What is Blockchain… And So What?

Let’s be honest… blockchain is a confusing concept. Even for people who understand exactly how blockchain technology works, providing an easy to understand explanation is challenging.

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, blockchain is relatively new tech, and new tech always takes a little while to sink into the public consciousness. We didn’t really know what the internet was for, or how transformative of a force it could be, back in the 90s. Mostly, because we didn’t understand how it could be applied.

Secondly, the technology itself – blockchain – is closely associated with its application – a cryptocurrency called Bitcoin. But they are not the same thing. The sometimes-negative association with Bitcoin specifically, or cryptocurrencies generally, tends to muddy the waters for many.

Before we confuse you further and tell you more about what blockchain isn’t, let’s outline what it actually is. There are three important elements of blockchain technology:

  1. large, peer-to-peer network of computers dedicated to processing and recording digital activity
  2. decentralized database of all recorded activity called a Distributed Ledger (there are several key aspects to this, including “decentralized” and “all recorded activity”)
  3. encryption

It’s definitely more complicated than that. There’s a lot that’s packed into the application of these three concepts. But, boiled down, blockchain combines these elements to provide a secure platform that allows any two parties to engage on the web without the need for a third-party authenticator. Blockchain cuts out the need for a middleman in any digital interaction (including financial transactions) by providing a peer-to-peer network that’s safe, trusted and transparent.

The first intended application of blockchain technology – Bitcoin – was financial in nature. The creator/creators set out to develop an entirely new currency – one that is not reliant on or backed by any government. But, it’s the system that was developed to enable a digitally-based currency that may be end up being much more transformative.

“The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value,” say Don and Alex Tapscott, authors of the 2016 book Blockchain Revolution.

If it sounds like there could be thousands of applications for blockchain technology, you (and a few dozen million people) are probably on to something.

Blockchain Application in IT & Data Security

So, can blockchain disrupt the IT and data security industries? It sure seems to have the potential to do so. In fact, it may already be doing so.

The following attributes and capabilities make the blockchain particularly appealing to data security professionals:

  • Decentralized and unhackable
  • Encryption and validation
  • Public or private

The data that’s stored on a blockchain doesn’t reside on any one computer (or, node) – it is distributed across all the nodes on a blockchain network. Once a record is added to a blockchain database, it is encrypted and cannot be accessed or altered unless the user provides the correct access key. This makes a blockchain pretty much impervious to hacking.

Because there’s no centralized location for the data, hackers would need to gain access to more than 50% of the network nodes in order to access or overwrite a saved record. Depending on the size of the network, that proposition falls somewhere between extremely unlikely to darn-near impossible.

Further, while blockchain was initially created to enable anonymity in a very public setting, a private blockchain network that restricts access to just a few users can easily be created.

All of this means that blockchain technology is highly amenable to the data security needs of businesses, large and small.

Beacon Knows Data Security

Not sure if you’re doing enough to protect your sensitive business data? BITS can help. A free audit of your network by our security experts can help put your mind at ease. Request one today.

For a deeper understanding of blockchain technology, check out additional information here, here and here.

By | 2018-11-29T09:21:50+00:00 November 27th, 2018|Computer Related, IT Services|

Data Breaches: Has the Industry Adjusted?

For cyber-security professionals, 2017 may have been “The Year of the Data Breach.” It’s not that data breaches just started happening last year — cyber-criminals have been at it for quite some time. But the number of high-profile breaches, as well as the sheer number of consumers being affected, seem to have hit an all-time high.

According to the non-profit Identify Theft Resource Center (ITRC), last year saw 1,253 reported data breaches. That’s a nearly 15% increase in the record-setting number of breaches that occurred just the year before, in 2016.

Not too long ago, consumers didn’t pay that much attention to data breaches. Most didn’t think or realize that their personal information was at risk. Last year, that laissez-faire attitude came crashing down as consumers were rocked month after month with news of huge breaches at very visible public companies.

Equifax, Uber, Facebook, Yahoo and eBay are some of the companies that found themselves in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. The attacks didn’t just target internet companies, however. Cybercriminals didn’t discriminate — they went after state and local governments (WannaCry in Atlanta, SamSam took down Colorado DOT), health care organizations (Anthem/Blue Cross Blue Shield and UNC Health Care), universities (Oklahoma, Washington State), hotels (IHG, Hyatt), retailers (Forever 21, Kmart, Saks Fifth Avenue) and even the US government (FAFSA, SEC).

Lessons Learned

So, what have consumers and IT security professionals learned from all this?

One positive thing that high-profile data breaches did accomplish is they brought cyber security concerns out into the general public discourse. Consumers are a lot less likely to skip over a news story about a data breach today. Many now pay much closer attention to protecting their own personal information, and are more vigilant about checking up on breaches that have the potential to impact them — like with Equifax.

The IT security industry has responded as well. For one, demand for cyber security specialists has skyrocketed. Firms are having trouble filling positions, with an estimated two million shortfall of qualified IT professionals projected for 2019.

But, have businesses and top decision-makers learned anything?

The leaders of Equifax, Uber and Facebook are certainly facing a considerable backlash for the failure to protect their platforms. They’re also being criticized for not being forthcoming or responsive enough to the concerns and needs of their consumers. All three companies are working through lawsuits brought forward by their consumers. The lawsuits are still working their way through the legal system, so, it’s not yet apparent what lessons these companies have learned.

But, it’s safe to say that the rest of the business community is on alert. Consumer data protection is a must — not a “nice to have.”

Is IT Security Better Today?

The positive takeaway from the Year of the Data Breach, is that data security is no longer the forgotten cousin to IT infrastructure concerns. Data protection is top of mind for both consumers and the organizations that collect and store consumer data.

With the highly anticipated GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) going into enforcement earlier this year, the emphasis on data security is no longer optional. Now, businesses have an obligation to think about and protect the data that their consumers allow them to collect. And consumers, themselves, are empowered to exercise greater control over what data they share and how their data is stored.

So, while 2017 was a bad year for data breaches, 2018 may prove to be a turning point for consumer data protection.

Beacon Knows IT Security

If you haven’t reviewed your organization’s IT security needs in a while, or are unsure of what security protocols are in place, Beacon’s highly capable and responsive team of IT professionals can help. Give us a call at 336.265.2700.

By | 2018-07-30T11:20:43+00:00 July 30th, 2018|IT Services|