A blockchain is extremely difficult to hack due to its decentralization. That doesn’t mean that digital assets and wallets based on the technology are invulnerable, which is why the organizations behind it spend so much time thinking about security.
However, according to Stefanie Roos of the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, the blockchain industry will soon have to pay equal attention to privacy concerns. Although she admits that this idea might surprise those who enjoy Bitcoin’s anonymity.
“Since you don’t have to enter your real name, people believe that Bitcoin is very privacy-sensitive,” says Stefanie. “But if someone uses the same information over and over, it is possible to keep track of everything they do.” If you can link this profile to a real person, you can see all of their activity. “
Stefanie is assistant professor for distributed systems at the university. She completed an award-winning PhD on the subject before working at the University of Waterloo, Canada. Well versed in using decentralized technology for payments, she has developed SpeedyMurmurs, a peer-to-peer system that takes a path-based transaction approach similar to Bitcoin’s Lightning Network.
Today she mainly focuses on ways to create flexible anonymity for blockchain-based payments, especially for corporate transactions. Companies that pay suppliers on a public blockchain may inadvertently reveal details about products or services they are developing to competitors. While private blockchain is the obvious solution, Stefanie believes that public technology could be more beneficial with adequate anonymity.
“Think of systems where anonymity is limited in time,” she says. “You get privacy for the time you need. If you later want transparency, you can disclose the relevant cryptographic keys to prove that you have met the legal requirements, to present your high-quality suppliers or to prove a patent case. “
While individuals rarely have the same confidentiality needs as companies, Stefanie believes that consumers will soon realize that payments for public blockchains must be kept confidential.
“People don’t want others to see what they are buying or selling,” predicts Stefanie. “That has enormous potential for blockchain bullying. Imagine teenagers knowing each other’s transaction history and being able to see who has the most expensive clothes or shoes. Some people may not want others to know they are receiving government benefits. We need to make sure that these systems protect our privacy. “
Some of Stefanie’s students are investigating anonymity in the XRP ledger as part of the Ripple University Blockchain Research Initiative (UBRI). Using UBRI grants, one student is studying consensus algorithms in the ledger while another is working on a new way to test for security vulnerabilities when translating a theoretical blockchain model into code on complicated large-scale projects.
“The two students apparently benefit from the UBRI scholarship that is used to fund their doctoral theses,” she says. “But you can also talk to people at Ripple about your ideas and whether they could actually be part of the system. It’s a great motivator for this type of project when you know there is a chance that it will be a real one Product will. “
Delft’s UBRI connection will also benefit those taking part in the university’s Blockchain Masters course. The class numbers are deliberately small so that students can not only learn the blockchain theory but also implement projects related to different applications.
“Our connections with UBRI have been useful for the students implementing applications through the XRP ledger,” concludes Stefanie. “One team created a bill-splitting system where one person pays a bill at the restaurant and the rest pays it through the XRP ledger. It’s just sad that the coronavirus has closed all restaurants, but hopefully they can soon test the theory in a real-world scenario. “
To learn more about how UBRI supports and accelerates academic research, technical development and innovation in blockchain, cryptocurrency and digital payments, visit ubri.ripple.com. Also keep an eye out for our monthly on campus posts on this blog.