Decentralising data and identity services could be a way to mitigate the effects of the data breaches that have seen Australians lose millions of identity documents to cyber criminals and fraudsters in the last year, a panel at a recent Australian Computer Society (ACS) Think Tank event has suggested.
Speaking at the recent discussion about cryptocurrencies, Karen Cohen, founder of blockchain education organisation AlgoHUB, said there was a way out of existing requirements that companies like Latitude Financial or health insurer Medibank handle and store identity documents.
“We want to own our own ID,” she said. “We don’t want Medibank to be hacked and then we are struggling to get a new passport, or a new licence because they have held onto that document for 10 years.”
Cohen would prefer a way of confirming data without handing over the associated documents, using blockchains to store and authenticate the information.
“We should have that control,” she said. “It’s not a tech issue – we can build it tomorrow on blockchain – it’s an adoption issue.”
Nathan Burns, co-founder of training company Blockchain Collective, said decentralised data was a way of mitigating against scalable attacks against single service providers.
“The more honey pots you have then the more targets you have; the more data you’re holding in one place, the more [attackers] are willing to invest in it,” he told the ACS Think Tank event.
“If you decentralise the data, decentralise the identities, then an attack might just get one person’s data instead of the 100,000 people’s data they’re currently getting.”
Unfortunately for blockchain adoption, the recent bubble of interest in cryptocurrencies has well and truly burst following the collapse of FTX, the recent arrest of Terraform Labs co-founder Do Kwon, and US regulators this week announcing a lawsuit against Binance.
For blockchain enthusiasts, the conflation of cryptocurrency and blockchain only hinders the dream of decentralised data and sovereign identity services that they believe will make for a better internet.
Austin Lewinsmith, who co-founded Blockchain Collective alongside Burns, said there needs to be education across the technology sector to bring awareness about non-crypto use-cases of the technology.
“When you start talking about blockchain being used to track supply chains or logistics … or being used to track digital assets inside ecosystems, people go ‘that’s cryptocurrencies so it must be a scam’,” he said.
“There’s a war on terminology and it’s definitely got to be about education.”
Burns agreed, adding that for most people the most important thing is whether the technology works.
“Is it more efficient? Does it save me time? Does it save me money? That’s what people care about,” he said.
“We’ve built a ton of applications over the last six years or so in the blockchain space and we don’t even mention that it’s blockchain, we just build the solution and it happens to use the technology.”
Interest in blockchain may be waning alongside the crashed crypto prices, but there is still optimism that Australian developers can make use of the technology and use it to build products for companies that could one day see fewer breaches and greater data control given back to individuals.
But Mohammed Khaita, chair of the ACS Blockchain Committee, said there first needs to be greater clarity from local regulators to help legitimise the technological uses.
“We need to have clarity in terms of regulating digital assets, in terms of taxation, on reporting, we need to be having really clear frameworks that will enable innovators to flourish and invest in the first place,” he said.
ACS has called on the government to provide stronger regulation of crypto exchanges in its submission to a recent Treasury discussion paper, saying that “uncertainty around regulation is a major barrier to the technology right now”.