Historically, blockchain was designed to enable a distributed and decentralized currency in which no party had a controlling interest and that had no single point of failure. Does this mean securing blockchain is unnecessary?
A blockchain is essentially an immutable record of the history of a set of data that is maintained in a distributed fashion by a network of mutually distrusting parties. The historical record of a blockchain transactions can be trusted because it is based on the security of cryptographic algorithms rather than the integrity of the organization storing the record. Each transaction on the blockchain is digitally signed by its creator; transactions are gathered into blocks that are also digitally signed; and blocks are chained together by including the cryptographic hash of each block in the following block.
Blockchains have been applied to a variety of purposes, but in all cases, they store valuable information. In the case of cryptocurrencies, the data stored on the blockchain is the record of transactions between users and thus the amount of currency stored in each user’s account. Other blockchains may store records of contractual agreements, proof of ownership of digital or tangible assets, or other valuable information.
Securing the blockchain is of paramount importance. If the historical record could be modified after the fact, users could perform “double spend” attacks, where a transaction is performed and stored in a block that is later replaced with a block that does not contain the transaction after the user receives the asset that they purchased.
The security of the blockchain essentially boils down to the security of cryptographic hash functions and cryptographic digital signatures. Currently, the underlying cryptographic algorithms that secure the blockchain are considered secure against attacks; however, this will not always be the case. A more immediate threat to blockchain security is the security of the private keys used to manage identity on the blockchain.
A digital signature is a cryptographic operation that verifies that the signed data was signed by the owner of a particular private key and has not been modified since the signature was created. The only requirement for creating a signature that can be linked to a certain person is possession of their private key. A stolen private key gives the thief complete control over a user’s account on the blockchain, and, since the blockchain is immutable, any transaction performed by the thief is irreversible. Protecting private keys is vital to the security of any blockchain account.
The application of the blockchain to business usage is still in its infancy. The distributed and decentralized nature of the blockchain can provide huge cost savings for hosting requirements and business continuity and disaster recovery. However, this may come at the cost of privacy, authenticity and security.
The integration of a Hardware Security Module (HSM) into a blockchain solution can help organizations regain the privacy and security that may be lost by distributing proprietary software to an untrusted network of blockchain operators. By storing private keys and data within the HSM, data integrity and user authentication can be dramatically improved. Proprietary code can even be stored and run fully within an HSM to protect intellectual property.
Historically, the blockchain has remained widely unregulated and blockchain-based platforms have operated as decentralized organizations with little or no centralized government due to trusting in the security of cryptographic algorithms to provide stability to the blockchain.
One of the major threats to blockchain technology in its current state is the creation of quantum computers. Current cryptographic algorithms are secure against traditional computers but not against quantum computers. To be secure, blockchain solutions should employ HSMs with support for quantum-safe cryptographic algorithms to protect proprietary data and code.
Many industries have regulations and certifications governing how they process and store data. As blockchain becomes more widely used in industry, regulations and certifications will be created to govern how blockchain solutions operate. Using HSMs to secure data can help meet regulatory and certification requirements.
Blockchain is a new technology that promises to change how data is stored and businesses operate. As solutions are developed and deployed using blockchain to solve problems, it is important to ensure that the blockchain, and the data that it stores, is properly protected.