grasp of anons: how a crypto developer faked a defi environment

the macalinao brothers used an internet of bogus identities to create the phantasm of a dev community, juicing fee on the saber protocol and solana blockchain. now they are shifting to aptos.

some thing approximately sunny aggregator felt off-kilter to the cryptocurrency user known as saint eclectic.
sunny changed into the latest decentralized finance (defi) app to hit solana for the duration of that blockchain’s sizzling bull run final summer time, whilst its local token jumped fivefold. sunny became barely weeks old by way of early september, however billions of bucks in crypto were flooding this yield farm.
still, saint and others had questions: who become in the back of sunny? why turned into its developer, one “surya khosla,” pseudonymous? was its codebase audited? would users’ cash be secure?
“there has been no indication of who surya was,” saint recalled recently, “so many customers didn’t feel snug” setting their crypto in.
their suspicions proved prescient.
coindesk has discovered who surya changed into: ian macalinao, the leader architect of saber, a stablecoin alternate constructed on top of solana. in flip, he built sunny aggregator on pinnacle of saber.
and that’s just the top of the pile.
coding as 11 purportedly independent builders, ian, a 20-some thing pc wiz from texas, created a giant web of interlocking defi protocols that projected billions of bucks of double-counted price onto the saber environment. that temporarily inflated the total price locked (tvl) on solana, because the community turned into racing in the direction of its zenith closing november. the defi devoted regard tvl as a barometer for on-chain pastime.
“i devised a scheme to maximise solana’s tvl: i might build protocols that stack on pinnacle of every different, such that a dollar could be counted several instances,” ian wrote in a by no means-posted weblog post reviewed by way of coindesk. the blog put up was organized on march 26, three days after cashio, one in every of ian’s secretly built protocols, lost $52 million in a hack.
humans close to the problem confirmed the draft’s authenticity.
height fee
ian’s ploy labored for some time. via his count number, saber and sunny comprised $7.5 billion of solana’s $10.five billion tvl at their height. (billions of those bucks had been double-counted among his two protocols.)
“i consider it contributed to the dramatic upward push of sol,” ian wrote of a time while solana’s local foreign money traded at $188.
solana network’s tvl endured to swell even after the saber ecosystem began dropping steam in mid-september 2021, topping at $15 billion around nov. 9, in step with statistics issuer defillama, while saber’s tvl had via then dropped 64%.
ian wrote he disdained this “vanity metric”; despite the fact that, “it stricken me that ethereum tvl became so much higher” than solana’s, due to the fact in his view, defi tasks on ethereum – the most important blockchain for defi – are “stacked” to double-matter deposits.
“i wanted to create a system very similar to this,” he wrote. one hassle: “if the same group built every protocol, tvl might be extra silly as a metric. as a result i created extra nameless profiles,” he wrote.
ian wore eleven mask.
in public, ian and his brother dylan called their nameless personas “friends,” or “friends of pals.” their “deliver capital” coder membership changed into laying the “blueprints for my ideal defi atmosphere,” ian wrote inside the unpublished weblog. saber and its so-known as liquidity provider (lp) tokens anchored the whole lot.
“if an ecosystem is all built via some people, it does now not appearance as authentic,” ian wrote in his blog post. “i wanted to make it appear like a variety of humans had been constructing on our protocol, in place of deliver 20+ disjoint[ed] applications as one man or woman.”
the macalinaos wanted other crypto protocols to come to be so depending on saber that “its failure might cause the whole gadget going down,” as dylan phrased it on oct. 1, 2021. “btw that is the 2 hundred iq [saber labs] approach, however few recognize…”
the macalinao brothers supplied no comment by means of press time.
a ‘sybil assault’
there are legitimate reasons to are seeking for refuge in pseudonyms. ian’s weaponized “anons,” however, mounted some thing similar to a “sybil attack” abusing crypto users’ consider. (a sybil assault is while a pc in a network uses bogus identities to advantage disproportionate impact over the complete.)

“i’m revealing this because it’s far inevitable that i could be discovered out,” ian wrote in his by no means-published weblog.
instead, the macalinaos in can also posted “saber public goods” to propagate the “saber group’s” prolific code across solana. 8 of ian’s 11 mystery initiatives seem there. their disclosure is mum on the anons and their master. sunny and cashio, whose tokens imploded, don’t show up, both.
‘my navy of anons’
surya khosla turned into ian’s moniker whilst constructing sunny aggregator. surya popped onto twitter in august 2021. saint eclectic, the sunny skeptic, hesitated to deposit his lp tokens in the paintings of this mysterious character, an anon with an synthetic intelligence-generated face.
one thing swung in surya’s want: the ian puppet claimed to recognise brother dylan “quite nicely in real existence.” on sept. 9 of closing 12 months, dylan macalinao tweeted he “felt comfortable” putting his own crypto into sunny aggregator. “we audited their code,” dylan, who is in his early 20s, said.
dylan lent surya the credibility he had to win over skeptics like saint.
the problem was, the lead developer, “surya khosla,” didn’t exist. dylan’s brother ian constructed sunny aggregator. ian had made surya up.
it turned into ian’s first dalliance with assumed identities for saber – and a ways from his remaining.
ian wrote in march 2022 that he had created 11 ”nameless founders which can be in reality me.”
deliver capital had many “friends”: 0xghostchain, who created cashio; goki rajesh, builder of multi-signature wallet goki; larry jarry from mining rewards aggregator quarry; swaglioni, the “grandmaster” of governance platform tribecadao; and of course surya khosla from sunny aggregator, saber’s yield farm.

those defi lego bricks were the jewels of the saber atmosphere. lesser-known protocols crate (run via kiwipepper), asol (0xaurelion), arrow (oliver_code) (0xisaacnewton), sencha (jjmatcha) and venko app (ayyakovenko), rounded out the crown, in keeping with ian’s weblog. he admitted to creating the lot.
pump it
ian, dylan and the puppet anons promoted deliver capital’s work incessantly on social media.
they shilled their opposite numbers’ launches and integrations, praised their brethren’s thinkfluencer tweets, credited every other for uplifting them to build on solana. they even circulated ian’s self-referential memes.

once in a while they waxed philosophical. whilst on dec. 29 prolific solana developer armani ferrante (a real individual) tweeted, “in case you’re not making errors you are too gradual,” five ian stooges responded in 4 minutes:

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