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The Royal Canadian Mint just announced a new alternative to BitCoin (mintchipchallenge.com)
358 points by jonny_eh 1708 days ago | hide | past | web | 169 comments | favorite



This is a big step backwards from the security of Bitcoin. All someone has to do is break open the hardware and extract its key (or take its key with a side-channel attack) and they can double-spend money. That's problem one. Bitcoin's entire byzantine protocol exists entirely to solve the double-spend problem, and it works, while this doesn't.

Every MintChip has an ID, and every transaction is logged on both the sending and receiving device with the ID of the other device. This means that if someone takes your chip, they get a complete record of every transaction you've ever made. In other words, it's not anonymous at all. That's problem two. Bitcoin solves this by encouraging users to generate a new address/private key for every incoming transaction, so that matching up addresses to people is hard.

It's tied to single physical devices which can be lost or damaged. This makes them unsuitable for storing savings. Bitcoin wallets, on the other hand, can be backed up securely.

Both MintChip and Bitcoin can be stolen if the attached device is compromised. Bitcoin is designed in a way that makes it possible to fix that, and developers are working on a fix: multi-signature transactions (so you have several computers, or a computer and a phone, and all of them must agree to any outgoing transaction). MintChip, however, cannot solve this problem in any way except with chargebacks, and the documentation given so far indicates that they aren't supporting that.


It's interesting- I wonder what the acceptable level of compromise is for the MintChip. As programmers our instinctive response is "none at all", but MintChip is a replacement for cash, and cash gets compromised all the time.

So, in theory, the Mint might be OK with trading off security for convenience/affordability, as long as that level is below what they currently experience with cash. It's difficult to know.


It's interesting- I wonder what the acceptable level of compromise is for the MintChip. As programmers our instinctive response is "none at all", but MintChip is a replacement for cash, and cash gets compromised all the time.

That would be fine, except the compromises in MintChip give up what is essential to cash. It's more like a replacement for debit cards for small purchases.


Some European countries tried out different systems in the past, for example the "Quick" system in Austria over a decade ago. As far as I know all of them failed.

Quick was a small chip on a smart card that allowed you to store a monetary amount and to pay with this chip at certain terminals. This worked essentially like real money: You had to regularly top-up your chip and if you lost it your money was gone.

This is all nice from theoretical aspects, but in practice it didn't provide any advantages to users. Why use your "Quick" card, when you can use your plain old debit card instead? With the debit card you earn interest, get a new card if you lose it, don't have to regularly top it up.

The same is true for this Canadian Mint thing: (As a regular user) why should I be interested? I can use my credit card to pay online and offline. I can use my online banking account to transfer money to friends. Where's the advantage?


One thing that you might not know is that in Canada, we don't have "debit cards" per se, but INTERAC cards, which can't be used for online purchases. This means that you must use a credit card for online purchases, which makes online transactions prohibitive for people who don't want or otherwise can't have credit card (i.e. kids).


I think the reason the Mint is launching this contest is to see what the community can come up with. Hopefully having a development community first will lead to enough useful applications that answer the question of advantages.


Here in NL we have "Chipknip" which is exactly the same as you describe.

The advantage this system has over debit is that the terminal does not need to have a network connection. So individuals can make small purchases at coffee machines, parking meters, etc. You do need to "top up" your card at an ATM-like station (Pin # required), but you don't have to enter your pin when you make a transaction.

If you loose your card, or your card breaks, you're screwed, which is why I don't like the system very much.


> The advantage this system has over debit is that the terminal does not need to have a network connection.

In a couple of years even your underwear is going to be online, so this is really a non-feature.


There was Mondex here in the UK - which I was only really aware of because we shared an office with a company that did a Mondex implementation for a Philips device. It never caught on.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondex

I agree about your point about debit cards - I use a debit card for all day to day purchases (lunch, taxis, bars, cinema). Pretty much the only cash transaction I make is when I get my hair cut.


The largest problem with Bitcoin has always been how insecure peoples computers are. WoW accounts where only worth a few dollars and yet account hacking was incredibly common unless you used a physical authenticator tied to your account. Thus, to securely use Bitcoin you really need a third party either a 'bank' or a vary secure device.

PS: Banking websites have their own issues. But because they tend to use multitiple forms of authentication the are significantly harder to break into on the client side.


This problem is not insolvable. As you pointed out, a secure device can be built to securely transact. Or use a "bank" (but I don't like it because any centralization is against the design principle of Bitcoin).

For example, Bitcoins could be stored on a smartcard having a flexible e-paper display, flexible built-in keypad, and flexible LiPo battery [1]. Withdrawing coins from the card could require a user typing in an amount and a pin code, and then using a smartphone to scan a QR code shown on the e-paper display (or sliding the card in the merchant's payment terminal, which would scan the QR code). The QR code would represent a signed Bitcoin transaction to a pre-programmed address whose private key sits on some online server, which is only used as an intermediary step before forwarding the coins to the final merchant. The smartcard would effectively never connect to an online device during its entire life, making it un-hackable without having physical access to it. Smartcards could also be manufactured in pairs, or triplets, etc, to have clones of them in order to have redundant backups of the Bitcoins in case of a loss of one of the cards. If you know about the Bitcoin blockchain, you might ask how the smartcard can sign transactions without access to the current blockchain. Well it is mathematically possible, because a transaction just consists of ECC-signing a few bytes representing the destination addresses.

Don't discard a technology because you are unable to comprehend it enough to think of solutions to address some of its flaws. (I do agree that addressing the security of Bitcoin wallets is of utmost importance.)

[1] The technology for this already exists. I own one of those: http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/8752-1/IMG_1466.JPG


That's not really true. You can store Bitcoin keys on paper with QR codes (or even just in your brain), and sign transactions on devices that have never touched the internet and never will. It's just the infrastructure that hasn't been built yet, but there is a lot of development going on to enable the average user to utilize these possibilities. That's not even mentioning multi-signature transaction support.


Carrying around your life savings in your wallet or memory doesn't really make it more secure, it just increases your odds of suffering bodily harm.


