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Building Ergo: Sigma protocols

Ergo’s smart contracts and DeFi functionality are built on Sigma protocols – a powerful, flexible class of zero-knowledge proofs. Find out more about why they’re so important, and how they put Ergo head and shoulders above the competition.


Cryptography is a fascinating area, and one of the most exciting and intriguing concepts it offers are zero-knowledge proofs. In simple terms, a zero-knowledge proof allows someone to prove they know the solution to a problem without actually revealing the solution itself. 


Let’s say someone picks up a phone in a bar. You can prove it’s yours by hiding the screen, entering the unlock code and showing the unlocked screen to the person who found it. This is a simple example of a zero-knowledge proof: you have proven you own the phone without giving away any sensitive information.


In cryptography, most practical problems are associated with secrets. The most popular application lies in digital signatures, used by millions of people around the world every day. Essentially, these involve saying: ‘This message proves I know the private key associated with this public key – but I’m not revealing the private key itself’. (Not every digital 

signature scheme uses zero-knowledge proofs, but the most popular do.)


Sigma protocols

Among the hundreds or even thousands of zero-knowledge protocols, there is a sub-class of efficient and composable proof-of-knowledge protocols called Sigma Protocols. These are also known as Generalized Schnorr Proofs. Sigma protocols can be represented as digital signatures in a straightforward way, so we can effectively think of them as signatures in the context of blockchain.


A Schnorr signature is a simple Sigma protocol signature, then. Schnorr signatures have been proposed as an alternative to Bitcoin’s current signatures. (It is one of the most efficient signature schemes, which is why it would be beneficial for Bitcoin.)


However, there are dozens of other Sigma protocols. One of the great things about them is that they are composable, using simple AND and OR logic. So you can ask for a signature with the following statement: ‘Prove to me knowledge of either this secret OR that secret’ (this is a one-of-two ring signature). Or you can ask, ‘Prove to me knowledge of any two of these three secrets’ (a two-of-three ring signature). Those are just two simple examples; there are many more, and they can be far more complex and sophisticated.


Ergo: Sigma + blockchain

When combined with a blockchain, these composable proofs enable some very powerful use cases. The logic for proofs can include conditions based on blockchain state. For example, ‘If the deadline block height has been reached, Alice can provide knowledge of a secret key for a refund. OR a ring signature from Alice and Bob is required to spend coins.’ Or ‘If this account holds a minimum of 100 ERG, Alice OR Bob can remove funds above that amount.’


Thus some very interesting and flexible DeFi applications can be built on Ergo, using secure, straightforward and efficient Sigma protocols.

Three smart contract platforms to watch

Smart contracts are a must-have feature for blockchain platforms. But smart contracts come in many forms. This article compares three different approaches.


Bitcoin was the first form of decentralized programmable money. Bitcoin’s built-in scripting language enables users to specify simple conditions attached to transfers – for example, requiring that two of three accounts have signed a transaction.  


But blockchain can be used to execute far more complex and powerful logic. Since Ethereum launched in 2015, a slew of smart contract platforms has followed. Different platforms take different approaches – and each has its own benefits and risks.



The first and still the largest smart contract platform, Ethereum offers Turing-complete contracts. This means that theoretically any computational operation can be replicated on the Ethereum network. In other words, you can build pretty much anything.


Of course, the delays and bottlenecks of the blockchain mean you wouldn’t generally want to do that, but the point stands: Ethereum is an extremely powerful platform. That power is certainly an advantage, but it also brings vulnerabilities.


Ethereum is arguably too powerful, and too complex. Ethereum’s history is littered with examples of times when hackers were able to exploit vulnerabilities or features in a smart contract: The DAO, the two Parity wallet hacks, and many more. These were missed because the way Ethereum’s smart contract language, Solidity, operates means ‘edge cases’ are possible and it’s hard to figure out where all the security holes might be. Moreover, the fact that you can execute code of any complexity means it’s possible to write code that executes unpredictably – for example, it may be impossible to know how much it will cost to run.


