Blockchain: Building trust in a digital era

Cybersecurity is a business on the rise. As we progress into the digital era all those ones and zeros moving at high speed are “translated” into information we all can understand. Everything that goes through the internet is subjected to being hacked and misused. With all the phishing and impersonation that is around, all the measures that can be put in practice are not enough…but what if you could have a system than can be tracked, all transactions audited and very difficult (if not impossible) to be altered? There is one, it is called “blockchain”.

You may have heard about blockchain as the system used for cryptocurrency. That may have been at the beginning of its time. Now blockchain can be used to track almost any process or data that may require of accountability and is prompt to be audited.

How does blockchain work?

The basic model is a chain of blocks of data (thus the name) written like if it was an accounting “ledger” (in fact, the term ledger is used in blockchain). In a nutshell you will have, lets say, a number of transactions put together (ledger), encrypted, that once they are gathered in a certain number they create a block of transactions. This block will create an unique “algorithm” that will be the “head” of the following block. Once this new block is created will create another unique “algorithm”, being again the “beginning” of the new block.

Securing the blockchain

Even though blockchain is very secured as just mentioned, every entity wanting to use blockchain technology can determine how the blocks are created and used. Blockchain is defined and setup for security using different structures, thus the term used for using the technology can be either distributed or decentralized blockchain / ledger.

With this decentralized method the original ledger (blocks) are distributed among peers – peering between nodes. Data can be used on those “branches” and continue being used for whatever use. However, there could be a moment in which consensus has to be reached. “Exchange” of information (checking for accuracy and integrity) will make the decision more reliable. This way of using data and reaching an agreement in a none centralized way is a characteristic of blockchain.

As once could imagine trying to alter any of these blocks is not easy:

 

1. It is encrypted so trying to alter the data will be almost impossible as also the resulting new algorithm would not match the sub-sequence block, thus it would not work.

2. Blocks are usually created in a distributed form so cross-checks can be done between blocks . In the rare case that a block is altered and, even more difficult, the algorithm is equal to the original one, before the block is changed and introduced instead of the old one it will be compared with the previously distributed blocks. As it does not match the change will not happen.

Blockchain examples

Managing public – private money

It doesn’t matter whether people manage public of private money, there will always be someone trying to defeat the laws and play with their own rules. If money is used by a public entity using blockchain technology will assure the money is used in the right way. Paying contracts, services and companies rendering services for ministries, governments and public entities will be tracked for sure as transactions will be kept for future reference, regardless of attempts to change how money was used.

Tracking food – supply – logistics

Imagine that there is a zone in the planet where fishing or hunting is prohibited and there are other places where those species are allowed to be caught. Imagine now there is a system that introduces the data (specie of animal, date that it was caught, route that it has taken to the distributor, etc) and that you can have access to that data until the very moment in which that fish (for instance) is sold to you. Distributors could not distribute goods from forbidden areas or “misplaced” papers as everything would be recorded in a permanent and unchangeable way.

Managing general information

There are many other ways of using blockchain but in general it is the best method to secure information, make it trackable and unchangeable:

  • Keeping electric historical information that could make rates change in certain areas.
  • Patient data kept in hospitals and investigation centers to look for new medicines. In the past “securing” new medicines meant altering data used during the testing period.
  • Send and receive documentation (i.e. public offers, ownership and bank titles, etc).
  • Keeping university – college data safe so certifications and titles can not be tampered in the future.

Blockchain in practice

Even though blockchain is a technology that isn’t very old (2009) there are a large amount of ways to implement it. At the beginning the history of blockchain and bitcoin were one as they were used together. As somebody else said it was like using internet and email. Shortly after many companies could see the benefits of using blockchain so many started at the same time: from small start-ups creating the software to “build-blocks” to large companies that could see how blockchain could change the future.

IBM, Microsoft and Walmart quickly viewed the opportunity. JPMorgan Chase, Nasdaq, Foxconn and Visa were interested in the financial use. Even shipping giant Maersk have started to use it for their logistic purposes.

Should you want to use it in your company, not only can you go to the aforementioned companies (and to many other that are providing blockchain services like PWC, EY etc) than also you can do it yourself. There are small companies providing blockchain implementations and open source software like Hyperledger, HydraChain, MultiChain, OpenChain with many nore in the list like  Monax (previously Eris), Ethereum or Ripple. All of them offer different “flavours” and alternatives and, of course, all of them worth a look (over all the ones that are open source as they have a big communiy of people supporting the implementations).

Ultimately you can also implement blockchain using the wider services provided like:

• AWS: https://aws.amazon.com/partners/blockchain/
• Azure: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/solutions/blockchain/

The amount of opportunities to use blockchain are as many of scenarios where data must be kept secure. It is just a matter of time…and people willingness to use a method that will make their data prompt to be followed and tracked back to the root or to wherever may be needed.

 

1 Comment

  1. Hi Fer,

    There is an old joke wich says layer 8 in the OSI model is the user (most of the problems in computer systems are generated by layer 8) but I have recently read that the data structure generated by Blockchain must to be located at layer 8. How can it be?

    Regards

     

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