(Published 23 Nov 2016, CLAWS)
“Blockchain protocols are a new class of protocols that are extremely resilient to attack ‒ they gain that resiliency by virtue of being decentralized,”
Professor Emin Gun Sirer, Cornell University
Blockchain technology is fundamentally a mutually trustable storage facility for information of a transaction between multiple users. It is a decentralized and secure way to record, share, store, and redistribute information. There is no central authority controlling the Blockchain, it is run, monitored, and owned by everyone. Anyone can download it free and run it or develop it for new applications/types of transactions, just like an open source code. It enables verification of the transactions at any time without impinging upon privacy of the involved parties. Blockchain technology has the capability to become a disruptive technology during the current decade itself.
“A Blockchain is a magic computer that anyone can upload programs to and leave the programs to self-execute, where the current and all previous states of every program are always publicly visible, and which carries a very strong crypto-economically secured guarantee that programs running on the chain will continue to execute in exactly the way that the Blockchain protocol specifies.”
Vitalik Buterin of Ethereum
Two main pillars of Blockchain technology are the ‘distributed consensus’ and ‘anonymity’[i]. It has applications in both the financial and the non-financial fields. In the non-financial sector major companies like IBM, Amazon, Samsung etc. are exploring innovative ways in which to use the Blockchain technology. The near term possibilities include putting ‘proof of existence’ of health data, legal papers, registry certificates (birth, marriage, death), digital trail of assets etc in the Blockchain.
IBM and Samsung have developed a system called ADEPT[ii] (Autonomous Decentralized Peer To Peer Telemetry) that uses design concepts of Bitcoin to construct a distributed network of Internet of Things. The ADEPT utilises three protocols-BitTorrent (file sharing), Ethereum (Smart Contracts) and TeleHash (Peer-To-Peer Messaging).
In the financial sectors, big banks find Blockchain to be a secure and reliable technology and are looking into a host of applications. R3, a financial technology firm is creating a framework for financial applications[iii] using Blockchain technology for a consortium of 15 leading banks. R3’s Corda distributed ledger platform was used by the banks to design and use self-executing transaction agreements. Two prototypes were created using distributed ledger technology for smart contracts. The consortium included Barclays, BBVA, BNP Paribas, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Danske Bank, ING Bank, Intesa Sanpaolo, Natixis, Nordea, Scotiabank, UBS, UniCredit, US Bank and Wells Fargo.
The NATO Communications and Information Agency is currently evaluating for proposals in areas of application of Blockchain technology to military logistics, procurement and finance, Internet of Things, and other applications of interest to military. The proposals have been submitted as part of the 2016 Innovation Challenge[iv] aimed at accelerating transformational, state-of-the-art technology solutions in support of NATO C4ISR and cyber capability requirements.
US DoD had raised a critical need for a secure messaging and transaction platform accessible via web browser or standalone native application. DARPA has therefore sought proposals vide SBIR 20162[v] to “ Create a secure messaging and transaction platform that separates the message creation, from the transfer (transport) and reception of the message using a decentralized messaging backbone to allow anyone anywhere the ability to send a secure message or conduct other transactions across multiple channels traceable in a decentralized ledger.”
“Whenever weapons are employed … it tends to be a place where data integrity, in general, is incredibly important,” …“So nuclear command and control, satellite command and control, information integrity is very important.”[vi]
Timothy Booher, Blockchain program manager, DARPA
Critical Weapon Systems. DARPA has awarded a $1.8 mn contract[vii] to Galois for their Blockchain application Guardtime Keyless Signature Infrastructure KSI, to Verify Integrity Monitoring System for its potential to build a form of unhackable code for an enhanced security in critical weapon systems. KSI can detect advanced persistent threats (APTs) which work to remain hidden in networks. Galois works in the area of formal verification, which is a technique that provides mathematical assurances that a system works only as intended in all cases.
Blockchain is a promising technology. However, as is the case with all new technologies, following is relevant:
-users would have to get used to the fact that under Blockchain technologies electronic transactions are safe, secure and complete.
-since it is in its nascent stage, scaling up presents issues which need to be resolved.
-legal frame work has to be modeled to include Blockchain technology.
-Migration of systems from existing centralized databases and systems could be tedious and expensive.