Ethereum, then, is an amazing platform with exceptional innovation – but its power means it can also be risky. When you’re dealing with financial applications that process millions of dollars of users’ funds, that’s not a chance you want to take.



Funded by a year-long, $4 billion ICO, EOS has been called the ‘Ethereum killer’ – though it hasn’t yet delivered on this title. EOS is more like a blockchain operating system that enables a wide range of use cases. It’s massively more scalable than Ethereum, and doesn’t have transaction fees (removing that element of Ethereum’s vulnerability by default). But it’s also far more centralized, with just 21 Block Producers, and concerns that they could collude or be coerced to falsify blockchain data.


For its smart contracts, EOS uses WebAssembly (WASM), which enables developers to code in C++ and compile to WASM for use on EOS. It solves many of the issues of Solidity; as EOS’s GitHub explains, ‘In the world of blockchain, any non-deterministic behavior, unbounded computation, or unbounded use of RAM can take down the blockchain for everyone, not just a single user’s web browser. Single-threaded performance, fast compilation/validation of Wasm, and low-overhead calls to native code are critical to blockchains.’ It’s worth noting that C++ wasn’t designed for blockchains, and its standard can be messy, with implications for edge cases.



Ergo’s approach is similar in many ways, avoiding the most common issues that have plagued Ethereum. ErgoScript, which is based on Scala and designed specifically for execution in a blockchain environment, supports formal verification. it is always known in advance that a script will execute properly, and how much it will cost. 


Ergo’s key difference is the use of Sigma Protocols, a powerful class of zero-knowledge protocols that enable very flexible use cases off the peg. In short, while you can do anything with Ethereum, trying to is often a bad idea. It’s either expensive, complex or risky. Ergo enables developers to implement use cases – including ring and threshold signatures, as well as other specialist cryptographic operations, for greater privacy and multi-party computation – easily and safely.


In itself, ErgoScript isn’t Turing complete. This is an intentional design choice taken to avoid the exploits that have seen tens of millions of dollars stolen from Ethereum applications or locked in its smart contracts. However, the Ergo platform can be used to create Turing-complete applications, but iterating operations over multiple blocks. This offers the best of both worlds: the safety provided by preventing unrestricted functionality, but nonetheless enabling complex dApps on the blockchain.

Five undervalued crypto coins

Bitcoin is looking both technically and fundamentally strong after its six-month correction, as the Halvening approaches. The last leg up in 2019 saw altcoins brutally sold off as traders positioned for BTC’s parabolic move. This time, the alts are showing some signs of rising with the tide. With prices still near the bottom after a brutal crypto winter, we look at five altcoin projects we view as interesting – and potentially significantly undervalued.


1) Waves

Waves Platform launched with great fanfare back in 2016 after raising 30,000 BTC. Since then the team have diligently – but relatively quietly – worked away on a host of DeFi features. Waves is now an extensive and powerful ecosystem that includes user-friendly mobile and desktop wallets; easy token creation; a decentralised exchange that combines speed, security and privacy; safe and accessible smart contracts; an algorithmically-backed stablecoin, Neutrino; and many other products and services. It contains everything needed to launch scalable dApps, and the LPoS network and community-run monetary policy provide a great way to earn on your holdings. With its core tech in place, Waves is now looking to expand globally. Neutrino dollars (USDN) are very promising: there is huge demand for stablecoins (Total Value Locked for the Maker Protocol alone is $600 million), and TVL for Neutrino is almost $4 million after just a few weeks of operation. It’s growing fast, and the more WAVES are locked to generate USDN, the more net demand there will be on the market. Add to that the fact that Waves’ corporate arm, Waves Enterprise, has already established some impressive industry partnerships – if the same success follows for the open Waves platform, it’s going to start looking very underpriced.