I don't mean to suggest that Bitcoin can't adapt. Just that most of the advantages it has over physical / digital cash or credit disappears once you add such things. Once you have a bank or physical device governments will get into the game and start regulating with the express goal of eliminating anonymity for large transactions.


"... most of the advantages it has over physical / digital cash or credit disappears once you add such things. Once you have a ... physical device governments will get into the game and start regulating"

Not sure what you mean. By 'device' I didn't mean some special hardware developed by some special company, where the government can then regulate that industry. I just meant any computer. I'm saying that signing a transaction can be done offline on devices that are never connected to the Internet, such as an old laptop, or yes even a special device. There's no fundamental requirement to have the keys on your virus-ridden home PC at any time. This doesn't remove any of Bitcoin's advantages from what I can see.

And multi-signature transactions will allow for multi-factor authentication at a protocol level.


That's significantly worse from a user perspective than giving Amazon a credit card number to enable one click checkout or downloading a book from my kindle. It's true you could do anonymous transactions online, but while it's better than mailing people cash it's something of an edge case and I could also buy a Visa gift card and get the same sort of anonymity. Again, I like Bitcoin, but the problem IMO is how to make it both as convenient as a credit card and secure.

PS: Your also describing an adhock solution. As soon as you want to mass produce them to allow significant and convenient adoption you get into regulation issues. And by 'device' I am including just the software to manage your account from a cheap netbook.


>Thus, to securely use Bitcoin you really need a third party either a 'bank' or a vary secure device.

Things like the BitcoinArmory client [1] + upcoming multi-sig transactions should make it secure enough relative to traditional currencies. Use a a *nix instead of Windows (much easier for the mainstream these days with OS X/iOS/Android) + secure wallet.dat backup like SpiderOak or Tarsnap and you're in good shape security-wise.

1. http://bitcoinarmory.com/


> Use a a *nix instead of Windows (much easier for the mainstream these days with OS X/iOS/Android)

And ubuntu...


I almost mentioned it, Ubuntu has been my primary OS since 2007 and I continually re-evaluate options - Fedora, Cent, SUSE, Mint, and Arch mainly - but Ubuntu always comes out on top. I just have no experience converting people over to Ubuntu from Windows, so not personally sure how well that works.


Services like StrongCoin https://strongcoin.com secure bitcoins by doing the signing in the browser. No private ket stored to your hard disk or their site.


The big problem with banking is how insecure people's computers.

To secure your 'real' bank account, you need your computer that you do your online banking to be secure, your need the computer in the card reader at the store to be secure, you need the computer in the POS to be secure, you need the stores back office system to be secure, you need the computers at the credit card processing company to be secure (yes you VISA) and you need your bank to be secure.

To secure bitcoin all you need is your bitcoin wallet to be on a USB key in your pocket.


Your overstating the need to secure a credit card. I could post photo's of my credit card here or hand it to a waitress, and at worst I would have to make one phone call. Yet, I can make a 5,000$ purchase without fear. Because, unlike Bitcoin I can dispute transactions after the fact yet people still accept credit cards.

Now, plug in that bit-coin wallet into a unsecured computer and within 5 seconds your account could be drained and there is no way for you to ever recover your money. Your PC and wallet might be secure, but you have literally no way of knowing that. Worse yet as soon as large numbers of people start having a few thousand $ worth of bitcoins zero day attacks are going to take on a hole new meaning.

PS: I don't do online banking or use a debit card, the entire system is horribly and fundamentally insecure. But, I only need to pay off my CC every month and suddenly I have near total safety. Or, I can walk up to any ATM and suddenly have total anonymity at the cost of some risk.


But you still end up paying for the possibility of those disputes in terms of higher prices. If you make a dispute because somebody stole your card and bought stuff, the damage isn't simply undone by a chargeback. The merchant loses out. Chargebacks from identity theft, as you describe, are a massive source of risk to merchants, and they have to factor that into the price of their items. What's more, the credit card companies impose large fees on merchants who get too many disputes against them (even if they aren't engaging in fraud themselves, but instead they are the ones getting defrauded through the process you described).


What your describing are reasons for merchants to adopt Bitcoins not consumers. Because, merchants charge people paying with cash the same price as those paying with credit cards and distribute the costs between them. So, as a system you might have a point, but as with a classic prisoner's dilemma there is zero advantage to me for giving up that protection. And, if I have a rewards credit card I can extract money from those who pay with cash or theoretically Bitcoins.

PS: I still think Bitcoins are an interesting idea. I am just describing why their adoption has been so slow. There is simply no compelling reason for significant legal transactions to use Bitcoins, which covers for their inherent risks.


One reason for consumers is built-in deflation. Money has to be scarce; 21million is a ridiculously low number, and bitcoins are very scarce.


This comes up pretty often, but it's worth noting that it's built-in scarcity. Deflation in the sense of increasing purchasing power will only happen if it is more widely adopted as a medium of exchange (which is definitely possible.) It its use as a medium of exchange diminishes, it could actually see inflation in the sense of decreasing purchasing power.


Unlike cash and gold, Bitcoin can be divided down to 8 decimals. So it doesn't really matter how many millions of bitcoins there are. The important thing is that bitcoin can't be printed by central banks.


For most people this is a negative.


"most people"

This is a baseless statement.

I, for one, don't want my bank controlling my money supply or telling me how I can and can't spend it.


Children don't like their parents forcing them to eat vegetables but that doesn't mean it isn't good for them. You may not like the bank controlling the money supply but that doesn't mean you haven't benefited from it.

And my claim is hardly "baseless". You can reject the orthodox views but please don't claim to be in the majority -- whether we use the polite term "heterodox" or the less polite "crank" the fringe nature of such views is apparent.


You can dispute transactions because of your legal agreement with the credit card company - not because of any technical reason. For example your bank also insures itself against having untraceable cash stolen by robbers.

You could have a bank account where the bank claims no liability if your debit account was emptied by a hacked chip+pin reader - they just wouldn't have many customers!

