25-04-2019 | By Mark Patrick
Many people have heard of Blockchain but most think of only cryptocurrency when the word comes up and, it’s true, Blockchain is a core technology that enables cryptocurrencies to exist.
However, Blockchain is more a philosophy than a technology, in that the concept is simple and can be executed in an array of different ways.
In basic terms, Blockchain creates a secure trust group that shares encrypted information in order to secure a common asset. You could theoretically do it on paper. The key is that every transaction is shared with the group, and the group forms its own security, value, enforcement, and management solution. This has the potential to change how everything is done within a shared environment.
Blockchain can be used to track and monitor any asset, whether it is an actual physical object or it has a more intangible manifestation.
For example, it is currently difficult to track ‘conflict minerals’ being shipped out of certain African nations (such as the coltan used to fabricate tantalum capacitors), with the legislation put in place to make it mandatory to disclose the source of such materials being hard to enforce effectively.
In this situation, Blockchain creates a ‘chain of custody’ that tracks every place and person these minerals have encountered, from the moment they come out of the ground until they reach the final buyer. Complete knowledge of this chain is the only way companies can ensure they are compliant with international conflict mineral guidelines.
When dealing with less tangible assets, Blockchain enables groups to secure data in exactly the same manner. Data management is a very complex issue, and new service providers, like Storj, File Coin and Sia, all operate as storage marketplaces, promising faster, cheaper and more secure storage than established options such as DropBox, Amazon, or Google.
Eventually these kinds of services will need to incorporate Blockchain to properly secure the far-flung assets of their clients.
One of the newcomers, Arweave, has released its own data storage Blockchain protocol based on a novel proof-of-access consensus mechanism. Blockweave is a distributed ledger that enables delivery of low cost, permanent on-chain storage.
To create it the engineering team at Arweave have used a self-organising decentralised algorithm, called ‘Wildfire’, that allows the network topology to adapt autonomously to the most efficient routes of information distribution. This algorithm is self-optimising, in order to provide low latency operation, as well as high bandwidth data writing and recall.
Current cloud storage depends on spreading file duplicates throughout various data centres, so as to avoid possible intrusion. Blockchain is highly suited to managing decentralised data assets, significantly improving system redundancy, as the Blockchain enables encrypted data to be stored on dozens of scattered individual nodes, with no central entity needing to control access. This not only improves security but can also lower the associated costs via decentralised file storage.
Arweave’s serverless architecture is much more efficient, optimising network utilisation. Image Credit arweave.org
Another approach using Blockchain that can advance current file storage systems employs an ‘incentive layer’, where data is not actually stored on a decentralised ledger. The relevant storage network uses it to process subscription payments, avoid flat exchange rates and store access information.
This ledger interacts with a storage Blockchain, improving settling times as well as increasing privacy and reliability, due to the decentralised network and Blockchain-based secure group record keeping. Blockchain can thus enhance system flexibility, empower user-centric storage networks and allow the creation of a more agile, customisable system.
Blockchain can also be utilised to secure actual information, guaranteeing its validity to all users of a given system. Start-up company Foamspace is developing a Blockchain-based solution called the FOAM Proof of Location protocol, so as to create a permission-less distributed network of autonomous radio beacons that can offer secure location services independent of external centralised sources such as GPS. FOAM consists of a multitude of beacons, called Zone Anchors, which connect and send messages until a consensus can be formed on the precise time.
The timed difference of messages sent and received allow for location to be calculated and the geometry of the network to be determined.
Blockchain is promising to be a force-enabler for a wide range of applications, be they physical or software-based. The ability to create a shared trust environment, where every member in a network is involved in the sharing of information to secure and manage it, is fundamentally changing the way in which data management works.