2) Ergo

In terms of fundamentals, it’s hard to find a coin stronger than Ergo. Ergo has taken a different approach to smart contracts and DeFi, using Sigma protocols to enable use cases that are either impossible or risky on other platforms. Sigma protocols allow for very flexible and elegant coding of functionality, enabling developers to implement dApps that would be very expensive or horribly messy on Ethereum. Think of it like this: it’s possible to build a rudimentary jet engine with junk from your garage. But it wouldn’t be efficient or safe, because you don’t have the right tools or materials. With Ergo, you do. Ergo’s team have been involved with several other crypto platforms, and have drawn on this experience to create something unique. The issue – and the opportunity – is that they’ve focused on development and not marketing. It’s not easy to mine and beginners will be better off with the lite wallets rather than running a full node. This is now changing. The first mining pools are coming, and at a $5 million market cap, Ergo could easily outperform many other alts in the short-to-medium term.


3) MakerDAO

With a half-billion-dollar market cap, this is by far the largest project on the list. But it’s an excellent one, and given the interest in DeFi – in which Maker is a leader – it’s likely undervalued. Maker’s strength comes from several sources. A very solid economic model, a highly professional development and marketing team, and full decentralisation. MakerDAO, for those who don’t know, is the protocol that underpins the Dai stablecoin, which is backed by crypto collateral and smart contract-enforced algorithms. There are no middlemen at all. Best of all, every time users issue Dai against ETH and other collateral, they start accruing fees – some of which is used to buy and burn MKR. $600 billion is currently locked in Maker Vaults and DeFi is growing fast, so you can see where this is going.


4) Beam

Along with Grin, Beam is one of two very exciting projects based on Mimblewimble – an impressive new privacy protocol that offers significant advantages over existing approaches. While coins like Dash and Monero seek to obscure the flow of money on the blockchain, Mimblewimble enables users to avoid putting critical information on the blockchain in the first place. That makes it both more private and scalable. Of the two, we’ve chosen Beam because it has a well-funded development team and limited coin supply – plus it’s just passed its first halving, so there’s a good chance the reduced block rewards will have an effect on price in the coming months. At $40 million market cap, it has a long way to go.


5) Sentinel

Sentinel is another micro-cap ($3 million) and another privacy project, but this one’s a dVPN – decentralised Virtual Private Network provider. Sentinel Network is a decentralised VPN that cryptographically guarantees the safety of your personal information, maintained by a collection of nodes around the world. It’s built on Tendermint, which is a solid technical choice. We’re interested because it’s tiny, but there are a lot of people who use VPNs. A lot. And after a spate of VPN hacks (including NordVPN), a large proportion of those users must be wondering how safe their ‘private’ data really is when surfing the web…


These are just five of the many, many interesting and attractive altcoin projects out there – we couldn’t include all the ones we’d want in our portfolio. Are you involved with any of these five? Are there others you think should be on the list? Retweet and let us know why!

Friday Inferno market report

TL;DR BTC has held $10,000 – so far. The weekly close will be informative, and time is running out on this correction.


Bitcoin has once again kept traders on the edge of their seats this week, with a series of moves that will have taken many by surprise. After the abrupt plunge below $9,500 last Thursday, bitcoin recovered and by Tuesday looked set to test the $11k line.


It was not to be, with swift rejection just below $11,000. Bitcoin once again dropped, falling beneath $10,000 once again, though this time more weakly. Every daily close has been above $10,000, and this appears to be the immediate zone to watch. A close substantially below $10,000 (especially $9,800) could signal more downside. For now, however, that line is holding.


There are a handful of bullish factors: aside from $10,000 being respected, the 100-day moving average has also been held, after numerous corrections to this level. That line continues to rise to meet price, and will soon hit $10k itself. Another positive indicator is the Fear and Greed Index, which recently put in its lowest ever day – an extremely fearful 5. This is lower even than the days immediately following the bubble bursting from $20,000, when the index hit 8. While this signals Extreme Fear, this is broadly bullish since it acts as a good contrarian indicator (bears have all panic sold).


