Many people (including dark web users) were under the impression that Bitcoin was anonymous. However, some members of Silk Road found out the hard way that because transactions are publicly recorded for everyone to see, users can be traced through their IP addresses. Monero addresses this issue by creating a privacy coin that masks the sending address, the receiving address, and the amount for every transaction on the network. Monero also uses a different hashing algorithm, CryptoNight, designed to be suitable for an ordinary PC and does not require a GPU or ASIC for mining. This reduces the costs of mining and allows for more users to participate, thereby increasing the decentralization of the network.
Pros: Anonymous transactions; fungible – due to its anonymity all Monero coins are the same, unlike Bitcoin where coins used in illegal transactions may be “marked;” increased decentralization with mining algorithm that can be run on a CPU; dynamic block sizes improve scalability and prevent the network from slowing down during periods of high volume
Cons: Anonymous transactions can be used for nefarious purposes (buying and selling guns, drugs, etc.); dynamic block sizes come with increased security risks as nodes may become expensive to operate and transactions are larger for Monero than other cryptocurrencies due to the extensive amount of encryption to anonymize the transactions; unlike many other cryptocurrencies that are deflationary, Monero is subject to inflation; difficult to use (e.g., there are no hardware wallets for Monero); vulnerable to a 51% attack if a mining pool or anyone else controls over 50% of the mining power
To perform an objective analysis, each cryptocurrency is rated based on the following factors: (1) validation method; (2) leadership; (3) community participation in development; (4) transaction volume and market capitalization; (5) industry participation; (6) security; (7) usability; (8) technical features; (9) growth; (10) legal risks; and (11) estimated time of arrival.
Monero uses the same proof-of-work (POW) system as Bitcoin to validate transactions, but a different mining algorithm in CryptoNight. CryptoNight is considered to be ASIC resistant as the algorithm can run on a CPU instead of a GPU or ASIC. The algorithm is actually better suited for a CPU due to the amount of RAM it requires, and this was designed specifically so that each CPU could perform mining and have voting power in the Monero protocol. By contrast, the mining algorithms employed by Bitcoin, Ethereum, and many others perform better on GPUs and/or ASICs, and only a small group of miners can afford the hardware necessary to validate transactions on these networks. Nonetheless, almost half of the hashing power on the Monero network is controlled by 3 mining pools making it vulnerable to a 51% attack.
Though several of Monero’s developers remain anonymous, we are aware that the platform is led by developers David Latapie and Riccardo “fluffypony” Spagni. In addition to the lead developers, Monero has over 240 contributors working on improving the network. Software updates are added on OpenHub on a regular basis.
Transaction Volume and Market Capitalization
Monero has less than 1% of the transaction volume of Bitcoin (~$32M in transactions per day). Nevertheless, Monero is in the top 15 in market cap (~$2.6B) for cryptocurrencies.
The coin has gained acceptance at a few retailers, including from several musicians such as the Backstreet Boys, Weezer, Mariah Carey, and Lana Del Ray. Additionally, Monero can be purchased through several exchanges, such as Binance, Poloniex, Bittrex, and many others. Still, the platform has not yet received widespread acceptance and is limited in where it may be used.
In terms of security, Monero has many of the same advantages and disadvantages as Bitcoin. One of the main distinguishing features is the ASIC resistant hashing algorithm (CryptoNight) which was designed to combat centralization. However, dynamic block sizes and the extensive amount of information in each transaction may limit the number of miners who can run a full node on the network, so there is a bit of a trade-off there.
Monero is intended to be used in a very similar manner as Bitcoin, but with the assurance of privacy due to anonymized transactions. Although it may appear on its face that Monero was designed specifically with nefarious or illegal transactions in mind for use on the dark web, there are many reasons why someone would want to transact privately. For example, on the Bitcoin network hackers and thieves may identify the wallets with the largest number of coins and target them. Additionally, as the technology progresses further, it may become easier and easier to identify the owners of each wallet and people may not want everyone to know the amount of Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies that they own.
Monero uses advanced encryption techniques to anonymize the sender and receiver of a transaction, while still allowing miners to verify that the sender had enough Monero to send to the receiver and allowing the receiver to spend the received amount of Monero in a later transaction. This is accomplished by generating one-time private and public keys for the receiver and a one-time ring signature for the sender that is a combination of the actual signature and several decoy signatures. For example, when user A sends Monero to user B, the ring signature may consist of user A’s signature and 4 decoy signatures. Additionally, in the Bitcoin protocol and many other decentralized ledgers, each user has a public key and a private key. A user signs transactions using the private key. On the other hand, in the Monero protocol users have two private keys (a private spend key and a private view key) and two public keys (a public spend key and a public view key). When user A sends Monero to user B, user A uses a combination of user B’s public spend key and public view key to generate a one-time public key. User B then employs her private spend key to retrieve the coins. Some additional privacy features are also implemented in the protocol, such as hidden transaction amounts, and hidden internet traffic through the invisible internet project (I2P). Monero does allow users to make transactions transparent to a selected auditor, for example.
Monero’s main competitors are other privacy coins, such as Dash, Zcash, and ByteCoin. Currently, Monero is recognized as the leader in privacy coins due to its popularity amongst dark web users although Dash has a larger market cap. As mentioned above, Monero has an unlimited supply although the block rewards gradually drop until they reach a fixed amount of 0.6 XMR per block starting in 2022. This will lead to about 1% yearly inflation. It is also worth noting that Bitcoin could implement privacy features for example, using a second layer protocol that sits on top of Bitcoin’s blockchain. Due to Bitcoin’s advantage over Monero in networking effects, users concerned with privacy could go back to Bitcoin driving down the demand for Monero. In fact, the Lightning Network by Lightning Labs implements some privacy features although they are not as strong as Monero’s. Participants opening and closing channels on the Lightning Network record transactions on Bitcoin’s blockchain which does not include the added privacy features.
Estimated Time of Arrival
Monero was launched in 2014 and is now fully developed and ready for use.
As the emerging leader in privacy coins, Monero has a bright future particularly if users come to expect a level of privacy in their transactions. On the other hand, Monero has a significant amount of competition from the other privacy coins and its association with the dark web seems to taint the currency. The demand for privacy in cryptocurrency transactions for the average user in the future is unclear, but Monero has positioned itself well in the event that this feature becomes a necessity.