Blockchain seems almost as great as cloud or AI in 2018, but it is more than the trend of the day. The underlying technologies have been leaking for years, but the connection of the blockchain to cryptocurrencies tends to obscure business applications. So far, the cases of use of the most practical companies have been related to logistics and supply chain management. As ecosystems develop, other applications will follow, including those in the unified communications space.
To better understand the potential of blockchain in communications, we define the concept. In short, blockchain is a distributed master book that is shared in the cloud through a peer-to-peer computer network. It is a decentralized model for sharing information in pieces – or blocks – and when they are linked together, like a chain, they constitute a complete record or transaction.
Because each block is encrypted and contains only one element of a transaction, it has no intrinsic value until it is linked and validated with the other blocks to complete the chain. Technology is complex, but powerful. Blockchain is incredibly secure in design, making it an attractive model wherever a high degree of trust is required when sharing information.
From here, it is not a big jump to see cases of blockchain use in communications where the parties need privacy, or sensitive information needs to be shared between the teams. The major unified communications providers (UCs) are examining the blockchain in communications, but integrated applications are not here yet. As with other UC applications, once the blockchain is better understood, use cases will develop, especially if, or when, existing models to ensure trust and privacy become real weaknesses. Given how these scenarios are more likely not to materialize in the current environment, here are two cases of use for blockchain under the UC umbrella.
1. Collaboration at company level
When team members are in the same office or department, there is a built-in familiarity and trust that makes collaboration easy enough. People know each other, so the validation of identity is not really necessary and the information about the project is accessible to everyone. Many organizations, however, tend to be a collection of silos where information is closely monitored, even internally.
More progressive organizations are trying to build transparency cultures, especially when they want to become customer-centric. In these environments, silos are a major obstacle to achieving business goals, which usually include improving collaboration and sharing knowledge. Depending on the culture, it may not be realistic to eliminate the silos, but even cutting them down a little can help cross-functional teams.
Here, blockchain would be a case of primary use for collaboration. Think of scenarios where sensitive information within a department could be useful for a business collaboration initiative, such as customer records, payment history, financial data, and software code. Using blockchain, departments could securely share their most secure information without having to break down silos or expose data for misuse.
2. Speech security as a communication channel
Because voice communications are a cornerstone of UC, if IT groups tightly protect voice applications, UC deployment will be more effective. With the advance of cloud technology and speech recognition, IA voice technology is almost indistinguishable from the human voice, vocal platforms will become increasingly vulnerable to harmful activities.
While the routine uses of the voice are rather benign, there are scenarios in which the identity of the caller must be known with complete certainty. This also applies to one-to-one communication, such as two executives discussing a merger, as well as for team collaboration, such as the various departments that formulate a strategy to counter a new competitor. With a little bit of social engineering, it can be surprisingly easy for bad actors to compromise these scenarios.
Until recently, direct direct dialing (DID) – those ubiquitous 10-digit phone numbers – has been our dominant identifier for real-time communication. Considering how we use DID for voice and messaging, our identity, personal privacy and data security are at risk.
Now consider the dominant vocal technologies of the public switched telephone network, voice over IP (VoIP) and mobile phones and how each of them has distinct security deficiencies that make them easy targets for hackers. Also, consider the fact that VoIP is prohibited or unsafe for private conversations in many countries.
Blockchain was not designed with the voice in mind, but there are clearly use cases for one-to-one and team-based communications. With DID, identity validation becomes increasingly difficult because calls can easily be falsified or intercepted and callers can be represented using artificial intelligence.
These dark scenarios are routine parts of the cybercrime toolkit. In cases where the privacy and the caller's identity must be absolutely certain, the blockchain in communications is safer than the DIDs we have based on before the advent of the Internet. In this context, it is probably a good idea to establish these links to blockchain.