Similarly a bank could decide to offer a bitcoin account where it will offer you the option of a chargeback. It will simply charge a commission on the transaction to cover itself.


Not true!

Merchants would have never come up with that on their own. It was forced on them with credit cards by consumer protection laws. Debit cards don't have that legal requirement, but consumers have come to expect it.


The point is it's a legal invention - introduced by the banks so that people would actually trust credit cards - it's not a necessary feature of a traceable transaction.


It's a feature of having a 3rd party as part of the transaction. A random merchant trusts Visa to ban people who abuse the system. And merchants are threatened by with being banned if they don't keep quiet about the occasional charge back. However with a pure digital currency there is no independent party, so all transactions are either provisional or finalized with the merchants and customers having total power at different parts of the process.

PS: I am not going to sue if some random website fails to ship a 200$ graphics card. So reputation becomes even more important, but only because fraud will also become far easier.


P2P currency doesn't preclude 3rd party (escrow) transactions. In fact, it will likely be a popular option for large transactions and it will cost less than CC/debit card security overhead.


the genius of the credit card system is that not all of its features rely on what programmers would think of as technical mechanisms. legal and contractual constructs can be highly effective.


Could a national currency integrate into the block-chain if they wanted to? For example, Canada could issue 'authorized' bitcoins, meaning the coin had to originate from an official source. And if the coin originated from an 'authorized' source, the value could be pegged at a certain price -- backed by the gov't? This way the currency could adopt the flexibility and convenience of bitcoin -- while retaining the ability to issue new currency.

Edit -- to clarify, a mint could purchase one coin, and peg the value of .00000001 of that coin to $1. Only transactions originating from this official coin would be treated as official currency.


Bitcoins don't have IDs - it's only amounts being transferred between addresses. If I have 5BTC in my wallet, I have no way to differentiate between let's say the 0.01 "canadian" and the 4.99 ordinary BTC. i could not specify which ones to send in a transaction.

That said, if MintCoin gains momentum I'm sure there will be plenty of MC-BTC exchanges popping up.


That is wrong. Maybe the current client implementation cannot do this, but the open block chain allows one to exactly see where a coin originated (i.e. whether is is Canadian or not). Alternative implementations could then be told to specifically spend the Canadian or regular coins.


I don't think it makes sense to use block chain technology for backed currencies; if you're going to have a central mint anyway you might as well use a Chaum-style system like Lucre or Open-Transactions.


Why would it? The capacity to manipulate the national currency is a major source of government power. Plugging into bitcoin would only dilute that power.


You seem to have significant insight on the topic of digital currency. I would love to learn more from you if you can spare some time. Please leave me your contact or email me only if you want to.


In the spirit of "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof", has anyone verified this?

Problems:

1) No mention on the Royal Mint website that I can see. News releases seem to normally be on http://www.mint.ca/store/mint/about-the-mint/news-releases-7...

2) Whois should probably point to Royal Mint, not this person's house, and not to a hotmail address.

Administrative Contact: Zaykova, Vessela vessyz@hotmail.com

Address: 131 Camelia Ave, Ottawa, Ontario, K1K 2X5 This is a suburb. Streetview: http://bit.ly/HMFiMB

3) Domain is registered through GoDaddy, which IMHO is a bad sign... like having a hotmail address ;)

4) Site T&C say the site is operated by ChallengePost.

ChallengePost has been listed on techcrunch: http://www.crunchbase.com/company/challengepost

ChallengePost.com has their domain registered through GoDaddy though, so perhaps I'm wrong about that signal :)

5) No mention on the ChallengePost blog at http://blog.challengepost.com/

6) Vessela Zaykova does apparently work for the Royal mint though, according to http://ca.linkedin.com/in/vessela

So - very interesting news, an inadvertent early leak, or very elaborate hoax?

Oskar


I am CEO of ChallengePost and this challenge is real: http://mintchipchallenge.com http://challengepost.com/discover

Note how excited we are that the winners receive gold bars. -Brandon


Why is there no public announcement of this? Why does the actual Canadian Mint website have no links or mentions of this project? Why are there goats and wheat on your webpage? What is this for, some digitally enabled 19th century version of Canada? What kind of goofy hoax is this?


Back in the day, people used goats for currency. Then it became wheat, then coins, then... you get the picture.

The Mint will be issuing a press release momentarily.



Why is there no public announcement of this? Why does the actual Canadian Mint website have no links or mentions of this project?

Government bodies move slow as all hell. Even when a specific department of the Mint authorises something, it'll have to pass through about six other departments before a blog post is signed off.

(the goats thing is a timeline of currency, seems relatively self-explanatory to me)


I am just as skeptical as you and am waiting for an official press release. This was posted on the 15th of March and claims there will be an official announcement on the 17th of April.

http://www.techvibes.com/blog/royal-canadian-mint-developing...


FWIW, we emailed an @mint.ca address asking if it is legitimate, and they confirmed.


Late April Fools' joke? Government projects never finish on time.


http://www.techvibes.com/blog/royal-canadian-mint-developing...

"...will be formally unveiled on April 17 by Chief Financial Officer Marc Brulé in a keynote at The Canadian Institute's Forum on Canadian Payment Innovations.

The digital payments space has been booming recently. Canadian-born companies like PayFirma and NetSecure are already active in the mobile payments industry, not to mention American counterparts such as Square, as well as some failed ideas such as the Bitcoin."

Doesn't necessarily mean it is real but it does seem to be.


Failed ideas?


I guess 1 BTC to ~$4.5 CAD [1] is considered a failure to some. Based on the average volume of 10K BTC a week, that's $45,000 CAD exchanging hands a week. Not mind blowing, but certainly not a failure, I would say.

[1] Average price from https://www.cavirtex.com/home


10K a week? Not by a long shot. Check out http://bitcoincharts.com/charts/mtgoxUSD#rg60zm1g10zm2g25zxz... - Average looks more like 50K/day, and that's just one exchange (the biggest one). If you look at the chart over the longer term, you can see the volumes steadily rising.


