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ZK-STARKs (Zero-Knowledge Scalable Transparent ARguments of Knowledge) are a type of cryptographic proof technology that enables users to share validated data or perform computations with a third party without the data or computation being revealed to the third-party, also known as a zero-knowledge proof, in a way that is publicly verifiable. In simpler terms, a zero-knowledge proof can prove something is true without having to reveal what exactly it is proving. For example, ZK-STARKs would allow Alice to verify Bob's banking information using a zero-knowledge cryptographic proof instead of revealing the confidential information to Alice.

Prior to the creation of ZK-STARKs, ZK-SNARKs were used to create ZK proof systems, but required a trusted party or parties to initially setup the ZK proof system which introduced the vulnerability of those trusted parties compromising the privacy of the entire system. ZK-STARKs improve upon this technology by removing the need for a trusted setup.

Scaling benefits of using STARKs

STARKs improve two of problems of permissionless blockchains: scalability and privacy. The pioneer in STARK technology StarkWare Industries' current ZK-STARK research is focusing on scalability first and then privacy later on.

STARKs improve scalability by allowing developers to move computations and storage off-chain. Off-chain services will be able to generate STARK proofs that attest the integrity of off-chain computations. These proofs are then placed back on chain for any interested party to validate the computation. Moving the bulk of computational work off-chain using STARKs allows existing blockchain infrastructure to scale exponentially while trustlessly maintaining computational integrity.

Differences between ZK-SNARKs and ZK-STARKs

  1. ZK-SNARKs require a trusted setup phase whereas ZK-STARKs use publicly verifiable randomness to create trustlessly verifiable computation systems.
  2. ZK-STARKs are more scalable in terms of computational speed and size when compared to ZK-SNARKs.
  3. ZK-SNARKs are vulnerable to attacks from quantum computers due to the cryptography they use. ZK-STARKs are currently quantum-resistant.