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A Beginner's Guide to Zero-Knowledge Proofs

Imagine you want to prove to a friend that you know the password to an account, but you don't want to reveal the password. With ZKPs, you can do just that.
Alicia Maule
June 6, 2023

In the age of information, privacy is paramount. As we delve deeper into the world of blockchain and cryptography, one concept is emerging as a game-changer in the field of privacy-preserving technology: zero-knowledge proofs (ZKPs). In the nonprofit sector, as donor data is fundamental to how organizations interact with its donor base, ZKP applications could come in handy. 

“Many of us accept that we’ll have to provide a lot of personal or private information as the cost of doing business,” said Caroline Ponzini, co-founder of Zksig, a privacy-focused digital document platform.

“When we provide this information to businesses or other individuals, we don’t have control over how that information is stored or who has access to it. Zero knowledge proofs give us a way to prove personal information without necessarily having to give over, for example, a full copy of our passport or social security card. The ZK proof also provides assurance that the information we do give hasn’t deviated from the original.”

What are Zero-Knowledge Proofs?

Zero-Knowledge Proofs (ZKPs) are a cryptographic method that allows one party (the prover) to prove to another party (the verifier) that they know a value x, without conveying any information apart from the fact that they know the value x. Ponzini encourages people to know that there are two different tykes of ZKPs:

  1. Interactive — the prover provides responses to the verifier’s queries and;
  2. Non-interactive — the verifier can independently verify the proof

The Magic of Zero-Knowledge Proofs:

Imagine you want to prove to a friend that you know the password to an account, but you don't want to reveal the password. With ZKPs, you can do just that. The magic of ZKPs lies in the balance it strikes between transparency and privacy.

How Do Zero-Knowledge Proofs Work?

Without delving into complex mathematics, the underlying principle of ZKPs can be understood in three main properties:

Completeness: If the statement is true, an honest prover can convince an honest verifier of this fact.

Soundness: If the statement is false, a dishonest prover cannot convince an honest verifier that it is true.

Zero-Knowledge: If the statement is true, the verifier learns nothing other than the fact that the statement is true.

Applications of Zero-Knowledge Proofs:

ZKPs have wide-ranging applications, particularly in the blockchain and cryptocurrency world. Zcash, a privacy-focused cryptocurrency, employs ZKPs (specifically a type known as zk-SNARKs) to ensure that transactions are valid despite the details of the transaction being encrypted.

How nonprofits take advantage of this Zero-Knowledge Proofs:

Nonprofits can use ZKP applications to offer donors anonymity when executing a donation, especially if they are using cryptocurrency. “It remains to be seen whether blockchain network enhancements with layer two zk rollups or privacy become the main ZKP use case, but either way, the philanthropic community engaging in crypto donations and transactions will benefit, either from increased network speed, enhanced privacy, or both,” Ponzini added. Givepact will be on the look out to incorporate ZKP technology into the company's payment system and for products that can help nonprofit with customer management systems.

The Future of Zero-Knowledge Proofs:

The potential of ZKPs goes beyond cryptocurrencies. They could play a role in enhancing privacy in identity systems, voting mechanisms, and secure communications. As we move toward a future where data privacy is increasingly valued, ZKPs offer a path where trust can be ensured without sacrificing privacy.

Zero-knowlegde proofs represent a fascinating branch of cryptography with profound implications for digital privacy. Though the mathematics behind it may seem complex, the basic principle is powerful: proving knowledge without giving away any information. As we continue our journey into the world of Web 3.0, ZKPs will undoubtedly play a crucial role in shaping a privacy-preserving digital world.