More bearish factors include the ‘futures gap’ which could signal a move back down to the $8,000 region. We also have to consider the 21-week EMA, another key level in a bull market and a regular target for corrections. This currently sits at just below $9,000, though the nature of the indicator means that it is moving up fast.

Lastly, we will throw in the ‘fundamental’ of Bakkt’s launch, scheduled for 23 September – one month today. While this will likely see volatility in the markets as short-term traders seek to profit by selling the news, it will also see institutional money start to come in from the sidelines – amplifying the effect we have seen already and that Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong has mentioned: ‘Whether institutions were going to adopt crypto or not was an open question about 12 months ago. I think it’s safe to say we now know the answer. We’re seeing $200-400M a week in new crypto deposits come in from institutional customers.’

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You know you’ve been in crypto too long when…

How long have you been in crypto? A year? Two? Five? If it’s too long, you’ll recognise some of these warning signs.


  1. Checking the price of bitcoin is the first thing you do in the morning. Not grab a coffee. Not say ‘Good morning’ to your beloved. Not feed the cat. It’s grab your phone while you’re still half asleep and see which way BTC went in the night.
  2. Your thumb has RSI, from swiping down to refresh Blockfolio so many times.
  3. That’s Repetitive Strain Injury, by the way. If you read RSI and assumed it meant Relative Strength Index, you’re probably obsessed with chart indicators.
  4. You can’t look at a city skyline without seeing volume bars. You can’t look at a mountain range without seeing price spikes.
  5. Somehow, you got really good at mental math. You can do complicated sums in your head – but only if they involve exchange rates for bitcoin and altcoins.
  6. You feel an overwhelming urge to draw lines on things as a means of predicting the future. If you were in hospital, you’d probably be drawing support and resistance levels on your heart-rate monitor to figure out if you’ll survive.
  7. Your F5 key is blank. There’s a dip where it’s worn away from refreshing CoinMarketCap.
  8. You only have online friends. You stopped seeing half your real-world friends when they laughed at you for buying crypto. The other half stopped seeing you when it turned out you were right.
  9. You haven’t had 8 hours sleep since… well, since crypto.
  10. You’re still kicking yourself for buying that beer/mining rig/sunglasses for BTC back in 2015. It seemed so cool and smart at the time. Now it’s the most expensive thing you ever bought.

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Crypto trading analysis: why you’re probably doing it wrong

Anyone who confidently gives you a bitcoin price prediction – especially for the short term – is a charlatan.


Bitcoin price prediction is a huge part of the crypto sector. There is a whole industry of ‘experts’ looking to make a living – not from trading, but from ‘advising’ others how to trade. Some of these will confidently tell you where bitcoin is going to go. The more confident they are, and the more short-term their predictions, the more you should view them with skepticism.


Let’s note first off, there’s a saying. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who write ‘analysis’ and predictions often have little (successful) experience of trading. Unsurprisingly, those who are good at what they do either operate on their own, or run subscription services. Good information is valuable, after all.


The thing is, bad information is valuable too, in its own way. Simplifying matters a little, every ‘good’ trade has a ‘bad’ trader on the other side of it. Half of all money that takes a position must be wrong. The disclaimers on most forex platforms suggest that around 10% of successful traders are taking that money from the 90% of failures.


Aside from low quality, there’s a reality that few analysts mention – which is that markets just don’t work the way people think.


Masses and classes

Markets are fluid, evolving, and – especially in the short-term – irrational. Calling markets consistently is actually impossible. The best traders don’t do this at all. What they really do is adapt their thinking as they see the situation changing, looking to minimise risk while maximising return. That way, it doesn’t matter if they make losing trades more often than winning ones (and many do lose often). The point is that the losses are small, thanks to their risk control, and the wins are big, thanks to the return potential of those trades.


