Tag Archives: cryptography

The Beauty of Blockchains

A rainbow of color blocks.Last year I wrote about the Bitcoin revolution and some of the implications to our financial, currency, and trading systems. At that time, a single Bitcoin was worth $1,100 but now is only worth $379. There are wild price swings and talk of dissent among Bitcoin developers, as outlined in a recent Wall Street Journal article. Whether Bitcoin or some other crypto-currency survives in the long run, I think the most interesting story is the blockchain technology behind the rise of Bitcoin and the wide-ranging uses for this development.

Blockchain Explained

A blockchain can best be described as a ledger or database that exists simultaneously on hundreds or even thousands of systems. All of these copies are cryptographically connected to ensure data security.

In the case of a Bitcoin, every time a coin or a fraction of a coin is used, that transaction is recorded on the ledger. The database or registry records who had the coin and who now has the coin, which prevents a coin holder from spending the same coin multiple times. Because this registry is replicated in several identical databases simultaneously, someone attempting to hack into a system to steal the coin would have to hack into all of the systems at the same time. Changing only one instance of the registry alerts the other systems of the fraud and blocks the transaction. If blockchains can be used for currency, what are other possible uses for this technology?

Title Chains

Anything that requires a title could make use of blockchains. When you purchase a home or a vehicle, you need to know the person selling that property really owns it. A title tracks ownership through the life of the property. When you purchase the property, you are added to the title. This process takes a lot of resources, both human and computer, and is not immune to fraud.

When I sold stock, I had to send my paper certificate to a broker to prove that I was indeed the owner. When I bought stock, the broker sent me a newly issued certificate to prove that I was the owner. Now the exchange is executed electronically, but it can still take up to three days to complete a transaction because of all of the systems and humans involved in the process. All of these transactions could be simplified by secure blockchain technology, which would be quicker and would reduce risk and amount of paperwork.

Developing Countries

I think that developing countries could benefit greatly by using blockchain technology. Many of them do not have a secure title transfer infrastructure which limits their ability to buy and sell goods and services. Blockchains can be registered in small increments, even cents, so they can be used by entrepreneurs wanting to sell locally and worldwide without employing costly brokers.

Thinking on a larger scale, if an entrepreneur wanted to start a company, they could sell fractional shares in the company with each share secured by a blockchain transaction. The computing infrastructure does not need to reside in the community or even in the country but could be anywhere in the world. The transaction costs can be a lot lower, thus ensuring that more of the profit is kept in the community and reinvested for future growth and opportunities.


I am excited by the fact that technologies such as blockchains can create new opportunities. Coupled with other emerging advances, such as green power and wireless communications, this has the potential to be a game changer. Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Beyond Passwords: The New Face of Authentication

Black and white drawing of two fingerprints.When the Heartbleed bug was discovered in April 2015 it cast a light on the problem of password vulnerabilities. Since then, or even before, IT departments have increased password requirements for both administrators and end users. Some organizations now require passwords of 13 characters or more that must contain certain combinations of letters, numbers and symbols, and must be refreshed as often as every six weeks. These requirements have led frustrated users to reuse the same password over multiple accounts or to write down the password and keep it in a supposed safe place. The increased vigilance is causing behavior that leads to less secure systems and accounts. What is the answer? Bill Gates declared the password dead in 2004 but they are still very much alive in 2016. For this blog post I set out to find acceptable alternatives to this problem.

Two Factor Authentication

While double identification does not remove the need for a password, it does make an account more secure. This is an option available now for Twitter and other accounts and can be set up in your profile. With this system, you enter the standard password and then enter a separate six digit code that is sent to your smartphone at the time of log in. It is a step towards more secure accounts and systems.


Google takes two factor authentication one step further with a device that uses public key cryptography. This is a small USB device that provides a second authentication for Google apps, Gmail, Dropbox, and other applications. You plug the device into a computer to verify your identity. Near field communication or low power Bluetooth will be used soon to eliminate the physical connection.


Apple and Samsung are adding biometric authentication to their newest smartphones and tablets. This eliminates passwords completely by identifying you from your fingerprint. It is as easy as placing your finger or thumb on the screen before unlocking your phone or apps and would keep a lost or stolen smartphone secure.

The Myris portable retinal scanner from Eyelock allows you to log in to websites and applications via a quick retinal scan. Once you establish an image of your retina through video capture, you simply glance into the USB device to gain access to applications.

The Nymi heartbeat scanner is in development now and is another way to authenticate users via biometrics. This is a bracelet that records your heartbeat and then uses that to identify you to systems such as computers, door locks, and retail computers that would normally require a PIN or password. The software developer kit is available now and the product will be out soon.

All of these are attempts to easily identify an individual by a unique pattern and not by a password they carry around in their head (or wallet). The next logical step would be to present DNA, but I am not sure yet how that can be captured.


Bill Gates may have been premature in declaring the password dead but I hope that he is on the right track. I struggle to remember all of my logins and passwords and I could use help. Have you found a reliable and safe alternative to passwords? Do you use or trust biometrics? Let me know your thoughts so that I can start using the password portion of my brain for better things.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.