We are privacy activists who have dedicated our lives to creating the software that Silicon Valley will never build, the regulators will never allow, and the VCs will never invest in. We build the software that Bitcoin deserves.
* * *
Matt Breen: Sell me on Samourai Wallet.
Samourai Wallet: We pride ourselves in our ultra-responsiveness when it comes to the technical and political facets of Bitcoin. Too many wallets play it safe, sitting on the fence when it comes to forks − we take a stance. We’re dedicated to building a secure application for Bitcoin users, and see initiatives like Segwit2x for what they are - threats to the network.
MB: Would you say Bitcoin has lost its cypherpunk appeal?
SW: Fundamentally, I believe it’s still cypherpunk. The value proposition is the same as it always was: censorship resistance. While there may be less of a focus on the traditional principles, that’s probably because Bitcoin is now what it was envisioned as: a working payment system.
Personally, I don’t think it matters much. We’ve got a system which, granted, isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot more secure than most. So long as it does what it was designed to do, and does it well, it will remain desirable to people.
MB: How are we going to get to mass adoption?
SW: Well, anyone in Bitcoin now is still at the beginning. We’re very early adopters. Remember when wallets let you set fees and tweak some of the more technical stuff? Most started to cut these out to make the user experience simpler.
That’s probably the right way, to draw in non-technical users, but not the right way to serve the existing users who require unprecedented control over their value. We think they threw the baby out with the bathwater so to speak. But on the topic of fees, Samourai prefer to leave that up to the user. We aim to give them as much freedom as possible. If you know your transaction doesn’t need to go through right away, you should be able to set a lower fee. Conversely, we have a built-in option where you can boost an existing transaction by topping up the fee to expedite it - the same code we use in our standalone app, Afterburner. It’s about giving the user enough versatility in how they do things, whilst providing them with an interface to facilitate that.
MB: I’m fascinated by how the app mitigates “dusting” attacks. Could you explain those, and why you chose to implement the feature?
SW: Dusting is the idea that you could deposit a minute amount of Bitcoin into a wallet in order to trace its activity (like revealing output addresses for HD wallets). During the Sochi Olympics, I was one of the recipients of dust from the ‘1Sochi’ address. It wasn’t clear exactly why the chosen wallets were dusted, but we wanted to be able to quarantine those funds in case it was a bad actor.
Nowadays, with pricing and fees, it’s probably not economically viable to spam multiple addresses with tiny amounts, but you could see something like a targeted attack on a specific individual taking place. We decided to implement a function where you could register unrecognised transactions like these unspendable not only for dusting, but to give users that extra level of control over certain UTXOs.
MB: What are your thoughts on tumbling and protocols like CoinJoin?
SW: There simply isn’t enough focus on these. It’s easy to conflate privacy with criminality to shoot down projects aiming to anonymise, but the fact is, it makes Bitcoin more fungible, which is one of our goals. Our lead dev TDevD along with nopara73 are actually working on ZeroLink, which aims to completely break the link between sets of coins.
I can’t say too much about this at the moment, but we’re looking at rolling out a trustless tumbling solution in 2018 within Samourai Wallet.
MB: Thoughts on Monero?
SW: It’s a great project, and clearly not just another one of these cloned blockchains with a few tweaks bolted on. I like privacy coins. We even contemplated, in the early stages of Samourai Wallet, the addition of a kind of swap functionality from Bitcoin to Monero and back again, for anonymity purposes, but have shelved it for the moment.
MB: Let’s talk PaymentNym and Ricochet. Could you elaborate on these features?
SW: We’re the first wallet executing BIP47, PaymentNym. We asked “how do you come up with a way to communicate addresses, without compromising anonymity?” and came to this. Basically, what PaymentNym does is creates a new static address, determined from your Bitcoin address. You can pay contacts through PaymentNym without divulging your public key, and thus protecting your privacy. So far, we’ve had over 800 users use the feature, so it’s nice to see that it’s catching on.
Ricochet is the first premium feature we’re incorporating into the wallet. With this we’re looking at solving the problem of coin history. You may know that some services blacklist coins based on wallets they’ve been through prior, which is a major threat to fungibility − a user who’s just received funds can have them frozen, purely because they’ve passed through a flagged address before coming into the user’s possession. Algorithms looking at past transactions generally analyse the blockchain up to five hops back, so with Ricochet, we add another four hops before sending the funds to the final address, obfuscating the trail further.
You can, naturally, see that a transaction has been ricocheted merely by looking at it. But even so, the cost to an opponent would outweigh the benefits of increasing the amount of hops to observe. Any centralised service doing so would simply clog up their system and delay transactions, and for what? For all the effort they need to put in, we just need to add a hop which takes us a few minutes at most. We can keep doing this. They can’t continue strengthening their algorithms to keep up.
MB: Regulation − how does that play out for you down the line?
SW: We steer clear of any fiat to Bitcoin transactions. Some wallets integrate functions to purchase Bitcoin, but we prefer to err on the side of caution, to avoid having to comply with KYC/AML. It’s something we’ve all gotten used to in crypto, like it’s a normal thing.
If ever we have to comply, we’ll actively be urging our users to avoid our service. We want to see Bitcoin as private as can be. We’re dedicated to bettering the ecosystem, and we will work with anyone to get there.
Our software is open-source and users are in control of their own private keys, so we aren’t touching the funds ourselves. In that regard, regulation isn’t something we’re too worried about.
MB: Five years from now, where will we be?
SW: That’s a tough one. It’s really hard to tell. One of the big questions to ask is ‘how does layer 2 work out?’ Either way, I don’t think interacting with the base layer will look very different. Users who care deeply about their financial autonomy will likely choose to keep a substanial amount of their bitcoin net worth on the base layer, while users who have a different set of priorities and goals may use a layer 2 application that services their preferences. For the forseeable future Samourai is a base layer wallet.
We’ll continue to work on layer 1, interacting with the blockchain directly. In time, there’ll be projects built on top of what I see as the bedrock, and won’t have to interact directly. Our team prefer to work on the bedrock, though, and create the tools to innovate on top of the foundation.
MB: A colleague of mine firmly believes this question belongs in every interview: would you rather fight one-hundred duck-sized horses, or one horse-sized duck?
SW: I’m going to have to say no comment. Both of those scenarios are absolutely terrifying
* * *
Featured image from Pixabay
Never miss a thing and suscribe to our newsletter.
Law graduate and crypto journalist.