Bitcoin Blockchain and the Challenge of Big Data: Is It Time for Open Data 2.0?

Executive Brief

Big Data is rapidly altering many facets of society in ways that most people have not even begun to realize. As these changes are occurring, and various sectors of society are coming to terms with this new reliance on previously unimaginable volumes of data, new challenges are emerging. Among them is the question of how all of this data is to be secured. The main problem is that many of the companies and other entities adopting Big Data strategies are doing so without developing the necessary security structure they’ll need to ensure the integrity of the data they collect and store. Fortunately, Bitcoin’s blockchain may end up serving as a model for the type of solution the world needs to address this growing security need.

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At this point in history, it is pretty much a given that the average person has little familiarity with things like Bitcoin and blockchain. That stands in stark contrast to people who spend their time contemplating lofty concepts like Big Data and all the other dramatic technological changes that promise to reshape society in the coming years. For those people, cryptocurrency and the encryption systems used to generate, authenticate, and secure it are being increasingly seen as more than just a new type of monetary unit. They’re also being viewed as a possible solution to some of the most pressing concerns many companies, governments, and individuals currently express about the security of all that new data.

And make no mistake, security is an enormous concern among those whose interest in Big Data extends beyond mere curiosity. Oracle's Vice President of Big Data and Advanced Analytics, Neil Mendelson, is on record expressing serious concerns about how the private sector race to implement Big Data strategies to achieve new insights and growth is often outpacing efforts to secure all of that new information. That concern is apparently shared by industry groups such as the Cloud Security Alliance.

The fact is that the very thing that makes Big Data so attractive to industry – its diversity in terms of format and source, its reliance on cloud infrastructure on a massive scale, and its real-time accessibility thanks to information streaming – are also the very things that create new security challenges for everyone involved. Add to that the fact that nearly half of all enterprises have yet to implement actual policies for the management of information, relying instead on outmoded schemes designed to protect systems rather than data, and you have a clear recipe for potential disaster.

MIT Media Lab’s Brian Forde is someone who has obviously given this problem considerable thought. He’s spent a great deal of time recently detailing his aspirations for something he calls Open Data 2.0, which would rely on a blockchain database model for managing this vast array of data.

As he envisions it, this new platform would be developed in conjunction with both non-profit groups and governments, and would provide the type of transparent authentication system that the global marketplace so desperately needs in this era of Big Data. As the director of the Digital Currency Initiative, Forde has offered his unique insight into just how Bitcoin’s blockchain could be the solution the world needs as it struggles to manage and secure records and authenticate everything from personal identities to individual records and transactions.

Anyone with even passing familiarity with blockchain can at least begin to see where Forde is going with this idea. After all, it is blockchain technology that makes Bitcoin viable in the first place. As a universal ledger, blockchains differs dramatically from the controlled, closed ledgers that humanity has relied on for virtually its entire history.

Those ledgers, controlled and operated by organizations ranging from banks to utilities, governments, and even online companies, are centralized for security reasons. Of course, that centralization necessarily empowers those gatekeepers charged with maintaining the ledgers, much to the chagrin of those who find themselves locked out of those systems for one reason or another.

Forde has been very clear in his belief that the answer to a whole range of Big Data problems can be found in the use of what can only be considered the core of Bitcoin’s success. Blockchain‘s universal ledger system has a whole host of advantages that closed ledgers lack, most notably the reliance on protecting and verifying each record transaction rather than simply trying to secure the ledger itself.

As Forde envisions it, blockchain technology could be used universally by companies and governments, and could help to eliminate the current reliance on closed-ledger verification systems that have thus far failed to provide any real security against problems such as identity theft. Because blockchain operates without closed-ledger restrictions, records are authenticated across a wide network of computer users in a chain that offers sequential security. The fact that old records can never be changed or removed provides an additional level of security against manipulation that ledger systems do not provide.

The MIT Digital Currency Initiative is at the forefront of this new push to expand the use of blockchain technology, and is continuing its efforts to educate and inform governments at every level to spark the interest needed to make this vision a reality. With Connecticut’s recent government decision to incorporate the bitcoin blockchain into it's survey result verification strategy, that interest may finally be emerging. If the concept behind Open Data 2.0 can begin to attract more widespread support in both the public and private sectors, then many of the most pressing security and efficiency concerns raised by the rise of Big Data may eventually be put to rest.

Author: Ken Chase

Freelance writer whose interests include topics ranging from technology and finance to politics, fitness, and all things canine. Aspiring polymath, semi-professional skeptic, and passionate advocate for the judicious use of the Oxford comma.

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