Aztec Network is a privacy-oriented, zero-knowledge rollup on Ethereum.
Aztec's vision is "encryption for all." Headquartered in London, it was founded in 2017 by Zac Williamson and Thomas Walton-Pocock. Zac currently serves as the CEO, but Thomas has stepped down and redirected his energy to other ventures. Other significant team members include Joe Andrews, co-founder and head of product, and Ariel Gabizon, chief scientist.
Aztec was founded initially as a platform for institutional finance on blockchain and later pivoted to developing zk technology. It released PlonK in 2019, zk.money in 2021, and Aztec Connect in 2022, and plans to launch Noir in Q2, 2023.
PlonK stands for Permutations over Lagrange-bases for Oecumenical Noninteractive arguments of Knowledge.
If you know what the f*** is going on, you may read more about it here. But if you are like me, who had to google every word and still could not understand anything, just remember that PlonK is an efficient zero-knowledge technology used by not only Aztec but also Mina, Dust, zkSync, Polygon Zero, etc.
PlonK is a SNARK type of zero-knowledge technology. There is also STARK, which is more scalable and resilient in theory but also more premature. Their relationship is similar to optimistic rollups vs. zero-knowledge rollups. Optimistic rollups may be technically inferior to zk but have gained much more significant traction, and the technology is more battle-tested. You can read our earlier article to learn more about optimistic vs. zero-knowledge and SNARK vs. STARK.
After releasing PlonK, Aztec developed zk.money, an application that provides Ethereum DeFi users complete privacy and up to 100x cost savings.
Users send funds to zk.money and create private notes on Layer 2. Private notes can be traded, staked, and used to earn yield, just like normal Ethereum assets. But all transactions are privacy-shielded via zero-knowledge proofs.
The entire system accounts for users' assets on the Ethereum mainnet via a fully encrypted state system. When users deposit funds into Aztec, Aztec generates cash-like encrypted notes through its off-chain UTXO state system. The state tree updates new encrypted notes as transactions are submitted and executed. Only the owner can see the content of the notes. Thus user identity and account balance are fully preserved.
zk.money batches user transactions, executes them on Ethereum mainnet, and returns the funds pro-rata to the users on Layer 2, effectively splitting gas costs among users. Such saving is typical among rollups.
zk.money is not decentralized at the moment. The current version relies on Aztec as the sole rollup provider. Aztec is responsible for relaying transactions between Ethereum mainnet and Layer 2. But zk.money plans to integrate more rollup providers, making the system more decentralized.