The other thing is, don’t rely on ‘news’ to drive price. Expert traders sometimes talk about information for the masses, and information for the classes (this video is a great introduction). ‘Information’ provided by the mainstream media is useless, because professional traders know it before it hits the headlines.


For the record, Inferno won’t give you price predictions. What we do is give a sense of the overall market. We won’t tell you what is going to happen, because no one knows that. But we can help you figure out where the areas of risk and opportunity lie.

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Inferno market report: how will bitcoin fare in a recession?

With talk of a global recession growing louder, it’s time to consider what BTC might do in this scenario – one it’s never seen before.


Bitcoin is well into its new bull market, having seemingly completed its first leg up and pullback and now looking at getting the job done in earnest. At the same time, the global markets are looking a little shaky. We’ve recently seen the first interest rate cut by the Fed in 10 years – something that has never happened in Bitcoin’s history. Trade wars with China are hotting up, and a global slowdown is underway.


This is new territory for bitcoin. What will happen if we really see a major recession? Will it be a safe-haven asset, or will it get sold like stocks and other risk-on assets?


Two possibilities

There are probably two major scenarios here, depending on how bad and long the recession is. 

  1. Stock market crash but a fast recovery. Bitcoin might get hit like most other asset classes, but some traders could decide to put money in crypto as an undervalued and uncorrelated asset. If there’s lots of international tension (China, Iran, North Korea…) involved, then as an independent asset outside of the control of governments and central banks, bitcoin could prove quite popular.
  2. Deeper recession. Bitcoin could be more seriously impacted. When people lose their jobs, they tend to sell liquid and convertible assets to see them through. Retail crypto holdings could be badly hit; institutional ones, perhaps less so?


There are lots of variations on what could happen, and lots of potential complicating factors. More failing states with hyperinflation would place additional demand on BTC. It could also see increased use as a way of avoiding capital controls imposed by countries like China to prop up their economies.

So we can take an educated guess, but we won’t know for sure until it happens. That it is going to happen is something that is becoming clearer by the day.

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Inferno guide to Bitcoin Bears

The success of cryptocurrency has seen a new breed of bear evolve. These are vicious, tortured creatures who will maul bitcoin at the slightest provocation. Understood correctly, they can be a fantastic form of entertainment.


Bitcoin has its fair share of critics as well as fanatics. It’s something that polarises opinion. But there are those so rabid in their denunciation of crypto that it tips over into insanity. These are some of the professional Bitcoin Bears you should be able to identify.


Peter Schiff. Gold is good, bitcoin is bad. Peter has made a career out of shilling gold, and now there’s a new kid in town. Naturally, Peter says bitcoin isn’t as good as gold, because it’s not shiny and heavy. Peter knows there’s a ‘massive inflationary recession’ coming, and gold is going to be the go-to safe haven asset when it does. Everyone needs to buy gold. Forget bitcoin, it’s going back to $3,000 and then lower.


Nouriel Roubini. No discussion of Bears could be complete without mention of ‘Dr Doom’. Nouriel has a very visceral hatred of Bitcoin, which is made far worse by the fact that he has been warning people to stay away from it ever since it was in double digits back in 2013. With no fear that he could be on the wrong side of history, Roubini clings to his success in predicting the Global Financial Crisis as proof that he is smarter than you are, and that he is right about Bitcoin too. Watch his tirades against crypto, the veins on his forehead bulging, the foam on his lips, the rage that seeps from every pore of his skin. Make no mistake: this is personal for him.


Donald Trump. The Don hasn’t said much about bitcoin, but he’s not a fan. His one tweet to date on bitcoin says as much: ‘I am not a fan of Bitcoin and other Cryptocurrencies, which are not money, and whose value is highly volatile and based on thin air. Unregulated Crypto Assets can facilitate unlawful behavior, including drug trade and other illegal activity….’ Most of all, though, he hates Libra, which is a little bit Bitcoin-y. It’s not worth bothering to understand the differences, though, because anything that isn’t the US dollar is junk.


