How A Leading Cyber Security Company Uses Blockchain Technology To Prevent Data Tampering
While cryptocurrencies remain vulnerable to a number of cyber security attacks, the underlying blockchain technology is being used to protect user data from being modified.
We believe that blockchain technology will be transformative in the tech and IT sector in the coming years, similar to what the internet did for the world back in the 90s and early 2000s, said John Zanni, President of the Acronis Foundation. We started a few years ago working with the Ethereum blockchain to see how to better protect data. Today, part of our storage and backup software lets users notarize any digital data and put that fingerprint on the blockchain to ensure it can’t be tampered with.
As the physical world meets the digital world, data has become a key player for a number of businesses. Yet ensuring that data remains safe, secure, private and authentic has become an ongoing challenge.
For example, the recent Equifax cyber-security breach that occured in September 2017 compromised sensitive information of nearly half the U.S. population. Cybercriminals accessed approximately 145.5 million U.S. Equifax consumers’ personal data. Equifax has also confirmed that at least 209,000 consumers’ credit card credentials were taken in the attack.
Moreover, one of the biggest challenges a business faces today in terms of cybersecurity is “data tampering,” which is the threat of data being altered in authorized ways, either accidentally or intentionally.
Authenticity of data is actually one of the most important factors when it comes to cyber protection. Data can always be changed and modified, Serguei Beloussov, CEO and founder of Acronis, told me. Blockchain technology can be used so that data can be signed with a digital signature. That digital signature, called hash, can then be stored on either a public or private blockchain ledger, which is highly immutable, making its possible to check if data was modified at any given time.
How Blockchain Technology Protects User Data
While blockchain technology is most commonly defined as a decentralized, distributed ledger used to record transactions across multiple computers, it can also be seen as a distributed database that maintains a growing list (also known as a chain) of data transaction records.
Consider that every participant of this decentralized system has a copy of the list of transactions. This means that no “official” copy exists. The distributed nature of the chain prevents tampering and revisions, as every action on the blockchain is fully transparent. In turn, data that is stored on a blockchain can easily remain authentic, since the security of every transaction is recorded.
For example, in order to ensure that data isn’t tampered with, Acronis applies blockchain technology to compute a cryptographic hash, or “fingerprint,” that is unique for each data file it stores. This hash is an algorithm that produces the same output when given the exact same input file, making it useful for verifying the file’s authenticity. Any change in the input file, however slight, results in a dramatically different fingerprint. Because the hash algorithm is designed to work only in one direction, it is impossible to determine the original file inputs from the output alone, making the process tamper-proof.
Let’s image that we have a piece of data and we create a unique description for this data. Even if we modify only a single bit of that data and generate the signature again, created hash value will be completely different. So such hash value is effectively a unique signature of your data, explained Beloussov. With Blockchain, you store that hash in multiple places, so you have multiple journals where you have written your signature in a specially encrypted fashion. If someone would want to modify such a record, they will have to get all of those places to agree to modification. Even after that, one would need to spend a lot of compute capacity to un-encrypt it from all of the journals after the record, and encrypt it back. Even if this theoretically could be possible to get done, it would be extremely expensive to compute, as well as complicated
Dr. Abdalla Kablan, who is a renowned fintech expert and advisor on blockchain and AI for the Government of Malta, further explains why data stored on the blockchain is immutable.
Typically, once data is stored on the blockchain it cannot be manipulated or changed – it is immutable. This is because of the architectural nature of blockchain structures where every block has a specific summary of the previous block in the form of a secure hash value. Since these blocks are structured in the form of a ‘chain’ sequence, the timing, order and content of transactions cannot be manipulated. Also, these blocks cannot be replaced unless all the ‘nodes’ achieve consensus or agree with the proposed change, Dr. Kablan told me.
Blockchain In The Real World
When applying blockchain technology for protecting against data tampering in the real world, common use cases often involve protecting transaction logs, proving the existence of legal documents and even confirming creative works originated on a certain date.
For example, a use case might involve a musician who is skeptical about publishing music on the internet due to plagiarism and other security concerns. Using blockchain technology, however, allows the artist to create a backup that contains pieces of digital music or other materials that can be copyrighted. Once the backup is complete, a certificate with cryptographic evidence is issued to help copyright claim, in case of infringement. The record of the original music pieces and their creation dates are recorded in the blockchain, allowing for confirmation that a piece of music existed at a certain time in the past and was authored by that artist.
“In general, blockchain technology today focuses mainly on cryptocurrency and fintech. Yet the world needs to look beyond that to see how businesses and individuals can take advantage of this technology. The day someone figures out how small businesses can apply blockchain technology in a multitude of applications is the day it will really flourish,” said Zanni.