News & Analysis

Strengthening Data Security Using Blockchain


Naga Sravani Akula

With businesses across the world riding the digital wave, data will be a key competitive differentiator in their success transformation stories. Besides the massive data deluge, with the advent of hybrid cloud business models today, data goes beyond the perimeter of an organization. While data leaks and hacks can prove to be hazardous for any organization, it would especially be damaging in cases where data is centralized. This leads to a powerful shift in paradigm for decentralized and distributed ledger technology (DLT) applications.

Security ‘hexad’ using blockchain

Blockchain is a foundational technology that has the potential to revolutionize the world, similar to what the internet did in the past. The information security triad can be enhanced to a ‘hexad’ with blockchain-based decentralized data security for enterprises.

The decentralized immutable distributed-ledger technology on a peer-to-peer (P2P) network based on cryptographic concepts and consensus algorithms uses a cryptographic one-way hash, internally which helps to identify any alteration done to the blockchain data making it more transparent, reliable, trustable and independent also ensuring data integrity.

Asymmetric encryption with public-private key pair is used for making transactions on the ledger providing non-repudiation, and accountability. Since data is distributed on a P2P network (ensuring availability), there’s no single point of failure making it difficult for hackers to tamper data at multiple places. Consensus algorithms, or conditions on which a group agrees to put transactions in blockchain, help in decentralized distribution of power and forms the base of trust.

Permissioned blockchain (example Hyper-ledger Fabric) are kind of hybrid models where networks require participants to have authorization for access thus ensuring privacy. These could be used by multiple organizations participating in the blockchain network forming a consortium in a decentralized way while maintaining confidentiality. Fine-grained access control and data sharing mechanisms ensure that confidential data is shared only among the intended audience. While permission-less blockchain (example Bitcoin) have data publicly available to view, it would have computing intensive or complex powerful consensus algorithms to validate and update ledgers in order to deter DOS (Denial-of-service) attacks.

Data once entered in a blockchain network is immutable, i.e. not changeable until more than one-third of the network is compromised, which would ideally not be the case in a P2P distributed network. This also helps in establishing trust between unknown parties without the need for intermediaries, further reducing transactional and operational costs.

When data goes beyond the perimeter, organizations can be sure that data is unaltered, not accessed by cloud vendors or anyone else ensuring privacy and integrity. Confidential agreements could be on blockchain using smart contracts which execute automatically when consensus conditions are met. Any litigation or disputes raised could be easily settled real-time, thus establishing accountability. The features in the hexad, along with immutable data in blockchain, make auditing easy and reliable.

Reducing cyberattacks and enhancing security

When a request is placed on a browser, it sends it to a network of computers called Domain Naming System (DNS). DNS is like a phonebook for the internet. It resolves the website to an IP address which helps in connecting to the right server on the internet. Typically, DNS servers are centralized by nature. Making DNS decentralized and distributed using blockchain could reduce cyberattacks and enhance security.

Multi-layered security frameworks based on blockchain technology decentralize the risk and reduce sophisticated phishing attacks for organizations. Encrypted data, decentralized storage and publicly visible ledgers (for transparency) can instill a new set of cybersecurity priorities for governments and other public institutions, while private and permissioned blockchain help in transforming the enterprise data operational models.

Identity verification procedures provided by authorized institutions on blockchain network help for secure and reliable validation and sharing of information. Device identity on blockchain for IoT security can reduce device impersonation and spoofing attacks. End users who worry about the security of their digital footprint can be self-sovereign, i.e., own data and share on need basis on a decentralized internet using blockchain. This also makes customers active stakeholders and can change how organizations handle information from everybody who interacts with their network, transforming the business models.

Blockchain- now and the future

Hyper-ledger umbrella is a global open source collaborative effort hosted by the Linux Foundation for multiple blockchain projects, libraries and tools for various enterprise and industrial deployments. Blockstack is an open source blockchain-based decentralized computing platform which provides a full- stack alternative to traditional cloud computing for building secure decentralized applications.

US space-agency NASA utilizes blockchain technology open source permissioned network for tracking air-traffic to curb cyberattacks on aerospace agents. This is to enhance privacy and security of aircraft data for corporate and military flight operations, helping in preventing unwarranted public access to confidential data. NASA has also signed up for an autonomous spacecraft project based on blockchain along with AI, networking and sensor-based technologies.

Certain quantum computing techniques have the potential to break the cryptography algorithms used in blockchain but less likely in permission blockchain since the participants are verified and authorized. The solution is to build quantum-resistant ledgers. Enterprises adopting this technology need to pick appropriate use cases to get maximum benefit.

In the future, world trade, tokenization of valuable assets, self-sovereign digital identity, public sector facilities and benefits, health-care data, strengthening security, congruence of IoT, AI and blockchain for autonomous decentralized products and services are likely to have wide adoption in real-time based on blockchain technology.

Enterprises with hybrid cloud models adopting blockchain for data security can be confident about their data security even beyond the perimeter, and ensure required audit and compliances with reduced costs. The disruptive and transformative potential of blockchain technology in enhancing data security will enable the emergence of new models, helping in digitally transforming the ecosystem for the better of the world.

(The author is Naga Sravani Akula, a Senior Identity and Access Management (IAM) Engineer with NetApp and the views expressed in the article are her own).

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