This Crypto Custody Breakthrough Will Bring Banks Closer to Digital Assets


Stealth-mode crypto custody specialist Shard X has claimed a breakthrough, being the first company to successfully run math-heavy, multi-party computation (MPC) on hardware security modules (HSMs).

So why does this alphabet soup of security tech matter? 

In summary, HSMs are a battle-tested way to store private keys, particularly popular in consumer products like Ledger and Trezor. MPC, which breaks up cryptographic keys into shards and distributes them, is growing in popularity with custody tech providers like Fireblocks and Curv. But one challenge with MPC has been where to store key shards: The whole process was thought to be too computationally heavy to run on hardware.

Shard X has successfully run MPC tests with Entrust, a provider of nShield HSMs to major custodians, said Neu-Ner, and is now working on running MPC with a number of firms offering HSMs, such as Utimaco.

“Our big breakthrough is that we’ve managed to compress and optimize the MPC code so that it can run on bank-grade HSMs, something people in this space never thought was possible,” said Neu-Ner. “Now, you can take an MPC key fragment and store it on an HSM to make sure you don’t get breached.”

Neu-Ner said the credit goes to his team, which managed to combine equally strong math and engineering backgrounds, in particular his CTO Nikita Lesnikov.

“[Lesnikov] is just an exceptional mind,” said Neu-Ner. “He was the one who figured it out. I imagine now that we are announcing it, the competition will start working on the same challenge, and I think they will get there. But it’s a big breakthrough to be first.”

“As this industry grows, there’s going to be more and more value at stake, and right now we are seeing exchanges getting hacked fairly regularly,” he said. “So I don’t think one technology will be enough. The future I see is that you combine multiple technologies to create the most secure custody solutions.”

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