What is Kovri? Monero's Latest Privacy Enhancing Feature
Monero has always been one of the most privacy conscious cryptocurrencies on the market. Now, it is likely to get that much more secure with the alpha release of the Kovri router implementation.
The project, which has been in the works since November in 2015, aims to further improve the privacy of the network by hiding the IP addresses of those who wish to interact with the Monero blockchain.
The Monero community has been extremely excited about the release of Kovri. Not only does it eliminate the potential for IP address identification on the Monero network, but it could also have many more implications for hiding IP addresses in more general communications.
We will take a short look at the Kovri protocol, its tumultuous history and its greater promise for online anonymity.
What is Kovri?
Kovri is a free and decentralised anonymity technology. It is based on the specifications as laid out by I2P but has been developed in C++ as opposed to Java. This means that it is better able to interact with cryptocurrencies such as Monero.
Kovri encrypts internet traffic using Garlic encryption and the Garlic router. For those who may not have heard of Garlic routing, it is a more secure version of Onion routing where multiple messages are encrypted together to make it harder to conduct traffic analysis. This allows Kovri to create a completely secure and private overlay network on the internet.
Currently, there are 48 contributors to the Kovri project and the lead developer is a developer called Anonminal. It is being developed under the umbrella of the Monero Project. In his OpenHours episode, Anonimal described the benefits of Kovri to the Monero network.
Essentially, we will be able to anonymised monero transactions even more than what monero is capable of doing right now, technically speaking, at the network layer
Kovri is actually a fork of another project called i2pd. This was as a result of a contentious split among developers in i2pd that almost led to the death of the project. Then came Anonimal who attempted to keep the C++ project alive.
He sent out an open invitation to all developers who wanted to join him in moving the project forward. This caused the first author of i2pd to react in an erratic manner and develop code outside of the community branch. This was seen as an indication that they needed to move forward with a different initiative and this was what got the Kovri protect started.
The Kovri project was funded through a crowdfunding effort promoted through the Monero website. It managed to raise just over 7,200 XMR for the project with about XMR 2,296 left for the development.
Members in the community were quite happy to fund this project given the benefits to the privacy, security and value of Monero.
Benefits for Monero
Monero is already one of the most advanced privacy cryptocurrencies. Through their use of stealth addresses, Ring CT transactions and ring signatures, one is able to hide all information about a transaction. This will hide the personal data including the two transacting addresses as well as the amount.
However, there was always the question of the IP addresses of those who interact with the Monero network. When you initiate a transaction on the Monero blockchain, you are exposing your IP address. Although this is not stored on the blockchain, it does leave you open to Meta data analysis.
For example, malicious actors could monitor the Monero network and try to identify your IP address. Admittedly, this is quite hard to do and will require the actor to constantly operate a node scanning the network to identify the initiating node.
However, if the attacker is determined and has extensive resources, it remains an attack vector. According the Monero lead developer, Riccardo Spagni
it’s a hard attack to pull off, it has happened with bitcoin before, and maybe it could even be happening with monero, we wouldn’t know…
Of course, it is possible to use other anonymising technology such as VPNs or the TOR network. However, the problem with VPNs is the risk that your provider will keep logs of your activity. With the TOR network, there has been an increasing concern about the risk of malicious exit nodes.
With Kovri on the other hand, your transaction will be routed through the Kovri anonymous network. This will hide the originating IP address. The end goal is to eventually have all of Monero's transactions being routed through the Kovri network.
Broader Use Cases
In order for Kovri to be highly effective as means of hiding monero users, it has to be used by other applications and blockchains as well. This is because if Monero users are the only ones who run Kovri Daemons then others will merely associate a Kovri user to a Monero user.
This is clearly an undesirable outcome and one of the reasons that those working on the Kovri project want to make it available for other applications.
The developers built Kovri to be an agnostic system that can be used by a number of other use cases. It can be used for those who would like an alternative to TOR and other privacy enhancing protocols. Kovri is fully compatible with the I2P network and as such can be used for secure communications.
This is something that the Monero community has acknowledged in online forums. They have been suggesting a broader push by the community to get other teams to build in support for Kovri. According to user xmr_karnal on reddit:
To further our goals of decentralization and privacy, I propose that we identify and approach software teams who we would assume to be reasonably interested in adding support for i2p for their users
At this moment there are no other applications or blockchains that have claimed an interest in using Kovri but this may change once it has proven itself on the Monero blockchain.
Where to From Here?
This is only the initial alpha release of Kovri and there will no doubt be a great deal of testing that still needs to be done. The team still has a bit of 2,000 XMR to devote to the project. Anonimal is well respected by the leading figures in Monero so additional funds could always be raised should the project demand it.
Moreover, there are a number of people within the Monero ecosystem who are driven by ideology and not monetary incentives. They are committed to making Monero as secure and private as possible. They could be a great asset when Kovri progresses along its path to full integration.
The hope is that one day, Kovri will be used by default on the Monero blockchain hiding all node IP addresses. This would ideally be highly obfuscated by a flurry of other activity from other blockchains that have adopted Kovri for the same reasons as Monero.
Disclaimer: These are the writer’s opinions and should not be considered investment advice. Readers should do their own research.