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Blockchain In Cybersecurity: 10 Possible Use Cases

  • 26 November 2018
  • Sam Mire

The data surrounding cyber attacks makes it clear how imperative better, constantly evolving systems of security are. Since January 1st, 2016, more than 4,000 cyber attacks have been launched every single day. The escalating nature of these attacks becomes clear when it is considered that this was a 300% increase from 2015, when approximately 1,000 attacks were unleashed on a daily basis. In 2016, Uber was hacked, exposing the records of over 57 million riders and drivers, while an intrusion the same year led to over 412 million Friend Finder accounts being compromised. Virtually no industry is safe, and hackers are constantly seeking new landscapes to corrupt. For example, cryptojacking attempts increased by 8,500% in 2017. While there are no foolproof methods to stymie hackers, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the chances that our devices and information falls into the wrong hands. Considering how the blockchain can help fortify the cyber security industry is one of the most basic steps toward insulating data from the ever-cunning hackers who will stop at nothing to obtain and leverage our most sensitive data against us.

Blockchain in cyber security - Practical use cases

Verifying the Validity of Software Downloads / Updates

Viruses, worms, and the Trojan Horses that they ride into our computers in can come in many different forms, and often are difficult to spot. In 2016, about 127 million new forms of malware were created, and this virus-like mutation of computer-infecting software can easy slip by the untrained eye. In fact, it often comes in the form of a software download or phony application “update.”

The problem seems even more daunting when one considers that the AV-TEST Institute registers over 350,000 new malicious programs, also known as malware, on a daily basis. Even Macs, once thought to be impervious to viruses, are now being targeted by over 49,000 new forms of malware created in 2018 alone. These fraudsters hide their invasive software and applications in plain sight, with malware and ransomware masquerading as seemingly legitimate apps, with the creators of those apps taking home figures that are likely in the millions in the form of stolen personal information. Though not downloading suspicious or unknown extensions is a Computer Safety 101-level tenet, hackers have become so sophisticated that another measure of insulation from malicious software is needed.

The blockchain has the potential to assign unique hashes to downloads and updates. This allows users to compare the hash on their would-be download with the developer’s hash to significantly reduce the chances of infecting their systems with fraudulent, well-disguised malware. 

Mitigating Denial-of-Service (DDoS) Attacks

Blockchain use cases in the cyber security industry - Mitigating DDoS Attacks

A distributed denial-of-service attack occurs when a network is intentionally flooded with unsustainable amounts of traffic or specific information that triggers a crash. These attacks are typically not aimed at acquiring personal information or holding a system for ransom — they’re just a huge pain in the ass. Targets typically include high-profile organizations (think movie studios, banks, etc.), and the attackers generally unleash such attacks simply to claim credit for the mayhem; these hackers are essentially the cyber equivalent of ISIS.

Several new forms of DDoS software is causing even more headaches. This includes the Hide and Seek malware, which is able to sustain itself even after a system has been rebooted, meaning that it causes the system to overload and crash over, and over, and over again. These attacks are not only more sophisticated, but more frequent, with DDoS attacks occuring more than 2.5 times more frequently over the past three years. The Internet of Things has made DDoS attacks even more effective, as they can impact several connected systems. The IoT is a primary reason why DDoS attacks were up 91% last year. But all hope is not lost.

Several blockchain startups have claimed that they’re able to protect against DDoS attacks by allowing users to join distributed networks that serve to augment the security of the network coming under fire. This also includes the potential for users in a network to rent out their extra bandwidth to support networks who are being overloaded with traffic, at least providing a chance that hackers will be rebuffed from causing a crash.

Companies Trying to Solve This Problem

  • BlockArmor  Leveraging blockchain technology to increase network size and make DDoS attacks more difficult. 

Biometric Private Keys / Digital Identities to Replace Passwords

Blockchain use cases in the cyber security industry - Biometric Private Keys

Depending on who you ask, you may get different figures about what percentage of passwords are “weak” and therefore begging to be hacked. But everyone will agree that, regardless of the percentage, passwords are by and large an extremely penetrable layer supposedly protecting our most valuable information. Facebook has stated that users’ accounts are hacked 600,000 times per day — that’s a lot of raunchy status updates that could have been averted with stronger security technology.

The problem with passwords are that a) we have to keep updating and changing them, which can lead to a glut of random words, numbers, and symbols that we can never keep track of, and b) most of us refuse to live by the tyranny of password updates, so passwords become stale and predictable. According to Thycotic, even 50% of security professionals haven’t changed their social media password in a year, and 20% haven’t changed them ever. And even when we do jump through the hurdles of changing passwords, odds are a sophisticated hacker could figure it out anyway, assuming they try hard enough. With the stakes far higher than our social media passwords, why are we still relying on such a painful, insane, permeable security routine, anyway?

