What can Blockchain bring to security?

Now that the hype over Bitcoin has eased off, interest is growing in the Blockchain – the distributed ledger technology that powers both Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Broadly speaking the Blockchain works using timestamped blocks of transaction data, linked by hashing functions and verified through decentralised nodes which use a group consensus to confirm validity of the database. The benefits of using what is a kind of crowdsourced method of validation makes the system harder to hack and ensures no one location can be hacked.

Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin work on Public Blockchains; completely open Blockchains that anyone can interact with. There are also Consortium and Private Blockchains – varieties more likely to be offered as solutions by organizations. Private Blockchains contain nodes only from one organization, but could still be distributed over various locations, while Consortium Blockchains feature a pre-selected number of nodes – for example an association of financial companies – in a hybrid fashion. There are arguments that private Blockchains are just shared databases and not the real deal, thus lacking some of the benefits.

But how much potential does the technology have, and what can it be used for? While finance is by far the most common suggested use case – no doubt due to the Bitcoin connection – there are plenty of other potential applications.

Some suggest that it could be used to secure the notoriously insecure Internet of Things (and, by extension, Smart Cities). DARPA is looking at using a Blockchain-based messaging system for soldiers in warzones. MIT is working on a decentralised cloud platform based on the technology, called Enigma, as well as new digital certificates.

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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