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Public blockchains are inherently transparent, with peers' ability to independently verify individual transactions crucial to any decentralized network.
While this infrastructure creates publicly accessible and immutable transaction records, it arguably compromises privacy and anonymity. The reason for this is simple; participants can link blockchain transactions and addresses to deanonymize crypto holders within the network partially. This issue has been tackled in part by developing the Monero blockchain, which is uniquely built on the core principles of unlinkability and privacy.
In simple terms, this means that no single node should be able to make a connection between two Monero transactions. At the same time, they'll also be unable to determine the exact source or ultimate destination of XMR funds. So, although the Monero network still leverages a blockchain to track and visualize the movement of funds, it also utilizes advanced cryptography to obscure transaction sources, value amounts, and the precise destination of coins. To this end, the network's native XMR token encrypts its transactions using this type of technology, establishing it as one of the leading 'privacy coins' in the crypto marketplace.
Two central aspects of the functionality set the Monero network apart from its rivals: ' ring signatures' and 'stealth addresses.' The first element describes a digital signature that someone within a specified group creates and can use private keys to authorize Monero transactions.
Given this signature and the group member's unique private keys, anyone can confirm that a verifiable participant provided the necessary authorization. However, nodes cannot determine which member processed the transaction, maintaining user privacy while also ensuring that the request is authentic and completely above board.
While ring signatures hide where funds are coming from, it's important to note that the use of standard public addresses would still highlight the precise destination account in some instances.
The Monero network negates this through the use of stealth addresses, which mask the destination of funds by having the sender generate a unique, one-time address based on a public key used solely for a designated transaction. So, when users send XMR tokens, they do so to a new and one-off address on the underlying blockchain. As a result, no two addresses can be linked together, creating a separation point that optimizes user anonymity.
In this respect, Monero (which is the Esperanto word for 'money) adheres to decentralization's fundamental principles, from optimizing user anonymity and eliminating the threat posed by third-party control. This pure perception of decentralization was proposed by early blockchain enthusiasts long before the launch of Bitcoin in 2009.
While Monero was officially launched in 2014, it's a fork of the Bytecoin blockchain developed two years previously. Bytecoin itself was developed as an open-source protocol to resolve some of Bitcoin's shortcomings, such as the inaccessibility and centralized nature of specialist ASIC mining and the privacy issues mentioned above.
Monero founder Nicolas van Saberhagen (along with seven other developers) quickly became unhappy with the initial distribution of the Bytecoin's privacy token and responded to it by forking it into a new project known as 'Bitmonero.' The name was quickly changed to 'Monero,' laying the foundation for the network that's accessible today.
Its unique nature initially caused Monero to achieve rapid growth in market capitalization volumes through 2016. However, the network and native token's genuinely anonymous nature also increased its uptake in the darknet market.
This highlights the unique challenges facing Monero in the cryptocurrency market, which have helped to underpin volatile price movements over time (from a low of $32.63 on March 16th, 2020, to a high of $275.81 on February 19th this year).
What is Monero's Architecture?
To break the links between individual transactions, the Monero network is based on the so-called 'CryptoNight proof-of-work hash algorithm,' which comes from the same name's underlying protocol.
This protocol also shaped the architecture of the preceding Bytecoin blockchain, and it plays a key role in defining Monero's most unique selling point.
In particular, CryptoNote's ring features fuse the sender's input within a group of other users, driving verified and authenticated transactions that cannot be linked to one another or a particular XMR address.
Monero also implements a variable block limit within its architecture, which allows for far greater flexibility in terms of data management (block sizes) and scalability. This is crucial for a network based on privacy, which requires a higher level of cryptography and data usage around individual transactions.
Although Monero has diverged from the initial CryptoNote protocol on several key operational features (we'll outline these a little later in the piece), its unique architecture remains largely unchanged and integral to its core functionality.
What is a Monero (XMR) Wallet?
If you decide to maintain an XMR balance or exchange this with alternative cryptocurrencies, you'll need to do this securely through a reputable wallet.
This type of entity (such as Atomic Wallet's offering) enables you to manage your crypto assets while sending and receiving XMR tokens directly. It also stores your private keys, representing a particularly sophisticated form of cryptography that allows you to control and manage your funds while simultaneously authorizing transactions.
Public keys are also generated directly from private keys through the use of complicated mathematical algorithms. However, private keys' encrypted nature means that this process can't be reversed, safeguarding your funds and preventing hackers from accessing your funds.