I did the same, prior to reading the comments. These struck me as odd as well. I've submitted a request for information on mint.ca


Any chance this was done by some "intrapreneurs" from the Mint going outside the normal channels to test the waters?

It could also be a ploy by Square or Payfirma for recruiting employees among the contest applicants.


mintchip.ca is registered by the Royal Canadian Mint Corp.


The MintChip is not even comparable to Bitcoin: it's not decentralized; it's not resistant to a Byzantine Generals-type attack; the supply of coin is not fixed; security is implemented via "tamper-proof" (ha-ha) hardware... the whole scheme looks rather hackable. IMO it's not a real alternative to Bitcoin.

This strikes me as an attempt by the Royal Canadian Mint to disintermediate credit card companies by offering a new, low-cost, "irrevocable," centrally-controlled payment system.


True all that, but on the other hand Royal Mint - being a government agency - can't possibly be the source of a anonymous decentralized money initiative, can it? It'd be rather foolish to expect them to be. Nonetheless, this is a surprisingly innovative development to come from something as conservative as a money governance body.


Paper cash is anonymous and decentralized...


The creation of cash is hardly decentralized.


Cash is decentralized in that there are no necessary 3rd parties to a transaction.


> This strikes me as an attempt by the Royal Canadian Mint to disintermediate credit card companies by offering a new, low-cost, "irrevocable," centrally-controlled payment system.

This seems to be exactly what they're doing. From the Developer Guide, Background page: "The emerging digital economy must be able to accommodate small-value transactions, such as micro transactions (under $10) and nano-transactions (under $1). The Mint hopes that software developers and entrepreneurs will use MintChip to ignite trade and commerce for these very-low-value markets."

The title of this post equates MintChip to BitCoin, but the two appear to have significantly different goals. MintChip may end up being the digital equivalent of pocket change.


Smartcard wallets for small transactions have been tried ages ago and failed, like this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proton_(bank_card)

Having used this myself, the problems were numerous. First of all, it's effectively a new currency, so you have to explicitly convert your cash money into this form. This sucks. But because it's meant for small purchases, you'll only ever have pocket change on there, which means your balance runs out all the time. The card doesn't display its value, so you risk looking like an idiot and pissing off every customer behind you when they see you tried to pay the 'fancy way' and failed.

Of course, today things are different, and the web is hugely important, and most of us carry smartphones. But do you really want your ability to use money to be tied to your phone's flakey battery?


Yeah, I agree with this statement. The title comparing MintChip to BitCoin is probably somewhat misleading. MintChip won't provide the decentralized currency system that BitCoin does, but as an alternative to credit cards, it does seem very appealing!


I agree with the flaws. I find it interesting that they stress that the phone-connected hardware is for lower-value transactions and higher-value transactions would get the larger "hardware security module".

I think the real goal is that it offers offline digital user-to-user transactions.


The site doesn't mention Bitcoin -- that was editorializing by the submitter.


Except just days ago the Mint's CFO publicly criticizing BitCoin. Maybe a coincidence, maybe a declaration of war?! http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/02/us-traders-bitcoin...


That looked to be a Reuters article written out of London talking about Bitcoin traders, and only at the very end (after a long line-up of opinions from various traders) was the Mint's CFO asked his opinion. It seemed like a fairly objective criticism; hardly a declaration of war. If I asked Square's CEO what he thought of Bitcoin and the answer wasn't neutral or positive, would you conclude Square was declaring war on Bitcoin too?


Apologies, sarcasm on my part was intended.


Anything that takes away some of the ridiculous powers that credit card providers have is a plus (as long as it's not mandatory), though your right, this isn't even in the same ballpark as BitCoin.


Edit: The headline is really misleading (and subsequent comparison to bitcoin). A much better analogy is that this is paypal with hardware tokens capable of completing transfers offline. You are transferring canadian dollars.

From a 2-minute introduction this looks like it's based on trusted computing in offline situations, since you don't need cloud acceptance of a transacation ala bitcoin.

If that's the case, there's nothing making this unhackable.

I wonder what's the timeframe before we see a illicit "client" that creates value transactions without deducting from the user's balance. There will certainly be a huge effort to create such a thing.

update as I read more: It's optionally an SD card or a USB stick. clever way to interface to most every existing phone/laptop!


"Trusted" hardware for a monetary system in 2012 ? (Did the Yes Men create this site for April Fools?)

With the backing of a bank, it's possible to be anonymous, offline, and prevent double spends with standard user-trustable computation - really, I kid you not.

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/summary?doi=10.1.1.46.4...


You wouldn't happen to have a short summary handy, would you? That's more math notation than I have time for at the moment.


It's been a while, but IIRC:

It relies on having a third party that's trusted to be a reliable provider for value and knowing customers identities to punish double spenders (a Bank). (You can give up this requirement if you want to give up one of the other qualities I mentioned above, but those are different papers ;)

1. An account holder looking to spend creates a coin through a mutual process with the bank, which debits their account. The bank is unaware of the identity of the coin, but knows that it conforms to certain properties.

2. The coin is comprised of multiple parts P_1 - P_n, each of which has two pieces, P_i_1 and P_i_2. The account identity is encoded in the coin such that it is recoverable if and only if one has both P_i_1 and P_i_2 for any i.

3. To spend, for all i, a merchant requests either P_i_1 or P_i_2. (most likely based on the merchant's identity).

4. The merchant eventually turns these coin parts over to the bank, which credits their account. If the bank sees multiple spends of the same coin, only then can it put two corresponding pieces together and deduce the account holder's identity.

There are of course many details that force the parties to behave honestly at every step. The paper is somewhat old and I have no idea of further work (I'm not especially interested in protocols that require a bank or user identities). Main point being that if you do have a bank, designing protocols becomes much easier (Simple blind-signature tokens, for instance. These are anonymous but require online transactions).


Sounds like it can only catch some % of double-spends, which might be good enough (assuming the coins are small enough, odds of missing anything important are tiny).

