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If you’ve been anywhere near the internet in the past decade, you’ve probably heard about Bitcoin before.
The world’s biggest and most famous cryptocurrency, Bitcoin has caused waves in the online world (as well as the actual world), frequently touted as a revolutionary alternative to centralised banking, a way of conducting transactions in total privacy, and, more recently, as a potential way to get rich quick.
While the implications of Bitcoin for internet security could easily fill several articles on their own, this post will focus instead on the technology behind Bitcoin, which goes by the name of blockchain.
This technology is quickly gaining notoriety as a new way of storing information, which could eliminate a whole range of issues that currently plague internet users – such as difficulty verifying the integrity of data, and hackers tampering with databases.
In short, blockchain technology could well end up having an enormous impact on the way we store data, and is well worth looking into.
In the world of Bitcoin a blockchain is, essentially, a public ledger of Bitcoin transactions. It consists of a ‘chain’ of data, and every single transaction that takes place with Bitcoin adds another block to this chain.
Each block contains details about the transaction, including addresses, balances, and times. This information is added to the chain chronologically, so it’s possible to see the exact order in which all Bitcoin transactions took place, since the very beginning of blockchain’s existence. Pretty impressive.
What’s even more remarkable is that every single new member of the Bitcoin network gets access to the entire blockchain. This means that the complete history of Bitcoin transactions is available to every user – it’s basically common knowledge.
A major upside to this (which we’ll look at in a little more detail further on) is that any tampering with a chain is immediately noticeable. In theory, everybody knows exactly how every chain should look, so any changes to any one chain stand out in a big way.
In sum – blockchains are a universally accessible record of the history of Bitcoin transactions, which are essentially impossible to alter.
For those concerned about staying safe online (which should be everyone who ever goes online), blockchain technology is looking increasingly relevant.
One way in which blockchain looks promising is as a replacement for security keys. Currently, most files and documents come with their own unique security key, which can be used to verify the authenticity of the file.
These keys are supposed to be secret, however, which makes the process of verifying them a little tricky. How can you check something is legit, if you don’t know anything about it?
Fortunately, a solution has come about in the form of something called Keyless Signature Structure (KSI). With this technology, files don’t have their own unique keys. Instead, hashes of the files are stored on a blockchain.
To check the authenticity of a file, KSI compares it to the hash on the blockchain. If it’s a match, you’re good to go. If it doesn’t match up, no dice.
Remember how blockchains are ordered chronologically, and the order can never be changed? Well this is where that aspect really comes into its own. Because any tampering would be immediately obvious, users can be sure that the data on a blockchain is safe and reliable.
As a result, we can be pretty much certain that the hashes of any file stored on a blockchain are the real thing, and are therefore more reliable – not to mention much more convenient – than traditional security keys.
Until fairly recently, blockchain has been a largely unknown phenomenon outside of the Bitcoin universe. However, things are beginning to change as the exciting potential of this technology becomes more and more clear.
Take health care, for example. Ensuring patient confidentiality has been a massive headache for health organisations since the dawn of time (or at least the dawn of medical records).
Additionally -verifying the authenticity of medical records has always been a problem for the same reasons as above – it’s hard to verify something that is top secret.
So how do you verify authenticity, without compromising patient confidentiality? It’s simple – with blockchains.
Using the same method outlined above, medical institutions can cross-reference records with their hashes, stored on a blockchain. Since the blockchain is common knowledge, its authenticity is guaranteed, and there’s no need to reveal any sensitive data.
A company called Gem have been working on this for some time, and it looks promising for the healthcare industry.
Another example of blockchains being used outside of the cryptocurrency world is in the military.
Lockheed Martin, the biggest defence contractor in the world, has invested in a company called Guardtime Federal, who aim to implement blockchain technology as a means of ensuring security.
The U.S. Department of Defence is also looking to blockchain technology, as a way of securing its nuclear weapons and other systems.
Since it’s vitally important when using these kind of systems to be confident that data is reliable, blockchains can provide valuable reassurance of data integrity.
It looks like blockchain technology is really taking off, and could soon have implications for cybersecurity across the world.
It brings a new perspective to security and data integrity, creating a system that immediately flags up any interference, instead of focusing on blocking that interference from ever taking place.
It’s extremely simple, clean, and foolproof, and it may well revolutionise the way that we store our data and preserve our privacy.