If Bitcoin is like http for money, Zcash is https. Zcash offers total payment confidentiality, while still maintaining a decentralized network using a public blockchain. Unlike Bitcoin, Zcash transactions can be shielded to hide the sender, recipient, and value of all transactions on the blockchain. Only those with the correct view key can see the contents. Users have complete control and can opt-in to provide others with their view key at their discretion. Zcash transactions do not depend on the cooperation of other parties.
Zcash encrypts the contents of shielded transactions. Since the payment information is encrypted, the protocol uses a novel cryptographic method to verify their validity.
Zcash uses a zero-knowledge proof construction called a zk-SNARK, developed by the Zcash team of experienced cryptographers. These constructions allow the network to maintain a secure ledger of balances without disclosing the parties or amounts involved. Instead of publicly demonstrating spend-authority and transaction values, the transaction metadata is encrypted and zk-SNARKs are used to prove that nobody is cheating or stealing.
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Andreas Antonopoulos: Pre-launch thoughts on Zcash. I downloaded and ran the test net version, and did some test transactions...