“The Privacy Layer for the New Internet” — Interview with Nym Chief Scientist Claudia Diaz

"The Privacy Layer for the New Internet" — Interview with Nym Chief Scientist Claudia Diaz

We recently had the opportunity to talk to Claudia Diaz, who works as the Chief Scientist at Nym, a project that’s creating next-generation privacy infrastructure for the internet. Dr. Diaz is also an Associate Professor at the COSIC research group of the Department of Electrical Engineering (ESAT) at the KU Leuven, where she leads the Privacy Technologies Team: metadata protection to prevent surveillance, traffic analysis, tracking, localization and profiling.

Before we get to the interview, we would like to thank Dr. Diaz for taking the time to answer our questions about Nym.

1. What is your elevator pitch for Nym? In other words, how would you describe the benefits of Nym to the average internet user?

Nym is the privacy layer for the new internet. We’re building tools to provide privacy by default to everyone who uses digital communications, whether they are human rights activists, members of civil society, or everyday web users.

Nym achieves this through our mixnet and through advanced cryptography techniques, and we’re building simple and frictionless integrations to ensure privacy is available to everyone, regardless of their technical abilities or knowledge. We want to see an internet that is free from surveillance and coercion, whether by nation states or corporations.

2. From your perspective, is the main innovation of Nym the economic incentives for users to maintain the network, or the privacy technology itself?

Nym’s function is to protect internet users. Our utility token, NYM, is a tool to help us achieve this by ensuring the sustainability and scalability of the network.

3. Is the Nym network sufficiently scalable to meet widespread demand? How many users is Nym able to support?

Nym can scale to meet demand because it enables a market for private bandwidth: increased demand funds the additional mix nodes required to provide the extra bandwidth, which is achieved by selecting more mix nodes to participate in routing packets. This is in contrast to volunteer-operated services, where an increase in demand does not necessarily translate to an increase in network resources and capacity to serve that demand.

4. Is running a Nym node accessible to average users or does it require a significant amount of capital or technical knowledge?

Running a mix node currently requires some technical knowledge, but the barriers to entry are low and we are working hard to make it even more accessible. Our Shipyard grants programme is actively funding people who want to run mix nodes or build PEApps – we strongly encourage any interested parties to apply, and funding is delivered quickly.

5. How can users that are interested in Nym get involved in the network?

There are several key ways that you can get involved right now. We’re particularly looking for people to run Gateways and Network Requester pairs so that we can support more apps through NymConnect, our one-click interface for privacy enhancing apps. It’s currently available for Electrum and Keybase, and Telegram is next on the list. Again, check out Shipyard for funding opportunities.

6. In a hypothetical scenario where a malicious party would control the majority of the nodes in the network, would users’ privacy be compromised?

In such a scenario the privacy properties would be diminished. Such a malicious party would be able to learn which gateways have users that connect to which services, and when those connections are taking place. Note however that client IP addresses would still be protected because mix nodes do not interact directly with clients, who only connect to the mixnet via a gateway of their choice. In addition, all information contents are still protected by end-to-end encryption.

Nym’s staking is designed to make it very difficult for a malicious party to control a large number of mix nodes active in the mixnet. Mixnet nodes are selected to be part of the mixnet proportionally to their stake, and thus a malicious party who wants to populate the mixnet needs to either buy large amounts of nym stake (which is expensive), or persuade a substantial amount of delegates to support a large number of malicious nodes (which is difficult as many legitimate nodes are also competing for that delegated stake).

7. According to the materials on the Nym website, Nym can provide network-level privacy for blockchains, for example Bitcoin. Could you quickly elaborate on how that could be achieved in practice?

Routing blockchain transactions through the Nym mixnet protects their metadata, such that it is not possible to connect the IP address of a user to the user’s blockchain transactions. If this communication metadata is unprotected and available to network adversaries, it can be exploited to identify users and link them to their transactions.

8. What is your top priority at the moment as the Chief Scientist of the Nym project?

My current top research priority is to work out the details of the mechanism we are designing for fully decentralising mix node performance measurements.

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