However, different types of the crypto wallet allow you to access your funds and store your private key in alternative ways, so here's a breakdown of your options as a user:
- Online (Web) Wallets: Free and easy access, online, web, or hot wallets are digital platforms aimed at those with minimal crypto holdings. However, such entities tend to store private keys in a centralized, online exchange, potentially putting your sensitive data and funds at risk.
- Mobile or Desktop Wallets: Mobile wallets are also categorized as hot wallets, while they're also incredibly accessible through Windows, iOS, and Android platforms. Arguably, mobile wallets (particularly those on iOS) are more secure than desktop alternatives, as they tend to be less open and offer higher levels of encryption for data.
- Full Node Wallets: Full node networks serve the entire Monero network by validating blocks and individual transactions. They're free and highly secure, while Monero's decision to switch the network to LMDB in January means that it's possible to operate a full node on just 1GB of RAM. However, this can be hard to set-up and maintain, and is completely unnecessary if you simply intend to buy, exchange, and manage XMR tokens.
- Hardware Wallets: Also known as 'cold' wallets, hardware options are essentially dedicated USB devices aimed at storing private keys and crypto assets offline. This negates the threat posed by hackers and cyber-thieves by breaking the link between your assets and even secure broadband connections. However, this option is less accessible and will cost you at least $70, so it's only really ideal for seasoned investors with larger crypto holdings.
Monero Wallet Features
In the Atomic Wallet case, you'll find a completely decentralized and non-custodial wallet, which is largely unique in the crypto market and arguably combines the best of both hot and cold wallets.
It also supports more than 500 different crypto assets, which can be bought, exchanged, and staked within a secure and multifunctional ecosystem.
One of the Monero Atomic Wallet's biggest advantages is that your private keys will be fully encrypted and stored securely on your mobile or desktop device.
This is opposed to storing sensitive private key data on a centralized exchange or online server, which, as we've already touched on, can create a soft target for hackers who want to seize control of your funds and XMR balance.
You can also manage and exchange your XMR tokens on Atomic Wallet without the need for independent verification or registration. Make no mistake; the wallet's basic features and exchange ecosystem are accessible without formal ID verification or the need for 'Know Your Customer (KYC) procedures, so you can operate with anonymity without compromising on the security of your transactions.
While you would need to provide copies of photo ID to verify your identity and buy cryptocurrency through Atomic Wallet, it's not currently possible to purchase XMR tokens directly through the platform.
Similarly, while Atomic Wallet allows you to stake (which is an alternative consensus mechanism and method of verifying secure transactions) certain crypto assets, this currently doesn't extend to Monero's native XMR token. However, this could well change in the future as the option grows to cover a broader range of crypto assets.
What are Monero's transaction fees?
While Atomic Wallet doesn't apply any fees for sending or receiving XMR, you will be required to pay a transaction fee generated within the internal Monero network.
This equates to a miner's network fee, who confirms individual transactions and accepts a nominal payment as a reward. This underpins the core Proof-of-Work concept that defines functional cryptocurrencies, although Monero's network's architecture differs from the vast majority of alternative blockchains.
In Monero, the network fee depends on the size of the transaction in KB, which takes into consideration its complexity and the precise number of inputs and outputs generated rather than the actual transaction amount. This reflects the time and power required to process the transaction, but while historical Monero network fees used to be relatively high, a 2018 upgrade called 'Bulletproofs' reduced these changes by up to 97% on average (we'll have a little more on this below).
In simple terms, this protocol shrinks the cryptographic proof required to encrypt transactions, leading to significantly smaller transaction sizes in the network. This hard fork also facilitated the mining process in general, in line with Monero's core philosophy of decentralization and quest to prevent the monopolization of available mining pools.
Monero's fees are now noticeably low and fixed around the 0.0024 XMR mark for an average modern-day transaction with one input and two outputs.
This may fluctuate slightly depending on various factors, with transaction fees likely to increase during peak activity periods within the network as miners prioritize more complex requests.
How to use a Monero Wallet
To exchange and manage XMR coins through Atomic Wallet, you'll first have to download the installation file on your desktop or mobile device.
You can then run Atomic on your device by clicking 'Create Wallet' and entering a secure password, at which point you will be sent a unique 12-word seed phrase. This can be used to restore access to the wallet as and when required, and you'll need to store this separately in a safe and secure offline location.
