Virtual Security: How Blockchain can help
When it comes to emerging technologies, there is always the risk of getting carried away when thinking of their potential. People, especially believers, often forget that no matter how great a new technology sounds on paper, it needs to be tried and tested through real-world use cases. It needs to justify its existence by demonstrating clearly its superiority over older tech.
This is the problem with blockchain and distributed ledger technology in its current state – the technology, most observers seem to agree, has great potential, but few actual applications at the moment. This has enabled sceptics to question the usefulness of the technology or even dismiss it as nothing more than a fad. Fortunately, there are areas where the technology’s potential is visible even at these early stages of its development. And one such area is directly related to a crucial aspect of our modern lives.
Cybersecurity in an interconnected world
In today’s increasingly digital world, virtual security is of upmost importance. This is one area where blockchain’s unique attributes can be put to good use. A decentralised, trustless system for storing and distributing digital information, blockchain appears to be perfectly suited to tackle some of the main issues regarding cybersecurity.
Decentralisation is one of blockchain’s defining characteristics and its main strength when it comes to cybersecurity. The decentralised nature of the technology solves the “single point of failure” problem that is inherent in every centralised system.
Eliminating single point of failure
Blockchain’s tackling of the double spend problem perfectly illustrates the advantages a decentralised system has over a centralised one when it comes to handling data transfers. Since digital information is easy to replicate, it is possible for a bad actor to spend the same digital currency more than once. To prevent this from happening, electronic payments systems put verifying mechanisms in place to ensure the validity of each transaction. However, a single point of failure can make even the most sophisticated centralised solution vulnerable. In contrast, a blockchain-based transaction is much harder to manipulate, because for this to happen a bad actor essentially needs to take control over the entire network. And when a network is as distributed as Bitcoin or Ethereum, for example, such a scenario seems highly improbable.
Decentralised storage solutions for the future
The unique capabilities of the blockchain can be used to boost cybersecurity in other areas too. There are already a number of decentralised storage solutions that aim to utilise the technology to prevent data theft or manipulation. Services such as Storj and Sia store users’ files on various computers around the world, preventing the risk of a single point of failure. Meanwhile, encryption technology ensures that only the owner of the right private keys can have access to files stored on the network. Users can also rent their hard drives and CPU power to keep the network running and provide storage capacity, and are rewarded for doing so, typically with crypto tokens. As blockchain technology matures, these types of solutions will likely become commonplace.
Superior domain name system
Blockchain can also be useful for mitigating Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks and improve DNS (domain name system). Exploiting the inherent flaws of the largely centralised DNS, hackers can attack the connection between a website’s name and its IP address for malicious purposes. These include redirecting users to scam websites and causing a temporary shutdown of a website, among others. A DNS alternative hosted on a blockchain will enjoy all the benefits of decentralisation, including the lack of a single point of entry.
Such a solution already exists, though it is still under development. Launched in May 2017, the Ethereum Name Service (ENS) is a DNS alternative, hosted on the Ethereum blockchain, that allows users to register. eth domain names for resources such as smart contracts, wallet addresses and websites.
“ENS is built on smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain, meaning it doesn’t suffer from the insecurity of the DNS system. You can be confident names you enter work the way their owner intended,” the ENS team writes on its website, adding that the system “eliminates the need to copy or type long addresses”.
Industry website Coindesk reported recently that more than 270,000 domain names had been set up using the Ethereum domain since the service’s inception nearly two years ago.
Will passwords become obsolete?
With online services having become increasingly prevalent over the past decade or so, an obvious vulnerability for the end user has emerged: passwords. While these simple strings on letters and figures are meant to safeguard our presence online, the simple truth is that passwords present a security risk that is often exploited by hackers. It makes sense, too. While hackers can, and do, target a centralised service provider, it is much easier to look for security lapses on the consumer end.
The rise of blockchain-based services can help mitigate this threat, as well. Since blockchain systems rely on private keys for deciphering encrypted information, they can essentially render passwords obsolete. However, users still need to make sure that their private keys are stored safely, preferably at an offline storage solution.
Blockchain: young, but gifted
The discussed above scenarios are only a fraction of the possible use cases of blockchain when it comes to cybersecurity. In an increasingly digital and connected world, cybercrime can come in many forms and attack on many fronts. For example, a common tactic of hackers is to target edge devices, such as switches and routers, to corrupt devices connected to public or private networks. The rise of the Internet-of-Things (IoT) movement has created a myriad of security problems in this regard, by elevating a connectivity between devices to a whole new level. However, these are areas that blockchain can address, by playing to its core strengths. And that’s the key thing here – blockchain may not have many working applications just yet, but what it has is a set of clear, easily defined features that make it uniquely positioned to tackle certain problems. And this, I feel, is a good place to be for any emerging technology.
Disclaimer: the author of this article owns tiny amounts of Bitcoin and Ether