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Storj’s John Quinn: “Your data is never stored in one location – it’s not stored on Storj’s servers”

Storj co-founder John Quinn tells that the Storj platform is like AirBnB for a Storj user’s computer hard drive, which is based on the Ethereum blockchain platform. 

“We are the first distributed objects store in production with Fortune 500 customers,” Mr. Quinn told me. Other distributed objects store, such as FileCoin, Sia and Maidsafe are not in production.

This distributed network features a protocol that foments the creation and execution of storage contracts between peers on a network who can negotiate contracts, transfer data, verify the data and make payments.

Like so much bitcoin-inspired technology, there are no third parties. According to Quinn, “Shards”, which represent encrypted data uploaded to the Storj network, are not stored on Storj, but, rather, across the nodes on the network who offer their disk space, known as farmers.

“Its an end-to-end encrypted network,” says Quinn. “Your data is never stored in one location – it’s not stored on Storj’s servers, we are never a counterparty to your data. Each farmer is holding but a small, scrambled piece of your file or document, and they can’t unscramble it without the proper encryption keys. By hiding in the wild on our network, we make it more difficult for hackers because they can not identify attack surfaces and vectors. Not only would the hackers need to hack your encryption keys to decrypt your file, but they would also need to hack the pointers to find out where those files are located on the thousands of nodes on our network.”

Quinn boasts Storj’s costs: half those of Amazon, Google and Microsoft storage services. “We don’t have to build and operate a six billion dollar data center,” he says. “So, we pass those savings onto developers. It becomes a much stronger value proposition in terms of privacy and value for developers.”

Storj just launched commercially, and claims to have 10,000 API users. “Our community is about 25,000 people now,” Quinn says. “And we’ve grown our network to about eight petabytes just by using sharing economy principles through people sharing excess hard drive space.”

About 1.5 petabytes is currently stored on the network, and Storj just onboarded its first Fortune 500 company, Cox Enterprises. The decentralized cloud storage platform also announced a partnership with Heroku developer platform, making Storj available to Heroku’s developer community.

Unlike some public blockchain models, there’s no consensus method in Storj. “We don’t believe one is applicable to this problem of storage usage,” explains Quinn. “There doesn’t need to be one universal state of the network. If I’m uploading cat pictures to the network, the only thing I really care about is farmers holding those cat pictures. It’s important to me that they’re holding them, and through our cryptographic audit we make sure those are being held. But, the entire network doesn’t need to know that my cat pictures are okay. The consensus mechanism creates a lot of overhead and lack of performance and we don’t feel it’s required for our solution.”

Every hour, Storj completes an audit and asks its farmer-nodes to solve a cryptographic challenge. “If they have modified or deleted their encrypted shards, they won’t be able to answer the question correctly,” Quinn describes. “These nodes that can answer the cryptographic challenge will have their contracts terminated and their Storj reputation tarnished. If the nodes answer the question correctly, then that means that they are holding their shards and they, therefore, get a micropayment for their contributions to the network. And that can be for one just hour’s worth of work.”

Storj  (ticker SJCX) allows other types of payment method to be implemented, like BTC, Ether, ACH transfer – even “physical transfer of live goats,” as the white paper contends. However, the company only plans to use SJCX for its implementation, which currently has a ~$8 million market capitalization.

Overall, Storj is a big p2p network. “If you’ve ever used BitTorrent,” Quinn explains, “you know that the more seeds on the network the faster the movie will download thanks to the ‘parallel downloads’ model, which are two to three times faster than a single source download. When you wish to download a file you’ve uploaded, you have forty farmers that are all streaming in parallel using BitTorrent-esque technology. The first twenty sending you the chunks of information get paid, so it becomes a race to deliver your content the fastest.”

He recounts over the summer when the the Storj team discussed  privacy with Edward Snowden at the Decentralized and Encrypted conference in Berlin.

“One of the concepts is privacy by design,” Mr. Quinn believes. “So, if you build apps using services like Storj as a base data storage layer, then the application built on top of this layer can be much more secure because there is not a target with a big “hack me” sign where hackers can basically say, ‘OK, this is the target, and these are the attack surfaces. The data on Storj’s network is everywhere, and simultaneously nowhere. This makes it very difficult for hackers.”

Quinn describes how he once heard the platform described by a leading VC in the security space: “Adding data to your network is kind of like blowing encrypted sand onto an encrypted beach,” says Quinn. “The bigger the beach gets, the harder it becomes to find any individual grain of sand.”

And with the network having increased in size over 1,000x in 2016 to the PB range and plans to increase another 1,000x in 2017 to the EB range, Quinn feels that the network effect of security will start to get noticed by developers who care about building applications with privacy by design (”

After starting out on the Bitcoin-based smart contract platform Counterparty, Storj migrated earlier this year to the Ethereum platform. Storj now uses the Ethereum’s ERC20 token standard, the way in which Ethereum allows developers to create their own digital tokens. It then launched a crowdsale, which would theoretically become the second largest blockchain crowdsale (referred to as an Initial Coin Offering) after the Dao (Ethereum) and MobilGo (Ethereum, Waves).

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