Jamie Dimon. JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon has been cross about bitcoin for over five years, rivalling Nouriel for his commitment to hating crypto. ‘It’ll eventually blow up. It’s a fraud, OK?’ he said in 2017. He once threatened to sack any of his traders who got into bitcoin. ‘You can’t have a business where people can invent a currency out of thin air and think the people buying it are really smart. It’s worse than tulip bulbs, OK?’ Presumably he thinks creating currency out of thin air is a job for banks, which is why JP Morgan is the first bank to have tested a crypto coin for settlement.

Paul Krugman. Ah Paul, Distinguished Professor of Economics at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and New York Times columnist. You’re not really a proper bear, not like Nouriel. It’s just that your economic criticism of Bitcoin in your article ‘Bitcoin is evil’ from 2013 made you a poster boy of the anti-coiners. And it’s really not fair that people keep dredging up that old quote of yours. Hey, remember back in 1998 when you said that ‘By 2005 or so, it will become clear that the Internet’s impact on the economy has been no greater than the fax machine’s’? Oops.

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Sunday Inferno round-up

Here it is, folks: our regular Sunday summary of Inferno news, articles and market insights. Here’s what’s been going on this week:

We’ll be back with more tomorrow, so enjoy what remains of your weekend and stay tuned!

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Are permissioned ledgers the future of blockchain for business?

Corporations and governments won’t work with open platforms. Permissioned ledgers are likely to play a key role in the adoption of blockchain technology.


Bitcoin, the original blockchain, is an open network. Anyone can join it, use it, run a full node, or start a mining node. There are no restrictions of who gets to be a part of the network.


That’s great for transparency and trust, but it has its drawbacks. Since anyone can use the network, malicious activities are possible, from DDoS to 51% attacks. And of course, bitcoin can be used for criminal purposes; no one can stop you sending bitcoin to anyone else.


For regular individuals, this is a price worth paying. Having a blockchain and form of money that is free from interference is hugely important. And form of control by companies or governments increases the risk of intervention, and that could mean users not being able to access their funds. So open blockchains are here to stay: they’re just too valuable to expect them to go away, and it’s not possible for regulators to shut them down. Similarly, small businesses are happy with open blockchains, which offer greater transparency and auditability than their current centralised providers.


But corporations and government aren’t happy with that. They need greater reliability and network stability, higher throughput, and predictability for fees and other properties.


Permissioned blockchains can deliver this by keeping the network tight and only allowing approved actors to use it. By running a small number of approved nodes, it’s possibly to avoid most of the uncertainty of open blockchains, ensure greater network stability, and avoid the need for fees. Depending on how the network is structured, you can also prevent bad actors from using it, or kick them off for serious offences.


There are already various permissioned ledger solutions out there, many of them based on existing blockchain technology. We can expect more of these to arise as governments and corporations look for infrastructure partners. 


In most cases, the regular crypto community won’t benefit from these – there won’t be ICOs, and the tokens won’t be designed to increase in value. But there may be other ways in which it’s good for the crypto sector.


Overall, it could be good for crypto just as a way of raising awareness – just like Facebook’s Libra has brought Bitcoin into front and centre for Congress. There may also be open blockchain platforms that launch permissioned functionality. Waves Enterprise, for example, will allow entities to launch permissioned networks of their own, securing them on the main Waves chain and bringing additional demand to the WAVES token that powers the open blockchain.


Then there are initiatives like VPLedger, which is designed from the ground up for businesses use. This includes KYC as a mandatory condition of entry for every user, and a network of a couple of dozen nodes. However, the project still has a commitment to decentralise its governance completely, meaning it could prove a valuable addition to a future decentralised economy and become a host for many interesting projects.

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A little bird landed on my shoulder and told me that February is going to be a really good Month. Bird gossip is generally reliable

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