You can then visit the Atomic Wallet interface, where you'll see the balance of all available coins and the generated wallet addresses pertaining to different crypto assets.
Through this interface, you can also manage and exchange your XMR tokens, alongside other compatible coins and any customized ERC20 (or Ethereum-based) asset that you choose to add to the wallet (this is a unique feature of Atomic Wallet's set-up).
Atomic Wallet exchanges are facilitated securely by authorized third-parties, namely ChangeNow, Changelly, and ShapeShift. You can also participate in the platform's unique membership scheme based on its native AWC token, which requires you to buy a minimum of 100 AWC tokens before exchanging this with any other asset and receiving variable amounts of cash back.
You can also manage your XMR coins and similar assets through the wallet's 'Settings tab, which simultaneously enables you to change your password and access encrypted private keys.
What are Bulletproofs and Steal Addresses?
We spoke earlier about so-called 'Bulletproofs,' which are a type of zero-knowledge proof that maintains privacy and enables transactions to be verified without data pertaining to the sender, receiver, or total amount.
Implemented in October 2018, Bulletproofs immediately enabled transactions to be processed with considerably less data, even for those that involved multiple outputs (or receivers). By reducing the size and complexity of such Monero transactions, the network's internal fees decreased markedly as a result, without negatively impacting transaction speeds or the approach taken by individual miners.
How does Monero offer better privacy than their rivals?
The unique architecture of Monero and the native XMR 'privacy' coin automatically lends itself to increased anonymity for users by creating untraceable transactions that are simultaneously secure.
This creates a significant point of difference between Monero's network and alternative, public-by-default blockchains by minimizing the possibility of users being identified or scrutinized by third parties. Ring signatures are also central to this, as they allow senders to cryptographically sign transactions with an input that they own along with ten others from within a predetermined group.
As a result, it impossible for nodes to identify which individual address requested a particular transaction, delivering fully on the principle of anonymity in the process.
Can you mine Monero?
While Monero's unique design is automatically resistant to ASIC (application-specific integrated circuit) mining that's synonymous with Bitcoin, it's still possible to mine XMR tokens.
In fact, they can be mined fairly efficiently by using consumer-grade hardware such as GPUs, x86 and x86-64, while you'll only require relatively low levels of RAM to achieve this objective.
However, it's thought that more than 90% of the total XMR supply has already been mined from a total available pool of 17,864,195 coins.
Top 5 things to know about Monero
- The name 'Monero' translates roughly into 'money in the Esperanto language, which fittingly is a decentralized dialect. If we break down the precise interpretation, the syllable 'mon' translates into money, 'er' means 'the smallest part,' and 'o' is a grammatical reference that represents a noun.
- In addition to creating a fungible currency, Monero operates a 'Research Lab' that's fully committed to carrying out continual research into the realm of fiscal privacy and the future role of cryptocurrencies in the financial marketplace.
- To further reduce the centralization of mining within the network, the RandomX Proof-of-Work algorithm has been introduced. This is completely ASIC resistant and represents an algorithm that has been specifically optimized for CPUs.
- The operators behind the May 2017 global ransomware incident 'WannaCry' are thought to have converted their proceeds into XMR tokens. Subsequently, The Shadow Brokers (who leaked the code used in the ransomware attack) began accepting payments in Monero.
- In November 2018, Bail Bloc released a mobile app that mined XMR coins to raise funds for low-income defendants who were unable to afford their own bail. This made headline news and generated some incredibly positive PR for the Monero network!
As a trail-blazing crypto asset, it should come as no surprise that Monero has experienced considerable peaks and troughs since its launch in 2014.
This is borne out by its historical price fluctuations, although it cannot be denied that the asset had embarked on a decidedly upward trend since November 8th, 2020 (when it was priced at $120.40). It subsequently peaked at $275.81 on February 19th, 2021, although it has recently fallen back slightly to the $221.79 mark.
Given the rising demand for privacy in the digital realm and the recent decision of crypto-friendly booking operator Travala to accept XMR as a viable payment option, however, the future outlook for the token appears unrelentingly bright. Forecasts suggest that the asset could reach $460 by the end of 2021, for example, before increasing more than three-fold to $1,397 per token by 2025.
As a result, now may be the ideal time to invest in Monero and bank on an asset that's both scalable and benefitting from increased demand across the globe.