For those long enough in the business to know a thing or two, it was only a matter of time before the bliss of the internet regressed a little into the necessity of “How to Secure Your Online Life” manuals, and before data transfer regulations made way for new (and better) data protection laws.
By Iffy Kukkoo
16 Feb, 2016
For those long enough in the business to know a thing or two, it was only a matter of time before the bliss of the internet regressed a little into the necessity of “How to Secure Your Online Life” manuals, and before data transfer regulations made way for new (and better) data protection laws. But when words and phrases such as “clickjacking” and “spyware”, “Trojan horse” and “privacy-invasive software”, “backdoor” and “rootkit”, “man-in-the-middle attacks” and “zombie computers” are used so often that they become part of the everyday vernacular, those long enough in the business start wondering where did it all go wrong and how can it change for the better. So, they focus on devising new ways to make our online communication more secure.
Electronic communication, technically speaking, is a kind of transaction. An email with an attachment generally has a sender, one or more receivers, and contains something of value for at least one of addressees (say, a monthly report or an updated spreadsheet). Even a quick conference call involves something of value being exchanged between the parties involved. It could be the information being relayed, or, in its absence, the very time spent during the call.
But, what if a recipient simply deletes an email and denies having received it in order to blame someone else for his wrongdoing? And what if the sender has deleted the mail by mistake as well? There’s always the chance that the email could be recovered if it hasn’t already been overwritten few times on the hard drive used to store it in the first place. For the sake of argument, let’s say that this has happened as well.
Well, if the email service is tied to a blockchain application, the IT staff may be able to solve the problem in a very elegant manner: in this case, they won’t need to do anything more than simply find the relevant record of the email in question.
The future may be less messy than the present.
If that future is blockchains.
Not exactly. But, sort of.
Blockchain technology is already utilized by some chat services such as the NXT-based nxtty. If you haven’t heard before, nxtty is an encrypted service which can be used to send anonymous texts and even make free phone calls over a secure Wi-Fi connection. You can delete a message if you want to, but the blockchain would still include a record of that message being sent.
The primary purpose of the blockchain technology used in this case is to log the details of the “transaction”/ communicative act in a manner similar to the way phone companies keep records which contain information about who is calling whom. The difference is that with blockchains, the records remain even after an email is deleted from somebody’s inbox. In fact, blockchains are secure by design so they don’t need any regulation in order to work: even if someone tries to delete an existing record from the actual blockchain, this will be recorded as an attempt to tamper with the valid chain of records created using a cryptographic hash, and the application will automatically alert the appropriate personnel.
Now, the size of a blockchain may be a cause for concern, but it’s possible to avoid something developers refer to as “blockchain bloat”, or, the problem of too much information being stored on the same chain. The issue may be circumvented by excluding large email attachments from the blockchain. Because a blockchain doesn’t really need to know the contents of a large email attachment. It just needs to know whether an attachment exists, and maybe include a “pointer” to the location of the attachment on another server.
At the moment, developers don’t seem to be very much interested in developing such a system, partly due to concerns about the overhead costs of relaying complex communications over a blockchain network.
Just for comparison: statistics show that Twitter routinely handles up to 100GB worth of tweets daily, and over 6,000 tweets per second. But, how is it possible that its servers don’t crash? Well, the truth is: Twitter doesn’t really care about old tweets that nobody else cares about as well. Google and Bing, for example, do a better job at searching through tweets older than a week on Twitter that Twitter itself does.
Theoretically, a blockchain application for emails should be able to do pretty much the same thing by archiving old blocks on the chain in a way that makes them searchable, but doesn’t obstruct the creation of new blocks. Most clients, in fact, will never even need to download the entire chain: most probably, they will need to download only those messages sent directly to their email addresses. Consequently, email clients will never have to deal with the equivalent of trying to keep up with 6,000 tweets per second; blockchain nodes will be the ones making sure the network is running smoothly.
An application such as this may be possible if developers find a way to develop a “network layer model” for the blockchain. In that case, some operations, such as processing or relaying data sent over the blockchain network, can be relocated from a ledger which doesn’t handle such things very well to the higher levels of the networking model which does. Thus, the first ledger will be able to focus on the storage and presentation of the relevant data in a way which makes sense to the end user.
In theory, this should work, because the decentralized network model which both the blockchain and bitcoin were designed to use is still some kind of a network, and can easily borrow and build around elements from the OSI model already familiar to IT professionals.
One can think of a blockchain application as a practical solution to modern business communication problems, only if one wants to think of communication as a string of transactions (sending and receiving bits of data of value to the parties involved) and especially if one is interested in saving every single record in a tamper-proof manner, meaning in a way which will make it almost impossible for anyone to manipulate actual acts of communicating. Of course, the other side of the coin is that sending a draft message by accident to your boss is something you will be unable to alter in any way a second after the “send” button has been pressed. But, then again, blockchains don’t really care about intentions and desires: humans do and humans should.
What blockchains do care about is facts. And in a world less and less interested in them, they may be our best way of establishing them and, for the first time in history, actually succeed in separating the myths from the reality. For real.
Iffy is our exclusive resident technology newshound editor, relentlessly exploring the beauties of the world from a 4th dimensional viewpoint. When not crafting, editing or publishing our IT content, she spends most of her time helping people understand life and its basic principles. You know, the little things around you, that you've failed to grasp each day.
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