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Securing the blockchain

Cryptocurrencies are on the increase, with at least 100 active, suitably valuated cryptocurrencies being used as tender. However, as some cryptocurrencies have discovered, they are not completely infallible, writes SAURABH KUMAR, CEO of In2IT Tech.

The benefit of Bitcoin, and other virtual digital cryptocurrencies, lies in their anonymity, and with blockchain-based technologies, they are typically thought to be incredibly secure as well. However, as some cryptocurrencies have discovered, they are not completely infallible – and this is doing some damage to the blockchain’s reputation.

What makes the blockchain so secure?

“Normal” transactions, using traditional currency, require a verification process between two parties, typically institutions such as banks or the Reserve Bank. Blockchain based transactions are no different, however the verification process is decentralised and spread across multiple verification points, or nodes. No single party controls any or all aspects of the transaction and verification takes place based on consensus.

Due to the sheer number of nodes that need to verify and approve a transaction, it is incredibly difficult to hack, breach or otherwise intercept a transaction on the blockchain. This has resulted in financial institutions across the globe exploring the blockchain’s potential in other applications.

So why the concern?

Recent hacks that have led to losses of millions of dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency, have stirred up uncertainty within businesses who are exploring the blockchain for trading requirements as well as other areas of business.

In May 2016, the DAO (Decentralised Autonomous Organisation) was launched, and hacked. This project uses cryptocurrency platform Ethereum to crowd fund a decentralised venture capital fund. $70 million dollars in Ether (Ethereum currency) was stolen. At the end of July 2016, Bitfinex, a cryptocurrency exchange, experienced a serious breach resulting in the theft of 120 000 bitcoins. Also in July 2016, Steemit, a blockchain-based blogging platform, was hacked. This hack resulted in the loss of approximately $85 000 in cryptocurrency. Other cryptocurrency platforms to fall victim to hacks include Krypton and Shift, two Ethereum-based blockchains.

While hacking, or otherwise breaching and intercepting, the blockchain is incredibly difficult, these examples show us that it is not impermeable. Companies need to bear in mind that cryptocurrency – successfully implemented in the blockchain –  is still a relatively new technology and, as with any less-than-fully-mature technology, its flaws are yet to be fully realised.

That doesn’t mean that the technology should be discarded or that blockchain investments should be abandoned. Indeed, it is only through continued exploration and ongoing use that one will discover the weaknesses in the blockchain’s armour – and make it stronger than ever.

Addressing the flaws, as they stand

One of the inherent flaws of cryptocurrency lies not with the transactional phase, which takes place on the blockchain, but with its storage. The actual transaction is incredibly secure but, once the transaction has occurred, the parties need to store their cryptocurrency. In a world where everything is connected and touches the Web, storage systems for cryptocurrencies are no different – and are, therefore, accessible by determined cybercriminals. Many large organisations are addressing this by revisiting a siloed approach to storage, using cold storage that is completely cut off from the Internet

Broad-level security on either side is also a concern. Again, while the actual transaction may be secure, the end points might not be. It is possible to intercept the transfer or receipt of cryptocurrencies at either end of the transaction, so trust between parties remains of paramount importance. To respond to this, businesses are looking at private blockchains and not public ones. Private blockchains require a more interpersonal level of transaction and all nodes are known, and pre-approved prior to transacting.

Finally, because the technology resides on underlying networks, the networking design needs to be well thought out and planned with security as top-of-mind. Security must form part of the initial architecture, catering for all manner of current and potential threats so as to minimise any risk of breach through touchpoints on the network.

The future of the blockchain

There are exciting times ahead, for both the future of cryptocurrencies and the blockchain. The world consists of a series of transactions and exchanges, and the blockchain can be applied to virtually every single use case, with careful planning and consideration.

With care and foresight – and an in depth knowledge of the current security landscape of the blockchain – businesses can leverage this technology in a safe, secure and successful fashion, enabling a world of possibilities.

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Veeam passes $1bn, prepares for cloud’s ‘Act II’

Leader in cloud-data management reveals how it will harness the next growth phase of the data revolution, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

Veeam Software, the quiet leader in backup solutions for cloud data management,has announced that it has passed $1-billion in revenues, and is preparing for the next phase of sustained growth in the sector.

Now, it is unveiling what it calls Act II, following five years of rapid growth through modernisation of the data centre. At the VeeamON 2019conferencein Miami this week, company co-founder Ratmir Timashev declared that the opportunities in this new era, focused on managing data for the hybrid cloud, would drive the next phase of growth.

