Since its introduction, blockchain technology has created a huge buzz, offering a secure exchange of value without the need for a central authority such as a bank, a government or a financial institution. As such, some consider it an essential tool to build trust online and expect it to serve as a stable basis for a fair, secure and inclusive digital economy.
As a result, blockchain has attracted the attention of many, with governments, businesses, academic institutions and the ever-growing blockchain community in talks about what this innovative technology can offer society.
In fact, Europe has taken active measures to support the innovation of platforms and applications in the form of a number of initiatives, such as the Observatory and the EU Blockchain Forum.
According to a market research published by ReportBuyer, the global business of blockchain is expected to amount to $ 7 billion by 2022 and, judging by the investments made by technology giants such as IBM and Facebook, it could be an accurate forecast.
But despite being a "hot topic", the blockchain has yet to be implemented in anything other than for the purpose of cryptocurrency.
What is the blockchain?
Initially created for bitcoin – a type of cryptocurrency – blockchain serves as a reliable method for recording transactions of a cryptographic asset. In other words, it acts like a normal financial ledger, but instead stores information in digital blocks that are connected by a continuous chain.
Each transaction is a block, which is then added to this chain, explains Chakib Bouda, CTO, Rambus. Blocks store data on a public key and keep track of who owns what, ie the person & # 39; X & # 39; has 0.1 bitcoin and the person & # 39; Y & # 39; it has 2.5 bitcoins.
"Let's say I wanted to transfer 1 bitcoin to the person X," says Bouda. "When I request to put something or remove something from the blockchain, I am given a private key, which I will have to use to sign the new block."
The blockchain is decentralized and distributed on a large public network of computers that act as nodes, with an ecosystem of "miners" around it.
"A new block goes to all the miners, who" will fight "to validate it," he explains, a process known as "job proof". This validation comes in the form of a mathematical equation, which increases in difficulty each time a bitcoin is "extracted".
"Anyone who wins is rewarded with bitcoin," continues Bouda, "and my block will then be added to the chain, with the information that my 1 bitcoin now belongs to the person X. This updated ledger is then sent to all users on the network ".
Bouda compares the extraction process with a store transaction. The card card sends information to the bank, which validates it. But the bank is centralized, which means that there is only one access point for those seeking access to the funds. In the blockchain environment, miners act as a bank, but there are millions, based on scattered geographies.
This system of proof of work means that every block can be considered as "digital truth" because the ledger is immutable. For this reason, many companies consider blockchain a potential tool to trace the life cycle of a product or to store data such as home ownership.
If someone could tamper with the data, it would be obvious. "Each block contains a hash that matches it to the previous block," says Damon Neale, a cloud storage expert. Created with an algorithm, the hash transforms numbers and letters into an encrypted output. "If someone broke a block, the hash would be altered and it would be obvious that they tried to access it, which means that an attacker would have to attack the whole chain, but this is practically impossible because the system is decentralized, with every user who has a copy of the chain, which means that a hacked chain can be compared to a previous copy and, again, it would have been obvious that a violation had been attempted.
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"The only way to hack the chain is to hack every machine – a number in the thousands – and because it's a distributed system, a hacker would not know where all these machines were based. Also, when you're hacking, you can add new blocks.
"It's not impossible," he admits, "but it's very difficult, while with a bank, if a hacker has surpassed security, the resources are all in a central point."
A different approach
Although many consider work-trials to be one of the distinguishing features of the blockchain, it is interesting to note that Doug Wick, VP, Products and Marketing at the data security company, ALTR, believes that this quality should be associated exclusively with the cryptic world. . "Blockchain is a particular way of structuring and saving data in order to guarantee high integrity and security.
"For me, the job testing system is how a public blockchain works," suggests Wick. Explain that ALTR has taken a different approach, instead creating a single private and authorized blockchain. "In this case it is not necessary to perform a job test because you know that all the nodes can be considered reliable, where they are managed and who is running them."
Companies, however, are working on different ways to validate. The reason is that the current test method of work requires an extremely powerful processing system and takes a long time to add transactions to the network. It has been argued that this solution is not practical for other applications because it is not scalable and when the data is needed, it is needed in real time.
