The blockchain, the public ledger technology that underlies the cryptocurrency bitcoin, has been hailed as a technological innovation that is predicted to be even more impactful as the Internet.
While there has been skepticism concerning the potential of blockchain technology, this prediction is starting to look increasingly believable. Financial institutions are trialing the distributed ledger technology to reduce back-office system inefficiencies. But there are also many other possible applications of the blockchain.
Blockchain startups are leveraging this open-source technology to record land ownership, combat digital content piracy, authenticate and record the provenance of artwork, register voters, secure file storage, digital identity recording, and verification to name a few. Having said that, tech startups and financial institutions are not the only players in the blockchain space, the U.S. military is also interested.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is currently looking at implementing blockchain technology to ensure information integrity and to create a secure military messaging service.
Ensuring Information Integrity
Information integrity is one of the key aspects of the blockchain that makes it attractive to the U.S. military. Information integrity refers to the assurance that data, when being accessed, has neither been altered, tampered with, or damaged through a system error or third-party interference.
In a digitalized world, where almost all information is stored electronically, the need for secure data and information storage is a high priority for corporations and government agencies, especially the armed forces. Through implemented new systems based on blockchain technology, DARPA aims to improve data integrity and prevent the hacking of confidential data and information.
In September, DARPA awarded a $1.8 million contract to IT security firm Galois and blockchain startup Guardtime to build a “blockchain-based integrity monitoring system.” Galois is a leader in formal verification, a technique to provide mathematical assurances that a system works only as intended in all cases, while Guardtime has created ‘Keyless Signature Infrastructure’ (KSI), a system that has been “designed to provide scalable digital signature based authentication for electronic data, machines, and humans.”
Guardtime’s infrastructure already secures IT systems in Estonia and the energy infrastructure in the UK; the deployment of their system in a military application would prevent any instances of sabotage or eavesdropping going unnoticed with regard to military databases and devices.
Timothy Booher, the Research Development cyberspace technology program manager and man behind DARPA’s blockchain implementation efforts, stated recently that:
“whenever weapons are employed … it tends to be a place where data integrity, in general, is incredibly important… As Galois does its verification work and we understand at a deep level the security properties of this [blockchain technology] then I would start to set up a series of meetings to start that dialog.”
Once Galois has formally verified Guardtime’s KSI system, the U.S. military intends to implement the blockchain-based technology to secure highly sensitive military data and prevent hackers from covering their tracks.
Information integrity, however, is not the only use of the blockchain for the U.S. military. It is also looking at implementing blockchain technology to create a secure messaging system for the armed forces.
Earlier this year, DARPA announced that it is looking to develop a secure blockchain-based messaging application to be able to securely communicate between departments and in-field combat troops. The organization stated that “there is a critical DoD need to develop a secure messaging and transaction platform accessible via a web browser or standalone native application,” in their request for proposal sent to the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) portal, a government-run platform that offers federal research funds to small businesses.
Having a messaging platform that stores files on a network of distributed servers, rather than one central location, would make it substantially more difficult for enemies to hack into military communication and, thereby, increase the safety of U.S. troops. DARPA has, therefore, filed a request for proposal for a secure messaging platform that is able to transfer messages via a secure decentralized protocol that will be secured across multiple channels.
Through the use of a blockchain-based messaging platform, DARPA believes that:
“significant portions of the DoD back office infrastructure can be decentralized, ‘smart documents and contracts’ can be instantly and securely sent and received thereby reducing exposure to hackers and reducing needless delays in DoD back office correspondence.”
NATO also Wants Blockchain Applications
DARPA, however, is not the only military organization that is looking to leverage blockchain technology. The North American Treaty Organization (NATO), an intergovernmental military alliance encompassing 28 member states, also intends to implement blockchain-based military solutions.
In April, NATO announced for this year’s Innovation Challenge, which is “aimed at accelerating transformational, state-of-the-art technology solutions in support of NATO C4ISR and cyber capability requirements” that it is looking for startups that can help to develop military applications based on the blockchain.
NATO, however, is looking for more general applications of the blockchain, such as military logistics, procurement, and finance. The blockchain’s capabilities are already being explored by Maersk and BlockFreight in a logistics setting, perhaps a key motivating factor for the military’s interest.
In logistics and procurement, the blockchain could be leveraged to monitor and log goods and services used by NATO, while in finance it could be used to verify and record all financial transactions and, thereby, alleviate inefficiencies within the organization.
The Blockchain Success Story Continues
While bitcoin is still facing opposition by the majority of financial institutions, regulators, and government agencies, due to its decentralized aspect and its often-publicized use in criminal activities, the underlying technology of the blockchain is slowly becoming an integral part of both governmental and commercial systems.
Whether bitcoin, as the world’s leading digital currency, will succeed or fail remains to be seen. The blockchain’s success, however, will be irrefutable.
Not only does the blockchain have the potential to improve corporate governance and reduce the misappropriations of funds, it will also be used to create and verify digital identities, as well as creating proof of ownership for land, property, and other assets. The possible applications of the blockchain that are currently being explored are almost endless and a significant number of them are set to improve the current status quo.