Blockchain is becoming key for global trade – but is that a gift for hackers?

  • Blockchain is a system of recording transactions that could replace ‘trust intermediaries’ including banks
  • Businesses are starting to use blockchain to track and trace goods – but can the technology be trusted?
  • The World Economic Forum, Hitachi, and other public and private supply chain actors, have published a Framework for Blockchain Cybersecurity

In 2017, hundreds of companies fell victim to a ransomware attack called NotPetya. Maersk and FedEx saw their global operations disrupted for weeks and suffered hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. While ports and freight forwarders are turning to new technologies, NotPetya was also a stark reminder that cybersecurity is difficult to retrofit: it must be embedded from the beginning.

Blockchain and distributed ledger technologies have the potential to allow for unprecedented efficiency and transparency, optimizing operations much beyond what the current ecosystem of central databases and paper-driven bills of lading could ever achieve.

However, all technologies exhibit weaknesses and vulnerabilities depending on how organizations use them. Everything from the combustion engine and atomic energy to computers and social networks have been leveraged for purposes other than they were originally intended. Blockchain is no different: its weaknesses and vulnerabilities will be leveraged for a variety of interests. Not all of them will be legitimate.

Question the past to trust the future

Blockchain is, in short, a system to record transactions. For centuries, in the absence of a better way, we have created trust intermediaries to keep such records intact: banks, notaries, customs, and more. Blockchain’s promise is to replace these trust intermediaries with technology: in other words, to replace human trust with digital trust.

Trust historically stems from predictability: we trust our neighbours because we can predict their behaviour thanks to our laws and…

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