Sunday, June 20, 2021

Circling back to blockchain’s originally intended purpose: Timestamping


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What was blockchain know-how initially supposed for? It’s usually presumed that it was created in 2008 by Satoshi Nakamoto as a part of his white paper, creating Bitcoin (BTC). Since Bitcoin can be constructed on decentralized ledger know-how, a blockchain wanted to be established as the inspiration for the cryptocurrency. 

Since 2008, blockchain know-how has expanded effectively past cryptocurrency utilization and is now being utilized in quite a lot of use instances from healthcare to finance to inexperienced tech and extra.

However blockchain tech didn’t begin with Satoshi’s white paper. It was really invented in 1991 as a solution to confirm and shield content material by an idea known as timestamping.

A blockchain historical past lesson

In Satoshi’s well-known Bitcoin white paper, he cites one other paper: “The right way to Time-Stamp a Digital Doc,” published by Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta in 1991. The 2 researchers knew that, in an all-digital world, the problem of certifying paperwork — after they have been created and after they have been modified — would develop into a problem.

They defined that previously, you possibly can merely flip by the pages of a pocket book to see dated entries. They cite different technique of certification, reminiscent of mailing oneself a letter or having one thing notarized, however in these instances, tampering of paperwork can be found instantly. However not so in a digital world, the place paperwork might be altered with no proof left behind.

“The issue is to time-stamp the information, not the medium,” they wrote. The primary answer they proposed was to easily ship a doc to a timestamping service. The TSS would then retain a replica for safe-keeping, which might be introduced out for comparability when wanted.

What’s the downside with this answer? It relied on a 3rd social gathering that may mishandle it.

As a substitute of a third-party verifier, they’d use a cryptographically safe hash operate, which might function the distinctive identifier for a chunk of content material. As a substitute of sending the entire doc to the TSS, the creator would ship the distinctive identifier as an alternative. Upon receipt, the TSS would make a affirmation with a digital signature. By checking the signature, the shopper can be assured that the TSS really did course of the request, that the hash was accurately acquired, and that the right time was included.

However what occurs if the TSS places a false timestamp on the hash? Haber and Stornetta proposed two options: (1) Use bits of earlier requests to create new ones, which forces a chronological document; and (2) Make the entire system decentralized, clear and checkable.

For anybody accustomed to how blockchain know-how works, that is it. Blocks are created by drawing from the hash of the final block and fixing the hash of the brand new block. As soon as a block is added, it’s verified by nodes on the blockchain in a decentralized system and locked into the general public ledger, unable to be altered.

Unique use instances

Haber and Stornetta outlined use instances for this sort of time-stamping, citing innovations or concepts the place authorship would have to be confirmed. As a result of the paperwork are recorded as hash features, it timestamps mental property and patents with out revealing the contents. Additionally they cite examples the place, if an organization has paperwork that have been tampered with, they’ll show the originals by the timestamp. They envisioned timestamping to embody not solely textual content paperwork however authentic audio recordings, photographs, movies and extra.

Whereas Haber and Stornetta finally went on to create their very own firm known as Surety, which acted as that TSS (and, curiously, published their hashes within the New York Occasions classifieds each week beginning in 1995), however the concept by no means absolutely caught on. It wasn’t till Bitcoin was created in 2008 that blockchain know-how was lastly absolutely created — 4 years after Haber and Stornetta’s patent on it ran out.

Why do we want timestamping right now?

The necessity for authenticating paperwork wasn’t only a Nineteen Nineties concern. In a world the place there’s a lot digital content material being produced and when mistrust in content material on the web appears to be rising, timestamping may simply be the way in which to realize the transparency and accountability that’s wanted.

The concept is straightforward. A singular hash is generated from a chunk of content material’s textual content, title or date, and is added to the blockchain. This not solely locks within the time at which a chunk of content material was created to a public distributed ledger but when any a part of that content material is altered, the hash alters too — displaying that it was tampered with or {that a} new model was created.

This permits content material creators to have the ability to show at any time that they created the piece by calling it up on the blockchain. Timestamping can even put an end to plagiarism and copyright disputes since authentic work might be discovered linked to its hash in an immutable blockchain.

Timestamping additionally will increase belief for readers. With added identification tiers, they’ll know precisely who wrote the content material and when and might view an authentication certificates. The extra websites that undertake timestamping, the extra readers will get used to associating timestamping with transparency, accountability and authenticity — and can reject any unverifiable content material that not timestamped. Timestamping has a use case in e-commerce as effectively, the place consumers can see authentic phrases and agreements and never be cheated by a instantly up to date model that nulls a guaranty.

With a easy implementation, the web may develop into a protected, trusted place the place authors can really feel assured their content material will stay safe, and the place readers know that what they’re studying is verifiable. It’s been a very long time because the authentic paper in 1991, however these concepts are wanted right now.

The views, ideas and opinions expressed listed here are the creator’s alone and don’t essentially replicate or symbolize the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.

Sebastiaan van der Lans is the chairman of The Trusted Internet Basis in addition to founder and CEO of WordProof. He’s the winner of the European Fee’s Blockchains for Social Good Contest. He’s on a mission to convey belief again to the web.