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To create a secure data storage system, ALTR made some significant changes from the traditional blockchain. This includes blocks without schema, which means that information such as documents, images and videos can be archived. The company has also centralized the blockchain itself, so there is no public access. "Hospitals would not want patient information to be publicly shared", reason for Wick. "What is decentralized is the data structure – our technology is built in such a way that it can distribute nodes everywhere, but still privately, for example, a company might have some data stored in Amazon Web Services, some in Microsoft Azure and others in its data center, it's fragmented, so no node contains the complete data, but each one has a reference to the previous piece, which means that ALTR can recompose it when requested. "
ALTR treats the blockchain as a RAID array, a technology that works with a set of separate, centrally controlled hard disks. These work by replicating data on all hard disks, so if one goes down, the others still have access. RAID arrays also allow simultaneous writing to different hard drives, allowing better performance. "We have developed our technology around this concept," says Wick, "giving the opportunity to read and write quickly out of the blockchain."
When an application requests data, it "requires" the intelligent database driver, a technology used in every database system. ALTR connects to existing processing networks through this driver and has designed a technology that allows its blockchain to sit between this driver and the application. According to Wick, this means that ALTR can monitor data activity. "Using the blockchain, we create an immutable data register that represents digital truth. We can also govern access, so if a certain group requires access we can assign rules to the block, such as display limitations. If someone tries to get an abnormally large amount of data, it will be reported and we can stop or slow down that violation in real time. "
Beyond the cryptocurrency
Both Wick and Bouda agree that there are many applications that could benefit from blockchain technology. Recently a notable use case emerged, with Infineon and XAIN agreeing to bring the blockchain to the car.
According to the duo, the possible applications for this technology include automatic payments, keyless access for car sharing schemes, on-demand services, tuning protection and automated driving functions. Basically, it is about guaranteeing access rights – to the car itself or to specific data in the vehicle. An example that involves specific data is when insurance companies offer low rates for car owners with good driving habits.
All of Infineon 2ND AURIX generation microcontrollers (MCUs) can already provide support for blockchain functionality in automobiles. This support is based on a built-in hardware security module (HSM) that complies with the EVITA safety standard. An HSM consists of special computers and storage units inside the MCU. It performs encryption operations and is protected by its own dedicated firewall. The 2ND The AURIX generation MCUs therefore have a secure memory for the digital key used for identification in the blockchain and are able to perform blockchain operations, such as hashing or digital signing, quickly and securely.
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However, the creation of new data blocks still poses a challenge for conventional MCUs used in automobiles. Because of the amount of computational power required, the mining process has so far been performed by high-performance processors. XAIN, however, is working on a new process that can also be performed on devices that need to be cheap in their energy use, like MCUs in automobiles.
As for the future of the blockchain, Bouda sees decentralization as the way forward. "We talk about decentralized Internet," he says, pointing out the improper use of data by Internet-based companies as a key factor in this development. "It seems impossible, but I see it as a potential, not everything will be decentralized, but the content of the user could certainly be – and this would put power back on people." Organizations earn millions of data by selling to advertising companies, but with this a system like this, they should start asking for permission to access our data.
"Data centers will not become redundant," he ventures, "but instead of being central, they'll be distributed to different places, big players like Amazon and Google would become part of the network, I can not imagine the idea is interesting to them but there is a mentality of "if you can not beat them, join them". "
"Everyone is very enthusiastic about the blockchain, but nobody has really adopted it," adds Neale, "and this is due to the lack of understanding of the benefits.When companies distribute it, it is used as a less distributed and centralized blockchain, which defeats the because there are fewer nodes to be hacked to compromise the data.You could argue that it's just too complicated a database.There's a lot of potential, but for now, I do not see it being used for anything other than cryptocurrency. " .
Bouda admits that blockchain is not as scalable as industry would like, but compares it to the Internet. "It was slow – and this will also take time."
Wick believes that the slow absorption of the blockchain may be due to the bitcoin association. "This was a global phenomenon and when companies try to use blockchain, they really think big, but this technology is still so new and extremely complex, so what we need companies to do is start solving small problems and making accustom people to technology ".
Wick says that ALTR has adopted this approach, solving a smaller problem: digital trust within individual companies. From there, he believes that trust can be built with the public in the blockchain. "Let's say we have a group of banks that use our technology, from here we can introduce a blockchain based on the consortium where banks can use a shared chain for transactions or register assets with one another. Because they have trusted their company, they have now developed the confidence to use it in the industry.The industry needs to grow, and then we will slowly start to see, for example, blockchain shared by the nations or by an entire supply. chain ".