Every now and then the human race stumbles across an invention that catapults us all forward one giant step. History is replete with examples: the wheel, fire, the internal combustion engine, concrete, the light bulb. When we look back in 50 years, will blockchain technology deserve a spot on this illustrious list? It’s way too early to make a definitive call, but one thing is for sure. What started with a selective use as the secure foundation upon which the cryptocurrency Bitcoin was built now looks like it’s about to break big into diverse industries and might even result in an entirely new internet.
More Security for the IoT
Nothing online seems to be evolving faster than the Internet of Things (IoT). For those a little fuzzy on the topic, here’s a one-sentence definition: networks of mechanical and digital devices uniquely identified on the internet and able to transfer data without human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction. One example would be all the linked devices that make up a smart home network. Thanks to mostly nonexistent security features, most IoT networks are a hacker’s dream.
Can blockchain improve this pitiful state of security? Almost certainly.
The problem with these smaller networks of devices (i.e. light bulbs, doorbells, security cameras, smart appliances, etc) is that, as designed, there is a single server controlling access. Once compromised, a hacker would have access to every device on the network. Blockchain technology, with its decentralized approach to security, is a much harder beast to compromise because anyone with ill intent would have to overcome more than half of the devices at once in order to take control. That fact alone improves the IoT online security immediately upon deployment.
DLT Means No More Middlemen
Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) is another term for blockchain technology, but no matter the name, the end result is the same. Bad news for those who have occupied the middleman position. Sorry, you’re about to become obsolete. Here’s the thing. The financial industry has begun to pay close attention to the idea that blockchain applications – essentially decentralized databases in which the technology itself is the middleman – could reinvent the status quo from the ground up. Here’s an example.
Let’s say that ATM networks were invented today. Rather than having the whole thing controlled by a monolithic corporate “benefactor” – hello Visa – a decentralized blockchain technology would replace the need for a central entity to own and control the database and transaction processing layer. We could dispense with the “hub and spoke” approach and replace it with a single global blockchain network that manages debit and credit card ATM use more securely and efficiently than Visa ever has. Here’s something else to think upon. Fewer middlemen means fewer transaction fees.
Online P2P Data Exchange
Whether exchanging cryptocurrency or other types of data files, DLT, as devised for the first time to use with Bitcoin, has the capability to make any P2P exchange between individuals more secure for any node on the network. Let’s look at how this works in the real world of a P2P network. The blockchain protocol operates on top of the network, facilitating the process that insures each network node has a complete copy of the ledger. The ledger could be financial transactions or it could be transactions of another kind.
The important thing to note is that this is a shared, trusted, public record of transactions. Anyone can look at it but no single entity can control or make changes to it. Another way to think about it is as a distributed database that cannot be tampered with or revised without being validated by a majority of the network nodes. Once approved, a transaction will be added to every copy of the ledger at every node.
Reconstructing the Internet
The HTTP (hypertext transmission protocol) technology that the internet runs on has been with us essentially unchanged since the 1970’s. It’s like using stone knives and bearskins to build a car. The tech gurus who sit around and think about these kinds of things seem convinced that blockchain technology just might be the way to create an entirely new internet protocol that runs on a peer-to-peer (P2P) basis, allowing individuals to exchange data directly without having to go through a middleman.
Keep your eyes and ears tuned for developments related to a new internet protocol known as the Inter-Planetary File System (IPFS). This Star Trek-sounding term has been proposed as a way to use blockchain technology to decentralize the internet with an alternative to HTTP. There are a few reasons we should prefer a system different than the one we have. Right now, the internet is centralized for all practical purposes, with a few massive servers and platforms like tech giants Facebook, Google, etc exerting control over user data. Add your friendly federal government to that list as well. Not very democratic! Furthermore, a true P2P networks with blockchain installed would be faster as it draws data from multiple copies of a file rather than a single source. This is the same logic that holds some of the best bitcoin exchanges together.
Though it might be a while yet before blockchain is deployed to an extent that resembles an alternate internet, decentralized web hosting packages are already up and running in most parts of the world and provide many of the same benefits, albeit on a smaller scale. The folks at Aussie Hosting have a sincere interest in the topic and are always breaking the latest related information (please refer to the above image courtesy of Aussie Hosting). Did you know the best hosting in Australia comes from Singapore? Just one of their research-backed nuggets of indisputable truth.
You may already be aware that a Virtual Private Network (VPN) secures your internet connection to a larger extent than traditional web hosting packages. Especially if you ever use public wi-fi when you’re out and about, you’re crazy if you don’t go the VPN route. Unless, that is, you like giving up your personal and financial information to any stray hacker or government snoop enjoying a cup of coffee beside you.
If safety is a concern, and it should be, a decentralized, blockchain-based VPN is what you seek. Trust us. The problem with a regular VPN is that it is centralized (duh) and closed source code. That latter means the programmers could do anything malicious under the hood and you’d never know until it’s too late. When you put a VPN on blockchain, it becomes open source, decentralized, and ALL traffic must be encrypted. This would put a stop to any sneaky business.
To extricate yourself from beneath the thumb of an increasing un-private world, you need an organization that thrives on paranoia and suspicion. We suggest a deep but easy-to-read dive into the world of Privacy Australia’s VPNs. This may be the cheapest, simplest way to protect yourself quickly from those who think George Orwell’s 1984 world seems like a pretty swell place.
The Bottom Line
To maintain a comfortable level of privacy and security online, you need to get serious about understanding and implementing blockchain technology when and where you can. It’s not perfect. Nothing is, but it is your best hope to shield yourself against the barrage of attempts to pry private information off your computer, IoT, and mobile devices. Sorry, but this is one area of your life that requires proactivity. Otherwise, plan to be ver