Now I'm interested in how step 1 is accomplished, but that's probably too involved for a comment - I have the paper, I'll see if I can figure it out.

Thanks! That was very helpful. A quick skim of the paper backs up what I could find, so it looks like you remembered well enough :)


I believe the paper specifies the challenge from the merchant as possibly random or based on the merchant's identity. Random most likely means that n becomes a bit-security parameter that has to become reasonably large so the chance of collision is extremely low (as I think the spender can always walk away after receiving the challenge).

I think setting n = log_2(maximumNumberOfMerchants) and hardcoding which merchants ask for which pieces is a straightforward way of preventing all unpunished double spends while keeping n relatively small. BTW, with general progress of zero-knowledge techniques I'd be surprised if there weren't a more modern and concise paper in the same vein.


http://developer.mintchipchallenge.com/devguide/differentiat...

So current hardware solutions like visa and debit are secure because they use a trusted 3rd party. And not anonymous.

Bitcoin traded trusted 3rd party for trusted cloud (its p2p nature) and so was still not really anon if you put in any effort.

This is supposed to be 3rd party-less, fully anon. So thats a lot of trust in the hardware. It does seem uniquely vulnerable in ways we haven't before seen with visa and debit or bitcoin.


I believe the target for strictly-hardware transactions is to keep them low-monetary value. For example a digital replacement for the $10 you keep in your wallet to buy lunch from a hot dog vendor.

Not saying the potential for a hardware exploit resulting in a money tree isn't there...


And a software dev challenge to go with it where you can win $50K in gold bars. http://mintchipchallenge.com


Also of note: according to the rules, it's open to Americans as well as Canadians:

http://mintchipchallenge.com/rules


It's also open to corporations in the same locations from a quick glance on my side.

My guess is that us foreigners could register a company in Delaware etc, and compete.


Keep in mind the grand prize is $17K, it's approximately $50K spread out amongst all the winners.


keep in mind that the prize is GOLD! As in: https://www.google.com/search?sugexp=chrome,mod%3D6&ix=n...


That's cute, but also pretty inconvenient.


I find it ironic that a new e-currency designed to remove the need for cash or cumbersome online payment methods would reward it's challenge winners with probably the most cumbersome currency; gold bullion.


How would they get the 17K in Gold to you? Is it delivered via FedEx?


Registered and insured mail


when did the Royal Canadian Mint become innovative? drop the penny. start bitcoin 2. go canada!


The RCM mints currency for many countries and sells the purest metal coins you can buy, the RCM are nothing but innovative.


Switching to polymer notes, too. Someone needs to investigate these happenings!


Our plastic monopoly money is the bees knees.

But in all seriousness, if MintChip is for real and doesn't get hacked, and if I can finally say good bye to the penny (which I have already been getting rid of for over 2 years) then I'll have to admit that the Mint is probably more innovative than any other government entity up here. :)


Except the notes are designed by the Bank of Canada not the Royal Mint.

http://www.bankofcanada.ca/banknotes/bank-note-series/polyme...


I was under the impression that the only thing they ever done is stamp new 25¢ pieces with different people / animal / commemorative events on them every year.


usually one of beaver, Queen, moose, or Avro Arrow


You're forgetting hockey. There is always a new hockey coin. Always.


No love for the Canadarm :)?


Is that…a stock photo of code?

    /**
     * Creates a new demo.
     * @param o The object to demo
     */
    public Demo(Object o) {
        this.o = o;
        String s = CONSTANT;
        int i = 1;
    }
That aside, this is basically a good idea with laughably poor execution. Other comments have addressed that it’s centralised and non-anonymous, can be double-spent, is not fault-tolerant, and (perhaps worst of all) is a fiat currency without fixed supply. There could indeed be a superior alternative to Bitcoin, just waiting to make the leap into the mainstream—but this is not it.


It's a new digital means to transfer canadian dollars. It's not a new currency.

Pretty much everything after that java snippet is incorrect in your post.


I know it’s not a new currency. The post title reads “…a new alternative to BitCoin”, which MintChip is not. It’s more like Google Wallet.


This is interesting, although the dependency on hardware seems to open a large can of worms. Judging by the security overview[1], ensuring security of the hardware will be a complex and ongoing task. Bitcoin's use of p2p here saves a lot of fucking around, and cuts out a lot of middlemen.

I wish there were a middle ground - institutionally backed bitcoin. I suppose there will be, once all the mining is done and ownership becomes consolidated.

[1]http://developer.mintchipchallenge.com/devguide/ecosystem.ht...


>I wish there were a middle ground - institutionally backed bitcoin.

You could realistically do something almost as good as that without any reliance on either bitcoin or trusted computing, if you have a central authority. It actually seems pretty simple: You create a website where people can put in a credit card numbers and exchange money for secret (1000+ bit) numbers. The server keeps track of how much money is associated with each number. If you have a secret number, you can then go back and trade it back for money, or you can (anonymously) trade it for a different secret number -- which permanently invalidates the old one and assigns its value to the new one.

This way when you want to spend money, you just disclose a secret number worth the value of the transaction in question to the payee, who immediately exchanges it for a new number that the payer doesn't know, and is thereby the only one who can subsequently trade it back in for government currency. (Of course, in the common case they just re-spend it in the same way as digital cash rather than redeeming it for government currency.) Make it so that you can specify values (i.e. trade in a $5 number for a $4.50 number and a $.50 number) and you create a situation where anyone can sell anything and receive a number as payment, and then buy something else and spend the number as currency, all while neither of the other parties or the payment processor have any idea who you are.

Add to this the availability of VPN accounts that assign all users to a single public IP, so that users can route their SSL-encrypted transactions through an IP shared by thousands of others who do the same and thereby prevent the transaction processing server from associating transactions with IP addresses, and you have digital anonymous cash.

The main disadvantage is that the secret numbers are exactly like cash, i.e. if someone gets hold of them then they've stolen your money, it's gone, and there is nothing you can do. But that's how cash works. And I kind of wish someone would implement something like this -- I mean think about all the money you could make just by holding the currency people pay you for the numbers in low risk securities between when someone pays for one and when (if ever) it eventually gets redeemed for government currency.


