Blockchain is widely regarded as a powerful tool for financial, legal, and a wide range of other business applications. But what about security? Is it possible that the same technology that can be used to protect transactions on an open digital ledger can also protect data and infrastructure?
It turns out that it can. And what’s more, it can reimagine the entire security regimen that has evolved over the past decade, quite probably making the complex and expensive security ecosystems at most enterprises – from firewalls and monitoring platforms to anti-virus and malware solutions – obsolete.
A New Paradigm
The first thing to understand about blockchain is that it operates on a completely different footing than the existing security paradigm – one that is “less traveled and not nearly as hospitable to cyber criminals,” in the words of Infosys’ Yogesh Shelke. Despite more than $1 trillion in spending on traditional security measures over the past five years alone, hackers are still exploiting known and unknown vulnerabilities to gain access to private data and systems – primarily by intercepting device, application, and network communications.
Blockchain reduces these vulnerabilities in a number of ways:
- Distributed Ledger
The very nature of its architecture removes the centralized storage paradigm that is the target of most hacking attempts. Now, instead of having to break into just one hardened storage center, the bad guys need to enter thousands simultaneously, or else the alarm bells go off.
- Advanced Encryption
Since any member can view the ledger, whether it is a public or private chain, blockchain encrypts its data using the most advanced technologies available. This enables enterprises to secure communications, authenticate devices, validate configuration changes, and discover confidential devices in an Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem.
- Collaborative Consensus
Sophisticated algorithms continuously monitor the chain for suspicious actions, anomalies, and false positives without the need for a central authority. This allows all copies of the chain to keep an eye on the others so that even if one is compromised, the others will quickly identify and isolate the trouble spot.
- Unique Domain Name System (DNS)
Overall, the key advantage blockchain brings to security is that it is endemic to the platform itself. That is, security does not have to be deployed as an added layer to an already complex operating model.
Security Is An Operating Model
In fact, security is the operating model. As SEO content strategist Ale Oluwatobi Emmanuel noted on Bitcoin Insider recently, the distributed ledger is designed to create trust in an otherwise untrustworthy system.
This produces a number of advantages:
- Open and Protected
Instead of hiding data within a secure perimeter, blockchain exposes it to the world and relies on peer-to-peer networking and solid verification processes to keep it safe.
- Backup and Recovery
It also has the advantage of leveraging computing power that is normally sitting idle at any given time, and it can rent resources from its members to maintain around-the-clock vigilance.
This can be used not just for data protection but for backup-and-recovery operations as well, offering capabilities like continuous and automatic backup, instant recovery, data deduplication, and error-free copying.
Is Blockchain the Future of Cyber Security?
All of this affords the means to establish blockchain as the new security ecosystem to protect all digital communications, whether it is part of a blockchain or not. In a recent post on Security Boulevard, Sagi Kovaliov of cybersecurity consultancy PeopleActive pointed out that it can be used to:
- Secure identity management systems and data storage infrastructure;
- Create decentralized warehouses for the sharing of cyber threat intelligence;
- Reduce theft and diversion of physical products by monitoring transactions through the supply chain;
- Establish immutable records that are virtually impervious to alteration or deletion.
Still, it’s important to understand that blockchain security is not without security challenges. Transaction data is still recoverable by anyone with access to the chain, which in the case of a public blockchain is virtually anybody. This may compel some organizations to deploy smaller chains on a few servers, which increases the chance of compromise.
Scalability can also become a problem the longer the blockchain remains active and is accumulating and generating data. With every node in the system processing and storing data, critical performance functions like validation and key administration could suffer. There is also the chance of unintentional branching and chain-splitting, which could open new security vulnerabilities to the entire chain.
These are technological challenges, of course, and as blockchains evolve, we can expect most of these issues to be at least minimized, if not eliminated altogether. But if blockchain is to produce a new security footing for the global data ecosystem, it isn’t likely to happen overnight.
Most organizations are well past the trial phase when it comes to deploying blockchain, but they are still a long way from trusting it completely, particularly with the sum total of their data footprint.
The fact remains that the demands of a digital economy are incompatible with the increasing damage, financial and otherwise, that cybercrime is generating. The average data breach now costs millions in lost revenue, legal damages, and the erosion of brand trust and loyalty.
A new data transaction paradigm built from the ground up to be both open and secure may just be what the enterprise needs going forward.