Blockchain Beyond Bitcoin
Until fairly recently, the term ‘blockchain’ was rarely used without reference to Bitcoin. This meant that its reputation was as something ethereal, arcane, and possibly subversive. Now, however, the potential uses of blockchain far outreach its initial associations, and blockchain is quickly becoming a mainstream technology that is changing the face of operations across the globe.
Universities are now commonly running programs to develop the next generation of blockchain experts and enable this promising technology to improve such disparate worlds as heavy industry, healthcare, financial services, and food.
What is Blockchain Anyway?
We know what a chain is: a structure where one thing is inextricably connected to the next. But what is a thing? What is a block and why should we care?
A block is a unit of data, discreetly packaged, preserved, and timestamped. It may represent a financial transaction, an interaction, or a chunk of information. It may hold verified identity data, reducing the need to disclose identifiable information, like a digital ID card that is anonymized and represented by a trusted authentication.
Each of these blocks is attached to the previous in the chain, and its spot in the chain is marked by its own unique identifier (a “hash”) and a copy of the previous block’s hash. With every new block, there is a copy of the preceding chain, and these are held individually in peer-to-peer decentralized storage.
What Can Blockchain Technology Do for Us?
As the use of this technology becomes more widespread, different applications are being developed. In any industry where processes need to be auditable, where data needs to be secure yet accessible, and where privacy must be upheld, blockchain will find a fit.
This includes the following:
Voting is in the spotlight across the world in 2020 and beyond. Postal voting and external country influence on elections has caused concerns.
Blockchain offers a way to secure, audit, add privacy, and ensure the immutability of the record in voting. Blockchain voting has the potential to diminish concerns over the possible tampering of voting records.
BitCongress is a vendor that has a blockchain voting solution. Online votes can be cast using a peer-to-peer technique, removing the need for a central voting register.
In West Virginia, blockchain voting by mobile was offered to overseas voters during the 2018 midterm. The blockchain voting app was supplied by Boston company, Voatz. Unfortunately, further work needs to be performed on the app, so the service will not be available in the 2020 United States election.
The Financial Sector and P2P Lending
Blockchain promises to be more efficient than current banking procedures for audit and compliance. KPMG's report on blockchain in banking found that using the technology could save banks between 25 and 50 percent against their current costs by reducing duplication and providing a clear audit trail.
Research from CSULB anticipates that blockchain will continue to be a platform for P2P (peer-to-peer, or person to person) lending, with borrowers and lenders sharing investment and profit without the cost and restrictions of a traditional financial institution.
Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI)
Blockchain can be used to create verified ID profiles for individuals, which would reduce unnecessary data flow and offer a fully user-centric approach to digital identity. As a decentralized facility, any application requiring proof of ID would be able to verify information through the chain of data, streamlining services for everyone involved and potentially reducing the risk of identity theft and fraud. Self-sovereign identity based on a blockchain can resolve issues over ownership and use of personal data and privacy.
Compliance and KYC
Changing any information within the blockchain requires consensus of every vector within the chain, which could be any number of users. This means it is an ideal tool for demonstrating compliance within any sector, an immutable digital “paper trail” making for ease of audit and trusted compliance reports. Because the blockchain is an immutable ledger, it is a true record of events.
The fact that data on a block cannot be modified, amended, or deleted provides compelling audit capabilities for compliance checks. In the banking sector and other areas that require proof of identity, Know Your Customer (KYC) offers a compelling use case for the blockchain.
SelfKey is a vendor offering a KYC blockchain that allows users to manage KYC information and control its use with relying parties.
Information held in a person’s medical records is currently likely to be distributed among disparate and non-interoperable services. Using a blockchain model, there could be a single individual file accessible across services, whether at the family doctor’s, in an emergency room, or even when accessing medical services on vacation.
Giving people ownership over access to their medical records could eradicate delays in treatment, streamline insurance claims and facilitate payouts, and ultimately enhance patient safety.
The Future of Blockchain
The potential applications for blockchain are innumerable and are restricted only by our imagination. With such a promising technology at hand, universities around the world are developing new programs to bring on the next generation of blockchain experts.
Blockchain offers a massive range of applications. Now is the time to develop your interest in blockchain and the technological innovation it offers. The California State University Long Beach Cybersecurity Professional Program is developing novel ideas as well as the professional development of the next generation of technologists and innovators.
Alternatively, if you want quick access to tips and resources to keep your data safe, take advantage of CISA.gov and their Cybersecurity Awareness Month resources. There are several ways to #BeCyberSmart!