Foundations of security

Is blockchain the solution to internet insecurity? These two projects say yes.

Andrej Kovačević
© Shutterstock/ VAlex

The Internet was originally built without concerns for privacy, especially not the complicated security features required by today’s standards. It’s far too late to redesign the entire Internet, however, two blockchain projects offer potential security solutions. Blockchain’s capabilities of serving as a decentralized payment system could be the secret for the future of internet security.

In the beginning, the internet grew from the idea that multiple, arbitrarily designed networks could combine to create a global digital data interchange system. When the technologies needed to affect that idea were designed, nobody really thought they might eventually be used for everything from sensitive communications to commerce and everything in between. For that reason, it’s plain to see that the bedrock technologies that make up today’s internet have almost no built-in security features to speak of.

That initial oversight has caused no shortage of trouble. Email systems are plagued with spam because nobody thought to build sender authenticity checks into the transmission protocols. Private communications are routinely intercepted because the public internet has no built-in encryption systems. And sites and services face a growing threat from DDoS attacks that seem to worsen with each passing year.

In response, most users have turned to a variety of bolt-on solutions to solve the myriad security issues that come with using the internet. They use spam filters to protect their inboxes. They pay extra to use a VPN for torrenting and other privacy-sensitive online activities. And website operators now rely on companies like Cloudflare and Imperva to shield them from attacks of all kinds.

It’s clear that what’s needed is a wholesale rethinking of how the internet works, from a security perspective. Right now, many working on the problem believe that a recent technology – the blockchain – might be the solution to what ails today’s internet. Here’s a look at two projects that aim to use it for that exact purpose.

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Data hosting, distributed

The first project that aims to use blockchain to build a more secure, decentralized internet is called the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS). The basic idea is to use a blockchain to manage the storage of internet data by spreading it to connected nodes (internet users) so as to make that data not only censor-proof but also resilient against attack.

In practice, the system seeks to replace the centralized storage of online data and serve as a replacement for the classic server-client architecture of the legacy internet. The way it works is simple, in theory. It would function like a P2P network (like BitTorrent), with each new requestor of a file becoming an additional host. That data would be represented on a blockchain as a cryptographic hash and linked to a naming structure using a built-in DNS replacement called IPNS.

To keep the whole network working, nodes get paid for their storage and bandwidth using a cryptocurrency called Filecoin. This provides the incentive needed to make sure that all uploaded files remain available at all times. As the network grows, it could lead to faster file retrieval than is possible on today’s internet and would make the sites that use it immune to DDoS attacks or code injection exploits.

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A blockchain privacy network

Anyone who’s well-versed on the state of internet privacy today would know that when you need an internet connection that’s secure and free from oversight, you have two major choices: a VPN or the Tor Network. For many people, though, the idea of paying for a VPN service on top of their existing internet service is at best undesirable. And the Tor Network, while free for anyone to use, suffers from performance issues that make it ill-suited for the average internet user.

That’s where Orchid comes in. It’s a blockchain project that aims to be the missing link that unites the best part of VPN technology with the advantages of a network like Tor. Put simply, the Orchid privacy network allows conventional VPN providers to sell their excess bandwidth to users by becoming a part of a decentralized P2P privacy network.

The public network and end-user app launched on December 19th and includes five initial bandwidth partners. Users can access the privacy network with a pay-as-you-go account, funded with Orchid’s native token, OXT. The bandwidth providers must also maintain a deposit of OXT currency to participate, which helps to make sure user privacy is maintained via a self-policing monetary penalty system. When running at scale, the resulting system should be cheaper for end-users, beneficial for providers, and secure against external surveillance – in short, it could become an anonymous global data obfuscation layer for the whole internet.

SEE ALSO: The impact of ML and AI in security testing

The internet, secured

Although it would be far more effective to redesign the internet and its systems from scratch to be more anonymous and secure, we’ve long since passed the point where that’s possible. At the same time, bolt-on security solutions face a steep adoption curve, too. Even Google, with its vast resources, still hasn’t achieved 100% SSL encryption across its products despite years of effort.

The two blockchain products mentioned above, however, have something that previous bolt-on internet security solutions don’t: a financial incentive system. In the end, blockchain’s ability to serve as a decentralized payment system could be the secret to creating a next-generation internet that people will be willing to use – and the early adopters could be rewarded for their role in making the internet a safer place once and for all.

Andrej Kovačević
Andrej is a digital marketing expert, editor at TechLoot, and a contributing writer for a variety of other technology-focused online publications. He has covered the intersection of marketing and technology for several years and is pursuing an ongoing mission to share his expertise with business leaders and marketing professionals everywhere.

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