We live in a dynamic and ever-changing world, with data breaches increasing and regulators looking to tackle the issue with strict restrictions on data management. One such regulation that has had a widespread impact is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) brought in by the EU.
It is having an effect all over the globe, not just in the EU countries. Essentially, if you’re processing data that has even a single EU citizen involved, then you must conform to the regulation.
These tight and strict regulations have been brought in to combat the ever-growing number of data breaches which have an impact on individuals and companies. In a digital age, where previously there was little to no regulation, privacy was an afterthought.
Now, privacy is beginning to reshape the internet. So, it might just be that blockchain technology, the innovation powering the world of cryptocurrencies, holds the key to preventing data breaches.
Major Data Breaches and Blockchain: Use Cases
The case of 500 million compromised records
You might be surprised to learn that around 5 billion records were compromised in 2018. According to the study conducted by RBS, the most vulnerable sector is the business sector – it accounts for 66% of breaches. Let’s take a look at one of the biggest leaks of 2018 and its results.
In November 2018, the news outlets carried headlines on a massive data breach that affected Marriott International, a famous hotel brand. Up to 500 million records were compromised revealing sensitive data of the customers.
The information included payment card data, id details, addresses, and phone numbers. This caused quite a stir in the community and continues making ripples. The company is now being sued in a class-action lawsuit for not taking appropriate measures to protect customer data.
Unfortunately, the Marriott hack is not a one-off, there were lots of data breach cases in 2018 where well-known companies became victims – Facebook, Chegg, and Quora were among them. Interestingly, if the user information had been stored on a blockchain like the one that Bitcoin uses, it would have been far more difficult to extract and importantly, read.
That is because blockchain uses encryption to store information, meaning that even if someone had access to any particular chain, there is only a certain amount of information that someone could view. The specific type of blockchain that would prevent data breaches is known as a private blockchain.
These chains allow a user to actually view the data by invitation only; to anyone else, the chain would be a mystery of cryptography. Private blockchains are currently being used by banks and financial institutions including JP Morgan and could soon be implemented across other industries, especially as the quest for privacy continues.
In order for a Marriott style breach to occur on a private blockchain, the hackers would have to be given a private key. The same type of private key that cryptocurrencies use for secure transactions. Without this key, they will have no access to anything except an encrypted chain of data.
The Fappening – An Invasion of Privacy
A number of years ago, Apple and many major celebrities had a big problem. Hackers accessed iCloud and extracted very personal images of celebrities, which they then shared online (some publicly and some privately for money).
The way they did this was really very straightforward and didn’t involve much of “hacking”. They simply guessed the answers to celebrity’s secret questions and then had a field day collecting private and very personal images.
As a result of this, Apple introduced 2-step verification for iCloud access. Be it iCloud, or any other storage, but the problem still remains and celebs are still having their images stolen and leaked (although at far less a rate than before).
Again, the big issue is that once in, hackers have no problem viewing sensitive material and no issues about extracting it. This leads on to the development of new security tools and methods powered by blockchain.
There are a few projects being introduced already – Storj, Filecoin, Siacoin, etc. Could blockchain be the solution to the above mentioned Apple’s conundrum?
It wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to think that every time you take a picture on your iPhone, it beams the data up to a cloud blockchain and adds encryption to that image. This could further be enhanced by locking in private keys to the devices that you have registered with the service provider.
Simply, it would mean that all of the information is stored in an encrypted manner away from prying eyes, and it means that only your devices would be able to access that information. Still, it remains to be seen whether we could see something like this soon.
Piracy: The Plague of the Music Industry
A big issue in the music industry is data breaches (as with many other industries) as artists have their songs shared illegally after the data becomes public. Currently, digital albums use encryption to try and counter this, but recently a more innovative solution has been implemented.
Using blockchain technology the artists can distribute music and accurately monitor who has access to it. Thus, they are in complete control of their work.
Until recently, it was considered that blockchain could retain information such as documents and transactions securely, but complex file types like music files and photo files were a bit beyond the scope. That is until the music industry started making moves to develop a more secure way of sharing such files and ensuring that they could actively monitor distribution.
Among the teams that are taking steps to secure the music industry and the artists’ work are Mycelia, Revelator, and Musicoin.
Ultimately, there are many intriguing prospects that are being developed using blockchain technology, the big data leaks we mentioned above might not have been possible if companies had developed this tech a bit earlier. It’s not too late though, and with more companies adopting blockchain and looking for new ways to help integrate their business models with blockchain, it could all be a reality very soon indeed.
Contributed by Mary Ann Callahan an expert on Bitcoin-related topics and a Journalist at Cex.io – cryptocurrency exchange. She works on articles related to blockchain security, bitcoin purchase guides or bitcoin regulations in different countries.