“Veeam created the VMware backup market and has dominated it as the leader for the last decade,” said Timashev, who is also executive vice president for sales and marketing at the organisation. “This was Veeam’s Act I and I am delighted that we have surpassed the $1 billion mark; in 2013 I predicted we’d achieve this in less than six years. 

“However, the market is now changing. Backup is still critical, but customers are now building hybrid clouds with AWS, Azure, IBM and Google, and they need more than just backup. To succeed in this changing environment, Veeam has had to adapt. Veeam, with its 60,000-plus channel and service provider partners and the broadest ecosystem of technology partners, including Cisco, HPE, NetApp, Nutanix and Pure Storage, is best positioned to dominate the new cloud data management in our Act II.”

In South Africa, Veeam expects similar growth. Speaking at the Cisco Connect conference in Sun City this week, country manager Kate Mollett told Gadget’s BRYAN TURNER that the company was doing exceptionally well in this market.

“In financial year 2018, we saw double-digit growth, which was really very encouraging if you consider the state of the economy, and not so much customer sentiment, but customers have been more cautious with how they spend their money. We’ve seen a fluctuation in the currency, so we see customers pausing with big decisions and hoping for a recovery in the Rand-Dollar. But despite all of the negatives, we have double digit growth which is really good. We continue to grow our team and hire.

“From a Veeam perspective, last year we were responsible for Veeam Africa South, which consisted of South Africa, SADC countries, and the Indian Ocean Islands. We’ve now been given the responsibility for the whole of Africa. This is really fantastic because we are now able to drive a single strategy for Africa from South Africa.”

Veeam has been the leading provider of backup, recovery and replication solutions for more than a decade, and is growing rapidly at a time when other players in the backup market are struggling to innovate on demand.

“Backup is not sexy and they made a pretty successful company out of something that others seem to be screwing up,” said Roy Illsley, Distinguished Analyst at Ovum, speaking in Miami after the VeeamOn conference. “Others have not invested much in new products and they don’t solve key challenges that most organisations want solved. Theyre resting on their laurels and are stuck in the physical world of backup instead of embracing the cloud.”

Illsley readily buys into the Veeam tagline. “It just works”. 

“They are very good at marketing but are also a good engineering comany that does produce the goods. Their big strength, that it just works, is a reliable feature they have built into their product portfolio.”

Veeam said in statement from the event that, while it had initially focused on server virtualisation for VMware environments, in recent years it had expanded this core offering. It was now delivering integration with multiple hypervisors, physical servers and endpoints, along with public and software-as-a-service workloads, while partnering with leading cloud, storage, server, hyperconverged (HCI) and application vendors.

This week, it  announced a new “with Veeam”program, which brings in enterprise storage and hyperconverged (HCI) vendors to provide customers with comprehensive secondary storage solutions that combine Veeam software with industry-leading infrastructure systems. Companies like ExaGrid and Nutanix have already announced partnerships.

Timashev said: “From day one, we have focused on partnerships to deliver customer value. Working with our storage and cloud partners, we are delivering choice, flexibility and value to customers of all sizes.”

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‘Energy scavenging’ funded

As the drive towards a 5G future gathers momentum, the University of Surrey’s research into technology that could power countless internet enabled devices – including those needed for autonomous cars – has won over £1M from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and industry partners.

Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) has been working on triboelectric nanogenerators (TENG), an energy harvesting technology capable of ‘scavenging’ energy from movements such as human motion, machine vibration, wind and vehicle movements to power small electronic components. 

TENG energy harvesting is based on a combination of electrostatic charging and electrostatic induction, providing high output, peak efficiency and low-cost solutions for small scale electronic devices. It’s thought such devices will be vital for the smart sensors needed to enable driverless cars to work safely, wearable electronics, health sensors in ‘smart hospitals’ and robotics in ‘smart factories.’ 

The ATI will be partnered on this development project with the Georgia Institute of Technology, QinetiQ, MAS Holdings, National Physical Laboratory, Soochow University and Jaguar Land Rover. 

Professor Ravi Silva, Director of the ATI and the principal investigator of the TENG project, said: “TENG technology is ideal to power the next generation of electronic devices due to its small footprint and capacity to integrate into systems we use every day. Here at the ATI, we are constantly looking to develop such advanced technologies leading towards our quest to realise worldwide “free energy”.

“TENGs are an ideal candidate to power the autonomous electronic systems for Internet of Things applications and wearable electronic devices. We believe this research grant will allow us to further the design of optimized energy harvesters.”

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