UKash works like that. I don't know implementation details, but you get a number that has some sum of money associated with it and you give that number to the other party and they give you back a new number with change.


While not exactly the same. Bitbills attempts something like what you are describing for bitcoin - http://bitbills.com/


That's a damn good idea. And it wouldn't take a mint to implement it. You could implement and back it with a basket of digital currencies like bitcoin, liberty reserve and anything else - LD or WoW gold if you're feeling frisky. While there's a drawback in relying on a centralized entity to process it, the fact that it can be traded peer to peer w/o any accounts, fees or auditing makes up for that fact. In a way, Bitcoin is headed in the long run for more centralization either way; whether because the block chain is already too long for newbies to download, and they have to rely on third party wallets, or because ultimately we'll find ourselves in a situation where 51% of the coins and possibly 51% of the processing power is in the hands of some entity. A floating basket of virtual currencies that operated the way you're talking about would mitigate the risk of one party ever controlling it, especially if the data as to what was held in reserves, volume, etc. were made public on an ongoing basis.

+1. Not just something to think about; I feel this was a Satoshi-worthy comment.


Yeah, someone is going to figure out how to give themselves 20000 billion by working around the hardware and Mintchip will die real quick.


Oh, Canada. Seeing stuff like this is exciting. Seems to be lining up along side the alley of NFC.


I have a theory, newly formed. And this seems the best place to share it, because this motley collection of minds generally knows their stuff and won't hesitate to tell me I'm wrong. :)

The only two meaningful categories of currency are "large" and "small". Large currency is cash, coins. It can be manipulated with the hand, verified by the eye. "Small currency" is expressed as microscopic state, and requires complex tools to observe, verify, etc. Both bitcoin and mintchip are microscopic currency. Computers function, then, first and foremost, as a kind of microscope.

My theory is that small currency is only as secure as the microscope used. And 'microscopes' expressed on computers are themselves expressed 'in the small', requiring other microscopes to verify, which can in turn be subverted. It's subvertable microscopes all the way down.

What is the solution then? You need a cheap, 'trusted' microscope/small wallet from a single source. It needs to be cheap so that it can be replaced frequently (lost or stolen). It needs to be from a single source because if trust is ever broken you need to get it from a different trusted source.

Also, it would be smart to limit the amount on a single device to being less than or equal to the cost of physically defeating the device.

Mind you, the MintChip "microscope" is incomplete: it requires a host system to do user interaction. Which, in my view, will always be the primary weakness of any small currency. All you need to do is write a dummy program to fool a user into believing they received the money, and you've won. And that's trivially easy.


> I have a theory, newly formed. And this seems the best place to share it, because this motley collection of minds generally knows their stuff and won't hesitate to tell me I'm wrong. :)

That would be correct.

>The only two meaningful categories of currency are "large" and "small". Large currency is cash, coins. It can be manipulated with the hand, verified by the eye. "Small currency" is expressed as microscopic state, and requires complex tools to observe, verify, etc. Both bitcoin and mintchip are microscopic currency. Computers function, then, first and foremost, as a kind of microscope.

What are you even saying? I saw where you were going and then you took a swerve left at the last second. How does storing state in a microscopic state turn a computer into a microscope? I assure you that no computer hardware works by looking at stored state with a lens and using computer vision algorithms to determine the state of the device.

>My theory is that small currency is only as secure as the microscope used. And 'microscopes' expressed on computers are themselves expressed 'in the small', requiring other microscopes to verify, which can in turn be subverted. It's subvertable microscopes all the way down.

A pet peeve of mine is calling such guesses "theories" at this point the proper term is "hypothesis". At any rate this is what cryptography is for. No amount of "subversion" is going to break checksums and hashes. (In a way that wouldn't set off serious red flags to users.) (Though turning them into a usable monetary system is left as an exercise for the reader.)

>What is the solution then? You need a cheap, 'trusted' microscope/small wallet from a single source. It needs to be cheap so that it can be replaced frequently (lost or stolen). It needs to be from a single source because if trust is ever broken you need to get it from a different trusted source.

It needs to not be from a single source you mean? If not then that sentence makes no sense. As it turns out; hardware bugs are actually harder to find than software ones. It would be better to use general hardware if only because you'd be less likely to find an intentional Trojan horse for bit-coin or similar in it.

>Also, it would be smart to limit the amount on a single device to being less than or equal to the cost of physically defeating the device.

So about the cost of a 5$ walmart screwdriver? A 50$ Blowtorch? It would end up being too low and you know it. It'd be better to just do an arbitrary limit like 500$ and call it done.

>Mind you, the MintChip "microscope" is incomplete: it requires a host system to do user interaction. Which, in my view, will always be the primary weakness of any small currency. All you need to do is write a dummy program to fool a user into believing they received the money, and you've won. And that's trivially easy.

Man in the middle attacks were something that certificates were supposed to solve; but didn't.

It'll be interesting to see how this all plays out.


>How does storing state in a microscopic state turn a computer into a microscope? I assure you that no computer hardware works by looking at stored state with a lens and using computer vision algorithms to determine the state of the device.

Oh sorry. It's a somewhat strange concept I admit, but it's served me well. There are a couple of ways to motivate it. Let us say that a computer has 4G of memory (roughly 10^10 bits). That is a vast amount of data. If that were to be printed out into a sheet of paper, with each bit a dot about what the naked human eye can see (call it .1 mm square) then it would be a sheet about 10 square meters (10^5 * 10^-4m = 10m^2).

The actual size of a 4G RAM chip is more like 1mm^2. This is a reduction factor of 10,000.

Let us say that a physical screen operates at the density of our original printout . This implies that the software sitting between the display and main memory is essentially functioning as a microscope, making visible to the naked eye a sheet of paper that is 10,000x smaller than we can see.

