Julien Friedman is a second year War Studies student at King’s College London, and the Editor of the Geopolitical Risk Society blog. In this piece he studies the development of blockchain technology and its uses in cybersecurity.
24/01/2018 – Cryptocurrencies have been on the rise in the last couple of years, only recently starting to receive major backlash from governmental actors trying to quell their influence. In parallel, cyber attacks have also been on the rise with major breaches taking place worldwide such as Wannacry or Not-Petya. Where the two meet is in blockchain technology. Indeed, when a person or a group of people under the alias of Satoshi Nakamoto created Bitcoin, the largest and most popular type of cryptocurrency, he/her/they created a new type of technology, blockchain, enabling the immutability of transactions or making them part of a record shared across a whole network leaving an auditable trail behind. Its applications in the security sector are invaluable and could change the ways in which states and companies protect themselves and their businesses. Even though this technology is relatively new, some major corporations notably in the IT sector are pushing for it within their cloud services such as IBM and Microsoft. The financial sector is also starting to see the use of it such as for Israel’s largest bank, Bank Hapoalim Ltd and Israel Aerospace Industries. States are also starting to look into blockchain, though they are mostly doing so for health care, identity management and banking for now. However, while most of the world’s attention is on cryptocurrencies, businesses should perhaps also be looking at its inner-workings to better defend themselves against cyber threats.
Blockchain was originally created with the purpose of creating a decentralized financial ledger which would facilitate the exchange of Bitcoin. Yet, Bitcoin is only one of many areas in which such a system can prove useful. Indeed, security is a major concern for all since computers and the internet are used by most and therefore the security of these systems and their data is paramount. While in general software and data analytics are used to find breaches and potential attacks, Blockchain, though not necessarily being the answer to all cyber security professionals’ cries, could help make protection easier. This is because it adds decentralized control, tamper-resistance and assets to the distributed database that it is built on. Where it differs from regular databases, is, as Blockchain startup Edge’s CEO Paul Puey, puts it: “The problem with centralized security is that it takes everyone’s data and puts it in one place”. This is quite dangerous, giving potential attackers a clear target. By decentralizing data and distributing it worldwide through nodes or computers, attacks would be much less crippling.
Moreover, most cyber attacks take place through a third-party, whether it be the cleaning service for the targeted business or a supplier, these smaller businesses often have less secure networks. With Blockchain, a collective smart contract is put in place making sure that all its links are running correctly, and each actor has its place in the chain, stopping them from overwriting data and breaching the networks. In such a system, only those inside of the chain could execute commands and make changes to their data, with all of it being visible through a ledger, limiting foreign tinkering.
This closed system thus gives all its participants information on the others within it, knowing what is being done at all times; making the correction of errors particularly quicker. The use of blockchain could deflect attacks on major websites as it has been the case with largescale Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, or the overwhelming of online services to make them unavailable and ransomable such as with sites like PayPal, Yahoo or Twitter. Rather than keeping security keys on a single centralized server, blockchain would distribute keys and keywords throughout the network making them nearly unbreachable. Furthermore, it creates a base for artificial intelligence (AI) integration into databases and networks through its decentralization and nodal spread, dispersing it throughout the network in order to make it and its threat detection more effective.
Many new companies are making their way into this new business with Big Chain DB being one of the more interesting ones. While a blockchain cannot replace threat detection or any other traditional defence software and technology, it would enable better cryptography and the possibility to improve one’s security and remain standing in case of an attack. The chain could be shut down rather than having one’s central data storage space compromised. With the rise of large-scale sophisticated cyber attacks, blockchain coupled with AI data analytics could very well be the future of cybersecurity.
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