Making Blockchain Safe and Secure, a Balancing Act That Never Ends

Blockchain expertise has grow to be synonymous with privateness and safety, however these very traits have been put to the take a look at over the previous decade. With historic roots embedded in cryptography, many blockchain and cryptocurrency tasks purport to supply unbridled safety and privateness measures. The business is break up between public blockchain platforms like Bitcoin and personal or permissioned blockchains centered on enterprise use.

Cointelegraph has beforehand explored the ins and outs of privateness issues round blockchain expertise, however the safety of those programs is a serious consideration by itself. In the years since Bitcoin’s (BTC) inception, a mess of cryptocurrencies has been created, together with quite a few blockchain tasks within the non-public and public sphere.

The sheer variety of working elements and business contributors signifies that vulnerabilities have been recognized and exploited over time. This is regardless of the very best efforts of these concerned to create probably the most safe blockchains, cryptocurrencies and exchanges.

This article will shine a highlight on public blockchains and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, permissioned blockchains that supply enterprise options to mainstream company firms in addition to privateness cash to delve into the completely different issues of their perceived and precise ranges of safety.

Is Bitcoin safe for the common consumer?

Given that the usage of cryptocurrencies primarily started with particular person customers and adoption by larger entities similar to monetary establishments has been gradual, a serious concern is the safety of blockchain or cryptocurrencies being utilized by people. In order to get an understanding of what makes these programs safe, Cointelegraph reached out to blockchain and cryptocurrency evaluation agency CipherTrace. 

John Jefferies, who’s the corporate’s chief monetary analyst, recognized and separated the completely different classes which might be wanted to completely perceive the extent of safety of an open blockchain or cryptocurrency like Bitcoin:

“There are three levels of security to consider: personal, platform and technology. Blockchains provide the technology layer, but the average user must trust the security of the particular wallet or exchange they are using. A well-validated, open-source blockchain built using known, trusted encryption, such as the Bitcoin blockchain, provides the level of security to assure the average user that their transaction data has not been tampered with.”

When requested whether or not open blockchain programs have supplied trusted safety and privateness to customers, Jefferies outlined two key parts of Bitcoin’s system that answered long-standing issues plaguing earlier digital foreign money tasks. First of all, the Blockchain expertise proved to be a serious development, because it solved the double-spend concern in peer-to-peer transactions. 

Another very important protocol that ensured safety was the premise of Bitcoin’s consensus protocol, as Jefferies defined, the blockchain expertise additionally offers with the Byzantine Generals Problem, the place a messenger sharing info between generals can ship false info. However, if all events obtain info that’s verified by the bulk, the corrupt messengers might be found. While these two parts present sturdy safety to the general Bitcoin system, Jefferies makes a transparent distinction between the safety of the protocol and the privateness afforded to customers:

“It is a common misconception that Bitcoin was designed to be anonymous, but in actuality, the Bitcoin blockchain is pseudonymous, meaning transactions are publicly visible yet the individual users associated with transactions are not. Satoshi’s white paper only discusses privacy in two paragraphs. If privacy was the goal, it would have been designed differently.”

Cointelegraph additionally reached out to Stanford University Ph.D. pupil Florian Tramèr, who lately managed to find vulnerabilities in privateness cash Monero (XMR) and Zcash (ZEC). A distant side-channel assault would allow an attacker to recuperate a consumer’s IP addresses, thereby destroying any semblance of anonymity and privateness of the customers in a transaction. 

Tramèr weighed in on the extent of safety that open blockchain networks, like Bitcoin, supplied the common consumer. He highlighted in a remark to Cointelegraph that Bitcoin’s consensus protocol has proved its efficacy by itself, however the growth of quite a few third-party purposes, like exchanges, has added quite a few vulnerabilities to the general ecosystem:

“The general idea of consensus via proof-of-work definitely seems to be standing the test of time – in terms of security at least, not so much in terms of scalability. […] On the security side, we’ve seen countless examples of vulnerabilities in smart contracts, wallets, exchanges, etc. From the privacy side, there have also been many studies showing that cryptocurrency transactions are relatively easy to trace and de-anonymize, even in systems, such as Monero and Zcash – mostly because actually achieving good privacy requires a lot of extra care on the user’s side.”