The blockchain doesn’t require passwords because it relies on either biometric data or private keys and multi-step authentication to ensure that a user is who they say they are. These systems are not only more effective protectors of our information than the username-password rigamarole, they’re easier, too. 

Companies Trying to Solve This Problem

  • Civic Identity solutions on the blockchain. Self-sovereign and digital identities. 

Preventing Hacks on Automated Systems

Blockchain use cases in the cyber security industry - Preventing Hacks on Automated Systems

The rise of smart devices and other largely autonomous technologies has also opened up the public to unprecedented levels of hacking and data compromise. Convenience and the “just handle it” mentality that we are quick to delegate upon our devices has led to a malaise and inattentiveness about the security of our devices and data. One need not look long or hard to see the many examples of how convenience has come at the cost of security. The Internet of Things has provided a more “scenic” route to hacking that is less prone to the early detection that may arise from phishing scams. Security firm Senrio has demonstrated the ability to jump throughout a network of connected devices once one or two vulnerable IoT-connected devices are penetrated. Whether this is a network of interconnected cameras, cell phones, or otherwise, the ability to intrude upon an entire connected network through a single entry point represents one of the fundamental flaws current plaguing IoT-connected, automated devices and their networks.

Experts are relying upon blockchain technology to recognize invalid or potentially corrupt commands and inputs. Settings such as automatic updates can inadvertently include malware, compromising data and/or even shutting down a system’s functionality completely. The ability for algorithms to be constantly at work recognizing unrecognized or threatening intrusions may allow for the convenience of automation without the risks that come with lax manual oversight by users. 

Companies Trying to Solve This Problem

  • Hacken – Token platform designed to incentivize the reduction of harmful attacks. 

More Secure DNS

Blockchain use cases in the cyber security industry - More Secure DNS

DNS, the acronym for domain name system, has been likened to a phone book that matches a website to an IP address so that a web surfer can be redirected to the site they seek. Unfortunately, the domain name system is only partially decentralized, meaning that hackers can exploit the connection between their IP address and the site to crash the site. This has resulted in countless retailers and publications losing loyal customers and business, never to return again because of a temporary shutdown caused by a DNS attack. Some common tactics of DNS hackers include DNS cache poisoning, which results in users being redirected to scam websites; attack by DNS amplification, which exploits vulnerabilities of DNS systems to amplify the effects of a DDoS attack; and DDoS attacks on a domain name system, which overloads a server and can cause a complete shutdown of a site if “successful.”

The blockchain, completely decentralized by nature, has been pushed as a host for the DNS system. The benefits of this proposal include stronger, decentralized security that would represent a needed break from a partially-centralized system that contains single access points of vulnerability.

Companies Trying to Solve This Problem

Decentralizing Data Storage to Remove Honey Pots

Data, if you don’t already know, is the universal currency. There’s no nation — remote Amazonian villages aside — in which a person’s data cannot be leveraged in some way. This is why marketers are willing to pay so much for our data. A single consumer’s data is worth at least $240 per year, and likely much more, according to one source.

Storing this data in a centralized database with a single, vulnerable point of access is reckless in this day and age, yet seemingly every week a business comes under attack — and everyone is absolutely shocked when they receive the dreaded email that their account may have been compromised. The number and magnitude of data breaches is simply astounding, and begs the question: How have these businesses not tried a different way? Do they enjoy the degradation of consumer trust that comes with being complicit in compromising their customers’ sensitive data? Looking at you, Equifax, LinkedIn, Ebay, MyFitnessPal, and yeah, Brazzers. But you’re not alone — not by a long shot.

The blockchain is decentralized by nature, which means there is no single point of penetration for hackers to invade. Instead of a single door protecting the vault, there are numerous, steel-reinforced barriers between the hacker and your data, making decentralized data storage a no-brainer. 

Companies Trying to Solve This Problem

  • Fluree  Decentralized Database solutions for enhanced security and interoperability.  

Securing Edge Devices via Identity Authentication

Blockchain use cases in the cyber security industry - Securing Edge Devices

Hacking has morphed from what was once a fringe phenomenon to a threat that could compromise each and everyone’s data and livelihood. The integration of the internet, apps, and other technologies into virtually every facet of our lives, from banking to grocery shopping, has led to a gold mine of data for hackers who know where the vulnerabilities lie and how to exploit them.

A report from Ben-Gurion University warns that common technologies such as cameras, doorbells, thermostats, and baby monitors are easily hackable in as few as 30 minutes with the assistance of only a simple Google search. But there is no device that presents the opportunity for hackers to gain control of our data more than smartphones, which have become a ubiquitous, essential part of life the world over. In 2017, it was reported that 41% of Android devices are vulnerable to “exceptionally devastating” Wi-Fi attacks, which can corrupt the phone and the sites it is connected to with malware. Those with iPhones would be naive to think that they are much better off.