But if we consider information rather than data, the magnification is an order-of-magnitude higher, at least. (A screenful of characters 10px on each side requires 100bits, whereas the codepoint takes around 8bits.) And of course if we consider hard-drives rather than main memory, realize that a TB is roughly 1000x main memory, or 1000 sheets of paper, each 10 meters square (about 310 square meters).


>Oh sorry. It's a somewhat strange concept I admit, but it's served me well...(What follows is a brilliant analogy where I was expecting total insanity.)

You know. I think I'm going to use that in the future. Thanks.


>(What follows is a brilliant analogy where I was expecting total insanity.) You know. I think I'm going to use that in the future. Thanks.

Thanks! I hope you can revisit what I said in the grandparent post with this in mind. :)


Good timing for this type of official initiative. Makes me wonder if this could lead to a Consortium of World Mints to share the same vision and cost and arrange a trusted network of Backers and Brokers. Or if this will be the new Space Race with countries competing on the tech and implementation and quality of network participants etc. Could be a mess like many standards based efforts. Then there is the issue of the patents that RCM has and how that plays into the global evolution of this effort. It may end up just being a Canadian solution for Canadian Currency.

Though BitCoin is related, I don't see a a reason to inject it into this particular thread. BitCoin is its own beast with different goals... in fact... opposite goals (while using some similar technologies). BitCoin is happy as the backbone of an edge economy and not a competing system with centralised solutions like MintChip (which has decentralised aspects as well but not the core foundation).


They didn't create an alternative, they just built the "last mile" for Bitcoin usage. A government backed anonymous currency that will most likely be accepted throughout canada and hopefully the world, that can be freely exchanged with bitcoin in a short amount of time. Anyone will be able to build an exchange.

MintChip = checking account, Bitcoin = savings account


Maybe it's just me but I feel that a Royal (Canadian) crypto-currency won't find widespread adoption among cyberpunks.


I don't think it will but perhaps not for the reason you apparently think. The details are scarce but the crypto doesn't look interesting. The idea of trusted hardware has been around for a long time. I think most cyberpunks don't trust it, probably for good reason. BTW, looks like they use SHA-1. Really? In 2012 you design a system and use SHA-1?


So they want people to build apps using mintchips? Essentially Stripe/Paypal/Dwolla using this tech? I'm kind of confused by this.

The only differentiating factor here is the currency is "mintchips". How much more creative can you get with a checkout when we are only changing the "backing" of the numbers that are moving around?


I was concerned when they mentioned a criteria for judgment was originality of the idea... What can be done with online transactions that hasn't already been done?

I suppose an app that allowed offline transactions would fit that bill, the only problem being that your app would be offline.


Why must the article use this headline when the article explicitly says that it isn't actually anything like Bitcoin:

“Bitcoin offers currency from a decentralized source, whereas RCM's solution is from a centralized authority.”


From: http://developer.mintchipchallenge.com/devguide/evolution.ht...

Unburdened by the need for a proprietary network, MintChip offers a cost effective solution to consumers and merchants and enables easy person-to-person payments.

So, it looks like, this is the government's attempt to compete with Interac. The site claims it's a replacement for cash, but the last time I used cash was maybe two weeks ago to pay for a coffee. And I know some people who use a prepaid card to buy coffee.


Somebody submitted a patent application[1] about a year ago in Europe for a very similar system called fairCASH[2]

[1] http://faircash.org/fileadmin/dateien/fairCASH_Patent_Applic...

[2] http://faircash.org/


I don't see any point behind an offline electronic cash system; they barely made sense in the 1990s, and once there was ubiquitous Internet, made even less sense.

They only make sense for transit (or other one-way systems, not peer to peer), and there, providing Internet at the point of sale is easy.


One of the judges for the "challenge" is David Birch. He recently spoke at a Bitcoin conference: http://bitcoinmedia.com/eurobit-david-birch-next-generation-...


Are there any details on how the supply of this new currency is going to be controlled? I'm all for innovation in payments and currency, but isn't there the same risk as with all fiat money - that a central body can debase the currency at will?


It isn't a new currency, I don't think. Looks like balances and transactions will be CADs, USDs, EURs, etc.,

If the issuer claims to have backing for the currency then for each CAD issued on a MintChip there would be a CAD in a bank somewhere. Same for USDs.

Since the mint can buy BTCs to issue as well, no reason MintChips can't be used for Bitcoin commerce as well.

http://developer.mintchipchallenge.com/api/java/ca/mint/mint...


Why don't they just create a new bitcoin blockchain and have every new 'goldbit' bitcoin backed by a physical gold coin? Someone should do this. So somewhere is vault filled with gold coins that people have used to buy their goldbits.


[Loose] change is good, this is better. Apparently, pennies weren't good enough for the Royal Canadian Mint either. Incidentally, after the crash of 2008, Joseph Stiglitz wrote that "change ... has no inherent value."


It's interesting and I think there's tantalizing hints in there that they may have learned from BitCoin, but there doesn't seem to be enough detail in there to analyze it. Anyone know of some?


It sounds more like a clone of Mondex from the 90s. http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.08/eword.html


agreed. my second job in the industry was writing a complete (back + front-end) system for mondex (and beenz...).

[google] this was us! http://www.mail-archive.com/cryptography@c2.net/msg00993.htm...


Not really. bitcoin is p2p with cloud-acceptance of transactions. This is just a trusted hardware computing model able of holding "value".


By "learn from" BitCoin, I did not mean "blindly clone". They claim there's some ability to transfer value without an intermediary, which implies some sort of... something... which would enable that. The website doesn't make it clear to me exactly what that is, or I'd be more specific.

They do seem to be fixing one of my primary objections to BitCoin by providing it some real backing... or again, so they glibly claim without details.

If it is just "Hey, we'll store monetary values in the cloud" they're going out of their way to obscure that.


It's really nothing like bitcoin as far as I can tell.

monetary value is stored on the hardware itself it seems, as you can do an offline transfer between two people.

bitcoin needs the cloud as an intermediary to transfer value (cloud acceptance of transactions)

as well bitcoin has traceability with unique identifiers and the text on this site suggests "no user data is transmitted with payment".


