I have read that Zcash is a "trusted" system and that Monero is "trustless". As they are both open source projects, what is the difference. What makes Monero "trustless"?

2 Answers 2


Both systems are trustless in regards using the cryptocurrency (note that Zcash still lacks enough peer-review compared to Monero so major bugs could exist), the trusted and worrying factor in Zcash, which Monero doesn't suffer, is that you have to trust that the Zcash team is able to properly setup and dispose the so called "SNARK public parameters" that produces a kind of cryptographic "toxic waste" which could make Zcash counterfeitable.

SNARKs require something called “the public parameters”. The SNARK public parameters are numbers with a specific cryptographic structure that are known to all of the participants in the system. They are baked into the protocol and the software from the beginning.

The obvious way to construct SNARK public parameters is just to have someone generate a public/private keypair, similar to an ECDSA keypair [*], and then destroy the private key.

The problem is that private key. Anybody who gets a copy of it can use it to counterfeit money. (However, it cannot violate any user’s privacy — the privacy of transactions is not at risk from this.)

More information on the setup parmenters and risks can be found here. The ceremony to construct the zk-SNARK parameters involved the participation of 6 people. Since it cannot be conclusively proven that collusion did not (or will not) occur, Zcash users will have to decide whether or not the level of risk being "quite low" (according to Vitalik Buterin) is acceptable:

I actually recommended a different process for the trusted setup - my preference was to not bother with the airgaps, DVDs, offline laptops, etc and make up for it by having 20-30 participants instead of six and make sure they come from different countries, backgrounds, etc. I got this instinct from my experience managing the ethereum foundation wallet - our original setup was 3-of-4 but had lots of fancy secret sharing, encryption, offline signing and other machinery on each device but at one point it nearly broke, and since then we're using a 4-of-7 hot wallet between online laptops, and I feel much more comfortable with the security of the latter. But these are only my views, not shared by everyone, and others of course have different opinions how the risks and benefits should be balanced.

EDIT: just to be clear, I still personally think that the risks of the current setup having been compromised are quite low.

Peter Todd, one of the six participants in the Zcash trusted setup was more critical: enter image description here


Trustless means that you don't have to rely on a trusted party to say whether a given piece of information is correct (like your balance) or if a signature is valid. The way you trust a bank to correctly account your balance, for example. With blockchain-based cryptocurrency, anyone can indenpendently verify what goes on (the nodes of the network are doing exactly that, all the time), and the signatures are cryptographically proven. That's why we call such currencies trustless.

From the above, we can assert that both Zcash and Monero are trustless.

However, there's one catch with Zcash - it requires a trusted setup. Without going too much in detail, a number of individuals will set up the system initially by randomly generating some data, after which they're trusted to permanently destroy the generated data. Failure to do so could enable an adversary to get this data which would give him the power to counterfeit as many Zcash as he likes, without it ever being directly detected!

So, Zcash would be trustless as long as the set-up went through without compromise. Considering that the set-up itself is not trustless I'm not sure if we can ever call Zcash trustless, as it depends on someone not having a piece of information. We could speculate on the chances of it being compromised, but in the end, there's no way to prove with 0-knowledge that it was not.

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