Blockchain and big data are very similar in one big way: it’s all about how you use them. Much like the Force in Star Wars, blockchain and big data are powerful tools that can be used to serve the dark or the good side. You could say they’re two sides of the same coin. While blockchain is still emerging into the light, you might not think of big data in this way because plenty of very legitimate organizations use it for legitimate purposes; but you can be sure plenty of dark web denizens view big data as a dark tool.
The Dark Side of the Coin
There’s a huge question mark hovering over the fate of millions of people. Without blockchain and big data, that question mark wouldn’t be quite as big as it is.
Consumer identity data from the Equifax breach is already popping up for sale on the dark web. This is lifetime data—Social Security numbers, names, addresses, credit card numbers—from 143 million Americans and 67 percent of UK citizens. Terbium Labs reports that a Tor Hidden Service on the dark web claimed to have the entire cache of data less than 12 hours after the Equifax breach, and demanded 600 Bitcoins as ransom to keep them from releasing the data. At the going rate of Bitcoin, 600 Bitcoins is nearly $3 million. Then, a different Tor Hidden Service popped up and claimed the first service was lying. Of course, the second Tor Hidden Service claimed they were the ones in possession of the data.
Who is actually in possession of the data? There haven’t been any reports of illegal data usage from the Equifax breach yet. Thus the questions hang in the air: Who has the data, and what will happen to the people whose information was stolen? These questions don’t just apply to the Equifax breach. They apply to all sorts of data breaches that have occurred over the years.
When there’s such a thing as the dark web, a marketplace where people can buy and sell whatever they want, a trove of data like the one Equifax lost is worth a lot of money. This wouldn’t be the case without blockchain. Because of blockchain, data opportunists on the dark web can buy and sell credit card numbers and other valuable data without being traced.
Furthermore, big data, (particularly the valuable kind) in a centralized location is a target hackers don’t want to pass up. This raises the debate as to whether big data should be stored on servers. Hackers got their digital hands on over three billion records in 2016. Witness the list of hacks and data breaches so far in 2017. Hackers have pilfered data from Verizon, Equifax, Edmodo, Hipchat, and the list goes on.
Armed robbers used to raid banks. Now hackers breach vaults of data. No one is safe from the attacks, and attacks target the most sensitive, intimate data. This includes medical data. Out of necessity, the medical community has converted to Electronic Health Records (EHR). Nurses, doctors, and all medical personnel must take great care to adhere to HIPAA, an act congress passed to protect consumers’ health information. Yet, hackers took advantage of an authentication flaw in Molina Healthcare’s network, exposing 4.8 million records. Individual doctors and nurses can adhere to HIPAA down to the letter, but it doesn’t make a difference if hackers are able to breach networks. Hackers also hit healthcare organizations with ransomware, demanding Bitcoin in exchange for locked-down data. Hospitals are perfect targets for this type of attack.
The first thing experts recommend you do to protect yourself and your organization against ransomware is “backup files and data”. But in many organizations, new data is entering the network constantly, and backup procedures only happen periodically. When backup does happen, plenty of times it’s on the cloud, another centralized and vulnerable place to store data. The problem with ransomware is if there’s a weak link in an organization, if as single person in an organization opens a malicious email or clicks on a bogus ad, everyone else’s efforts to be careful are wasted.
If the data weren’t there, centralized, hackers wouldn’t be able to use it against people. If cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin weren’t untraceable, hackers wouldn’t be able to use them to make money from stolen data. Paradoxically, blockchain technology could be the very thing to save big data.
The Bright Side of the Coin
Blockchain technology could transform healthcare because, as it stands, the EHR system isn’t working that well. Blockchain could put the patient data in the hands of those who need it—patients, physicians, nurses—and potentially keep it out of the hands of hackers.
Take that idea and transfer it to the rest of the big data universe. It’s clear centralized caches of data aren’t working. Simply put, it’s too easy for hackers to find vulnerabilities in networks before network analysts are wise to them. Right now, blockchain is a technology people are using primarily for Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other cryptocurrencies. This mirrors the way in which, after early civilization stopped hunting and gathering and turned to agriculture, people used writing and the technologies that accompany it primarily for commerce, for bookkeeping. Thousands of years passed before humans realized you can use writing for other things besides noting how many ears of corn and head of cattle someone possessed. Then things really opened up and thoughts became more valuable than currency.
We don’t need to wait thousands of years to use blockchain for all sorts of data storage and transfer applications. Blockchain startups are proving this point now. Among them, Otonomos lets you start a company, fund it, and run it on the blockchain. Imagine if Equifax’s consumer identity data had been on the blockchain. 143 million Americans wouldn’t have a gigantic question mark over their heads for the rest of their lives
If people who use big data legally are going to compete with people who are out to use it for illegal gain, we have to use blockchain tech as a service for big data activities. We have to fight fire with fire, put big data on the blockchain, decentralize it, and use it to do all the great things we know it can do.