The word "disruptor" has been thrown around a lot over the past few years, but few innovations have fit the bill the way blockchain intends to. From modifying concepts of identities to adding trust and transparency in the peer-to-peer space, the pace of the blockchain revolution and its potential has gone far beyond the "bitcoin technology" that it is known to be.
Neil Ginns, Senior Solutions Consultant at nCipher, spoke exclusively to AMEinfo about his viewpoints on the impact of the blockchain tech, its potential uses, challenges facing its implementation and the need to take a deeper look into the security surrounding this innovation.
"Blockchain has the most impact in terms of recording data – and those sectors that are recording data that can't be tampered with will benefit. Blockchain will impact healthcare, national records, land registration – anywhere where you've got information that needs to be put in an electronic form and there isn't necessarily a central authority that could regulate it," Neil Ginns said.
The "blockchain" solution
Neil Ginns: Blockchain has a lot of used cases that shows it will change things. However, it's early days. People are trying it in a lot of different ways. In some ways, it's not going to be the solution for a particular set of problems, so those will be troubles in themselves. Yet, overall it's a technology that solves problems in a way that other technology doesn't.
We already have methods of establishing trust in finance. They are very centralized. We have central banks; we have big payment cards like Visa and MasterCard – so for those type of solutions, blockchain doesn't really add much value because we already have a central point of reference. Where blockchain does add value is in the peer-to-peer space where you don't have central authority; where you need to have different individuals, different organizations being able to communicate with each other in a trustworthy way without relying on a central point.
Challenges facing blockchain
Neil Ginns: The first big challenge that blockchain faces is credibility. It's very easy for people to knock blockchain by citing lots of used-cases that failed. They can find a lot of overinflated expectations. But at the same time, there are success stories. There are people who have made it work for them, and used blockchain to do things that they couldn't do before.
The second challenge that blockchain faces is around security. For those people who jump in and use this technology and haven't learned from the past, they are likely to make mistakes. The challenges that blockchain faces are around the keys. Blockchain relies on using cryptography, which has keys. These keys are literally worth money. They are the value of the data. In cryptocurrency, they are worth money, and in other types of blockchain use, they are the value of the data that they are protecting. If you protect your data with keys, you then need to protect your keys. Cryptography solves your data protection problem, but then you've got the problem of protecting your keys. That's where nCipher focuses on – making sure we protect valuable encryption keys, which are then protecting valuable data.
It takes a generation before people have the skills to protect blockchain. In the blockchain world, things are moving faster than the skills needed to protect the keys and data. While blockchain is rather new, protecting data isn't new. We've used encryption to protect data for many years, and we need to use the past as our reference for the present and don't the same mistakes that people made in the past, just because blockchain is new.
Blockchain and cybersecurity threats
Neil Ginns: In the field of security, you're always catching up. There's always the bad guys; there's always the threat. It's like an arms race. As technology changes, there are new attacks; there are new ways in which security can be compromised, and there are also new defenses to block those attacks.
The threats that people perceive – they are not the bad guys; they are not the hackers sitting in a basement in another country. The No.1 threat that people are worried about is employees making mistakes. People who have access to your valuable data, who make a mistake by putting it in the wrong place; leaving the door open and making a mistake that compromises sensitive data accidentally. Second, are the temporary workers. People coming in to do some work for you; they have access to the data – and they may either make a mistake or choose to steal that data.
Cloud computing growth
Neil Ginns: The change we are seeing globally, but also specifically in the Middle East, is cloud computing. This completely changes things. Up until this year, there were no major cloud providers in the Middle East. This year both Microsoft and Amazon are opening cloud services in the UAE and Bahrain and that changes the way people use their IT resources.
Now, rather than having to buy all this equipment, they can take advantage of the economies of scale and even if they are a small business, they can share infrastructure with thousands of other customers of cloud providers who are hosting and making things much more efficient. Their cost, therefore, also turns into subscription rather than an upfront cost, and as a growing company, their use of resources can be much more tightly controlled and aligned to what they actually need. They don't have to buy an overcapacity at the start, they can scale up as time goes on. But at the same time, when you are using the cloud, you also are using someone else's resources; someone else's computers; someone else's infrastructure; and somebody else's employees are managing it. You have to make sure that you keep control of the security of that data yourself.