Edge devices present especially vulnerable access points into core networks. One example is an employee who logs into their company’s servers via their own unsecured phone. For a hacker, penetrating an entire network through a blatant vulnerability via an edge device is like taking candy from a baby. Ensuring that these devices, as well as the core network itself, are insulated with multi-step authentication processes and blockchain-level, decentralized threat mitigation protocols is the first step in patching some of the most obvious network entry points that hackers could exploit. 

Companies Trying to Solve This Problem

  • Edge Securing devices on the edge of the network
  • BlockArmor  Creating digital identities on the blockchain. 

Distributing Public Key Infrastructure and Multi-Signature Logins

Blockchain use cases in the cyber security industry - Public Key Infrastructure and Multi-Signature Logins

As it currently stands, usernames and passwords for a given site or application are stored in central databases that are vulnerable to hacking. Once a hacker has granted access to the central domain containing hundreds, thousands, or even millions of users’ login credentials, they have a virtual vault filled with a gold mine of user information. Examples of flimsy virtual vault security measures abound, and the results of these heists speak for themselves.

One of the death knells of Myspace — which, admittedly, was already on a downward trend — came in 2016. As many as 360 million Myspace username and password combinations were stolen and put up for sale on an online forum. You might be thinking, “Who cares if some geek behind a keyboard in their mother’s basement has access to my middle school online persona?” But consider that the password we use for Myspace is often the same one we use for Bank of America, or to log into our online health records. This is precisely the problem with the username-password login framework, and highlights why a superior method of online security is much needed.

The blockchain is decentralized by nature, storing critical information across several nodes to mitigate the risk that comes from any single node being compromised. The blockchain also operates on a multi-signature authentication model, which eschews usernames and passwords in favor of authenticating a user by confirming that they have access to multiple devices. This is a more secure means of granting access to a network, which could ultimately reduce the ease and frequency of hacks and better protect sensitive, valuable user data. 

Companies Trying to Solve This Problem

  • CryptoMove  Moving target protection for crypto keys.
  • BlockArmor Distributed architecture on the blockchain.  

Provenance for Computer Hardware to Prevent Foreign Intrusion

Blockchain use cases in the cyber security industry - Computer Hardware Provenance

We are living in an age of cyber warfare, and the theft of intellectual property is just one of the many ways that nations seek to gain intelligence advantages over their adversaries. In 2016, President Barack Obama chose to list Russia, India, and China among the nations with the poorest records with respect to preventing intellectual property theft. Intellectual property is one of America’s greatest resources, adding approximately $5 trillion to the economy in 2010, contributing 34% to U.S. GDP and supporting 40 million jobs in IT-intensive industries.

As valuable as IP is to any nation’s economy, its theft is equally as harmful. According to The Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property, the loss of intellectual property ranges from $225 billion to $600 billion in losses each year. The primary step to take in preventing this theft is to ensure that computer firmware is not structurally vulnerable to remote intrusion, especially by foreign actors.

Accessing entry points into the firmware that allows networks to operate without detection is the aim of hackers, and foreign agents who create the technology could, if they were so inclined, make it far easier to penetrate those systems structurally. Understanding who produced the firmware and where they produced it will not only allow greater oversight into purchasing decisions, but will also aid in investigations should a hack occur. The ability to prove precisely where a device was manufactured is one of the benefits of blockchain ledgers, which are capable of providing immutable records of a computer’s history of manufacture and transport.  

Preventing False Data From Entering a System/Ledger

Blockchain use cases in the cyber security industry - Data Veracity

Regardless of the industry, the cost of bad data and false positives in detecting and rooting out fraud and inefficiencies is significant. Algorithms used to fight fraud are largely effective in detecting inconsistencies, but they cast such a wide net that they often incur greater administrative costs. In one test study, researchers who used the best available algorithms were able to identify 495 of 500 fraudulent credit card transactions. However, the algorithms also flagged an additional 500,000 transactions that turned out to be legitimate.

These false positives — a form of bad data — lead to headaches for customers and additional costs for credit card companies. False positives cost enterprises an estimated $1.3 million per year, and cause an estimated 21,000 hours of wasted time in total. Surveyed organizations receive an estimated 17,000 malware alerts per week, but only 19% of those alerts turn out to be legitimate. This bad data arises in large part from outdated algorithms and security measures that are unreliable in terms of differentiating real threats from false positives.

Data that is filtered through a decentralized blockchain network tends to be more trustworthy, as the multi-node security lends itself to greater verification and tamper prevention. Therefore, the data stored on a blockchain-linked network can inspire more confidence for participants, because the threshold of veracity is higher than single-source, centralized networks.

About Sam Mire

Sam is a Market Research Analyst at Disruptor Daily. He's a trained journalist with experience in the field of disruptive technology. He’s versed in the impact that blockchain technology is having on industries of today, from healthcare to cannabis. He’s written extensively on the individuals and companies shaping the future of tech, working directly with many of them to advance their vision. Sam is known for writing work that brings value to industry professionals and the generally curious – as well as an occasional smile to the face.