It feels like a step backwards from bitcoin....


Does anyone know what they mean in the Javascript API docs when they mention that it's only supported by Microsoft Windows with Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0 or higher?


I could never put my trust into an entire online currency if it wasn't open-source. Does anyone else worry about this as well?


http://mintchipchallenge.com/index.php

The 404 page is horrifying.


It's the standard ChallengePost 404 page. What's wrong with it?


Finding a website about The Royal Canadian Mint that has a crappy unicorn made with Paint as its 404 page makes it look like a huge hoax.


It's a web site about the Mint, not a web site by the Mint.


[deleted]


Uh... it isn't a web site about the MintChip. It's a competition to get people using the MintChip. The title of this post is badly phrased as it might lead you to think you're getting something different.


Cash is anonymous. For any digital equivalent, I think this would be a key requirement to have.


The most confusing part of the site is that it's not clear how they turn goats into MintChips.


Back in the day people used goats for currency. Then wheat, coins, etc. Simple timeline.


I wonder if it has Linux support. If not, that's my submission to the competition.


Any scheme that makes it easier to further inflate the money supply(=debt), especially one like this that avoids even the minimal inconvenience of printing cash, is sure to be welcomed and promoted by the banksters.


License fail. Read it. It's ridiculous.


  MintChip value can be stored and moved quickly and
  easily [...] by physically tapping devices together
Ugh.


tl;dr please - is it anonymous?


I don't think so, obscure but not anonymous.

Here: http://developer.mintchipchallenge.com/devguide/developing/c...

Each transfer message has both the Sender and Receiver encoded within it. These are opaque but generated by your mintchip provider.

Looking here: http://developer.mintchipchallenge.com/devguide/ecosystem.ht...

Suggests that your provider ("trusted broker") creates your mintchip ids. It might be possible to associate many keys to your physical person but I believe all of them could be traced back with the co-operation of the providers.


It's anonymous assuming the mint-chip value message and the mint-chip request message are not intercepted or stored. This is a PKI-based system, so they can verify if you signed a transaction. So if you use it online - you can't guarantee it is anonymous. If you use it in-person and nothing stores the request or response then, in theory, it should be anonymous.

The giant caveat is that the documentation online does not seem to indicate whether or not a transaction log is stored in the trusted hardware.


"No personal data is exchanged in the transaction" implies it, but I'd be astonished if there wasn't an auditable device ID trail.


the EVE online denizens are going to have a field day w/ this...


Why not use BitCoin?


BitCoin's fluctuating popularity has made it's value extremely unstable, making it unsuitable for use as money. Money has to be a stable unit of account as well as a predictable store of value, characteristics BitCoin doesn't have.

Basically, BitCoin for the time being is an interesting asset/investment, but not a very good cash replacement.


The best current use case is transferring money. Assuming bitcoin is relatively stable hour to hour (which I think it is) and both sender and receiver have access to an exchange that will convert bitcoins to their local currency, it can be effectively used to avoid large bank charges.

As long as the sender converts their money just prior to paying and the receiver converts back to local currency soon afterwards, there should be no problems.

I guess the big assumption here is both parties have access to a reliable exchange that can easily handle the volume of currency being transferred.


So you've just replaced traditional fees with two exchange fees.


But with each exchange fee only 0.65% (MtGox's highest rate), 1.3% is competitive with many other transfer methods.


Now add the fee to get money into the exchange and another fee to get money out.


$0.25 per transaction using dwolla. Roughly $5 to use SEPA. or worst case $15 bank transfer.

Compare that to the fees charged by Western Union or Money Bookers or credit card companies.. You're looking at $30 minimum + 6%-12%


Actually since the beginning of the year bitcoin's price has been relatively stable, around the $5 mark.

Whether this is the natural market price or if there is manipulation going on is hard to tell.

Certainly bitcoin is more volatile than the dollar, pound or euro but those currencies fluctuate in value too.

Bitcoin will be volatile whilst new coins are being minted, it is in an inflationary phase and the only upwards pressure will come from demand outstripping the supply.


I refer the honourable commenter to Jumpcrisscross' comment here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3787375, wherein they point out that to currency traders, Bitcoin's vulnerabilities have been known for a hundred years.


I can see cases where the delay before the bitcoin network approves your transaction would be problematic.


to start, you need internet accessibility for a transfer, not to get into the economics that make bitcoin unstable.

This is more like a credit card that we can use to pay one another directly, than a new monetary system.


Why not use both? Competition in this space can only be a good thing.


As tech founder / owner of a Bitcoin casino, https://StrikeSapphire.com, I think this is great. If it's real. And if the Royal Mint doesn't stick their nose into how we change cash. And if our users can remain more-or-less anonymous, and transactions can stay free, and we can change it out without paying a rake to the Canadian government, and there's no risk of double-spending or chargeback or backdoors in the client that let one government or another come in and raid your funds when it suits their interests.

Nothing on their website gives me confidence that any of those issues have been addressed, or will be. And in truth, the idea that a national government would open up an unmonitored currency for System-D sounds just-William-Gibson-enough to be plausible, and just too Neal Stephenson to not deserve a rimshot.

What's a lot more likely is that this is a big-ass trojan horse for the media to make sweet love to for the next few months while castigating Bitcoin for supposed flaws, and eventually deeming it "unsafe", followed by "illegal", for the general population. It's a PR stunt to compete with BTC in the eyes of a non-technical public. And it'll probably work - for a non-technical public.

But the flaws in a system like this will likely become apparent much more quickly than, say, the flaws in the Federal Reserve system did. Nothing with a backdoor, closed code or centralized "trusted distributors" stays safe for long these days. I really had to laugh when I saw their nifty graphic over here: http://developer.mintchipchallenge.com/devguide/ecosystem.ht...

But we're not biased. Hell, we'll start accepting the junk if it's as good as they say. Let the best currency win.


I would just use cash.


Accept the challenge! http://mintchipchallenge.com/




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