Fireblocks, IJS, Insights Network, KeyTango, Offchain Labs, NuCypher, and Partisia.

MPC is a vital part of Hyperledger Avalon, a collaborative project for off-chain trusted computation between it and Ethereum. The project boasts iExec, ConsenSys, Microsoft, Santander, Baidu, and IBM as participants. The other major blockchain player, R3, is also exploring trusted computing for its secure Conclave project.