Permissioned blockchains and privateness cash

Private, or permissioned, blockchains have grow to be a go-to answer for large firms and corporates which might be on the lookout for distributed ledger options for numerous enterprise challenges. It goes with out saying that larger conglomerates will take no probabilities in relation to safety and they also flip to permissioned blockchains which might be tailored and managed by specialist tech firms.

Prime examples are Microsoft Azure Blockchain Service and IBM’s Blockchain platform, which is powered by the Linux basis’s Hyperledger Fabric. Microsoft Azure Blockchain Service performs the same operate, permitting customers to construct and function blockchain networks that scale. IBM Blockchain is geared toward giant companies and companies and has a wide range of present blockchain platforms that firms can be part of. Clients may also construct and launch their very own platforms that may be programmed to hold out particular features. 

When requested if permissioned blockchains are safer than open networks, CipherTrace’s Jefferies supplied an argument suggesting that these platforms aren’t inherently safer: 

“No, they are simply attacked less because they do not move money and are not widely deployed. If anything, they could be more susceptible to hacks and security breaches because by nature of being permissioned, private blockchains are more centralized.”

Tramèr’s take was much like that of Jefferies about how permissioned blockchains would distinction the safety of open blockchains:

“The threat model is certainly different. Yet, some issues, such as smart-contract bugs, key management, etc., would also be a problem in a permissioned or private system.” 

While firms might flip to permissioned blockchains to function closed-off ledger programs and different monetary duties, on the different finish of the spectrum, there are privateness cash that goal to supply full anonymity to customers. Considering Tramèr’s analysis into perceived privateness and safety supplied by privateness cash, he insisted that assessing the precise diploma of privateness and anonymity supplied just isn’t a clear-cut dialog:

“On the one hand, Zcash and Monero use some fairly advanced and very recent developments in cryptography to offer, in principle, high degrees of privacy and anonymity for transactions. On the other hand, cryptography is only one part of a large distributed system implemented by these projects. And measuring privacy, or the lack thereof, at a systems level is very hard. There can be subtle implementation bugs and a variety of usage patterns or side-channel leaks that might reveal much more than the cryptography intends.”

A balancing act

A key takeaway is that safety issues within the blockchain and cryptocurrency house transcend particular person programs. One can not label a single platform or cryptocurrency as insecure on account of the truth that there are quite a few programs that plug into each other. Tramèr supplied a comparability between conventional monetary programs and the emergence of blockchain-based cryptocurrencies the place no system is “unhackable” and that safety issues additionally come all the way down to usability points:

“You shouldn’t have to be an expert to use these cryptocurrencies in the most secure way possible. At the same time, striving for an ‘unhackable’ system is not necessarily the right goal. If you look at the banking system for instance, things are clearly not ‘unhackable.’ People get their credit cards and account logins stolen all the time; banks get hacked; there’s a lot of fraud; and most of this gets handled by the legal framework and insurance. A similar framework for seamlessly and gracefully handling security breaches and losses in the cryptocurrency space doesn’t exist yet.”

In the last decade following Bitcoin’s creation and the emergence of quite a few altcoins, blockchain platforms, cryptocurrency exchanges and a mess of different tasks have sprung up. This inevitably included teething issues and hacks; fraud and safety breaches have been rife, significantly amongst cryptocurrency exchanges. 

Meanwhile, technologists and builders have begun leveraging blockchain expertise and cryptography to construct safe and sturdy programs. The exploration of the capabilities continues at present, and Jefferies believes that the expertise will proceed to drive the event of safer programs throughout a variety of industries:

“Yes, there has been a lot of experimentation looking for use cases where blockchain provides benefits beyond traditional technology. […] We are seeing companies and countries pursuing digital currencies because of the enhanced efficiency and control enabled by digitalization. In the next 10 years, every major economy will have their own Central Bank Digital Currency.”

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