People Behind the Machine: Meet Cryptographer & Blockchain Researcher Amira Bouguera
Amira Bouguera is a cryptographer and security engineer at ConsenSys Paris. She graduated with an engineering degree in cryptography and cybersecurity from ENSIMAG in Grenoble, France. Amira also holds a Master’s degree in applied math from the University of Science and Technology Houari Boumedienne. She focuses on R&D topics around privacy, scalability, and other related open issues of Ethereum 2.0.
How and when did blockchain and Ethereum pop on your radar?
A friend of mine was very passionate about bitcoin and Ethereum and has spoken to me about the famous DAO attack and the hard fork in Ethereum. The attack piqued my interest, and I began searching to learn more about what happened and which security vulnerability caused this bug.
Keeping blockchain on my radar, I selected a course in early 2017 to learn about the usage of cryptography in blockchain architecture. Then, I took an internship at Tessi Labs to learn more about blockchain hands-on. Later, I participated in a hackathon organized by ConsenSys’ Social Impact team. My team created the CoverUs app , and we won Financial Inclusion challenge! I applied to ConsenSys and joined the Paris office in January 2018.
What are you excited about in the cryptography field?
I’m especially excited about how post-quantum computing and zero-knowledge protocols will play out in the blockchain space.
Blockchain technology relies on several cryptographic techniques in several ways; for example, signing transactions using a digital signature (ECDSA algorithm). The security behind most of the cryptographic protocols is based on the difficulty of solving some mathematical problems (for example, ECDSA for Discrete Logarithm problem).
Quantum algorithms like Shor can solve several mathematical problems. Shor, for example, can solve the Discrete logarithms in polynomial time, which would break ECDSA algorithms.
Essentially, the goal of post-quantum cryptography is to develop cryptographic systems that are secure against quantum and conventional computers, while being able to interoperate with existing communication protocols and networks.
What opportunities and challenges are you working on at ConsenSys?
I research solutions to solve common Ethereum issues. Namely scalability and privacy.
Scalability is likely the most commonly discussed challenge regarding Ethereum. The future success of Ethereum and Web3 as a whole depends on its ability to scale as demand grows. Currently, the Ethereum network can process roughly 15 transactions per second.
Countless R&D teams are currently testing out solutions to solve the scalability issue. Layer 1 solutions include Sharding and Casper, and Layer 2 solutions like Plasma and Payment Channels or State Channels. I have high hopes that the scalability issue will be solved in the near future.
Privacy is a hot topic for this industry. My team and I are researching privacy issues and are relying on advanced zero-knowledge verifiable computing techniques like Bulletproofs, ZKSnarks, ZKStarks, and ring signatures. Both the implementation of these cryptographic methods and optimizing their computation complexity is currently a bottleneck for developers. We are working to solve the privacy and scalability challenges while staying as decentralized as possible.
What tips and tools do you have for Web3 researchers?
This is a private place for etherian nerds to hold civilized discussions centered around furthering Ethereum research. Every open problem that has yet to be solved is there. Feel free to contribute to any open source project if you want to help develop Ethereum 2.0!
Zepkit is a starter kit that introduces devs to dapps. It includes an interactive tutorial and integrates web3 popular dev tools like Truffle, OpenZeppelin, React, and Infura, which help to speed up setup and development.
Remix is a Solidity IDE that’s used to write, compile, and debug your smart contract’s Solidity code. It also provides excellent tools for doing static analysis and deployment all within the online environment.
A very popular collection of libraries which contain specific functionality for the Ethereum ecosystem and allows to interact with a local or remote Ethereum node, using an HTTP or IPC connection (Inter-Process Communication.)
MetaMask is a browser extension for accessing Ethereum dapps in your browser! It allows you to retrieve data from the blockchain, manage identities, and sign securely.
Which projects are you excited about in the Mesh?
I’m excited about Hyperledger Besu. Hyperledger Besu is an open-source Ethereum client written in Java. It includes the beacon chain, which allows us to use eth2.0 with PoW (Ethash), PoA (IBFT 2.0 and Clique.)
I’m looking forward to adding ZK-Starks in Ethereum to solve scalability issues. Also thrilled to follow Casper, its developments, and seeing where it will go. I can’t wait to see the impact of projects like uPort and other decentralized identity projects on people’s lives.
What do you wish more people knew about Ethereum and the ecosystem?
I wish that people knew that this is a tool for the future. Ethereum will play a substantial role in the future of social impact projects and democratizing access to education. For example, ConsenSys launched a Blockchain mentorship program for the Re:Coded trainers in Iraq and across the MENA region.
I am also deeply inspired by the people behind this technology and how brilliant and courageous they are. These people write the Web3 history. They wake up every day, research, test, iterate, ship, debug, pivot, and ship again. They code into unchartered waters with very few manuals and no handrails. They do this because they are passionate about making the world a better place. Also, shout out to the early dapp testers.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your role?
Patience. It takes a lot of foresight and patience to work towards solutions that will be implemented in a few years from now. At times, you have ideas that you want to run with and implement, but you’re missing the proper tools to carry out your ideas. So you keep building.
Essentially we are doing the same with Web3. The solutions that we are working towards will take time until they are production-ready. MetaMask has a fully functional application that connects users to Web3, just four years after Block 0. Although it may not look like it, we’re working at breakneck speed. As a researcher, I’ve become used to the timeline, but it can be frustrating for devs and business people.
Where do you see yourself in the Ethereum ecosystem in a few years?
I don’t know what I will be doing a few years down the road, or how it will be related to Ethereum. What I do know is that I am creating value and leaving an impact now with the help of my amazing colleagues in the Ethereum ecosystem. I will continue doing this as long as it makes sense and brings me joy.
Reach out to Amira on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Medium.