The United States Air Force (USAF) is planning to test a blockchain-based graphical database that will allow it to share files internally as well as various departments of the Department of Defense and Allied Governments.
The licensor of the blockchain ledger is Fluree PBC, a small startup in North Carolina that announced this government contract this week. Fluree is working with AFWERX, a small innovation research firm in the Air Force, on a technology innovation program that will introduce a proof of concept for distributed ledger technology later this year.
A traditional database is a data structure used for storing information. Governments can make use of databases to store large sets of data which scale to millions of records.
Databases started as flat file hierarchical systems which provided simple information gathering and storage. The information stored in databases can be organized using a database management system. A database can be modified, managed and controlled by a single user called an administrator. This user can create, delete, modify and change any record stored in a database. They can also perform administration on the database like optimizing performance and managing its size to more manageable levels.
Since it is centralized, there is one point of failure. The data is in the hands of single entity or group, so there is no way to guarantee it is being used for the right purpose. If that single entity or group lost the password, then it becomes extremely hard to recover the database. A company that has control of information can monetize it for third party use, but sometimes it is not in the best interest of users. When a database gets hacked it is also another issue since it can affect many users information. When a database server fails it also affects the entire system. If there is no backup of the information stored on the database, then there is no way to recover valuable data.
A blockchain stores information in uniform sized blocks. Each block contains the hashed information from the previous block to provide cryptographic security. The hashing uses SHA256 which is a one way hash function. This hashed information is the data and digital signature from the previous block, and likewise, it goes all the way back to the very first block in the blockchain called a “genesis block”.
A blockchain uses a distributed network of nodes that is decentralized. Decentralization means that all nodes on the network store a copy of the blockchain. The nodes either store a full copy of the blockchain or perform mining operations or they can do both. There is no administrator to validate a block of transactions. Instead you have miners that perform this verification by solving cryptographic puzzles based on a difficulty level proportional to the total network hashing power available. Once the block has been added to the blockchain, the information is immutable and transparent to all. A blockchain is highly fault tolerant since if one or more nodes are down, there will always be other nodes available that will run the blockchain. What the blockchain does is provide that trust through transparency by recording the transaction and providing a cryptographically secure way to exchange value. This eliminates the single entity that has control over the entire database along with its flaws.
However, Blockchains do not scale well when it comes to high volume transactions. Due to the fixed block size, there are problems with increasing transaction volume. The delays also affect transaction velocity, where most blockchains cannot process more than 15 transactions per second. Scaling solutions have become the focus of many projects to optimize performance to handle more transactions and increase processing time. Another issue with most databases, including blockchains, are their sizes. When they get bigger, they consume more space for storage and this makes them slow down. With larger blockchain sizes, it takes much longer to copy them to new nodes on the network. This can affect new nodes or nodes that go back online and have not been updated in a long time. Each blockchain is also very much its own ecosystem. It is difficult to make one blockchain inter-operate with another. There are protocols that aim to make blockchains interoperate with each other. For example, to allow users to transfer value from Bitcoin to another blockchain like Ethereum requires the use of a digital exchange. Developers are finding ways to make dissimilar blockchains inter-operable to make the transfer of value much simpler.
Fluree Blockchain Database
Fluree ensures secure communication and data integrity by combining transactions into immutable timestamp blocks and locking each block with advanced encryption. Users authorized on the blockchain gain access through a private public key infrastructure.
The co-founder & co-CEO of Fluree, Brian Platz, said “that the distributed ledger technology platform also allows certain features to be turned on or off, or the use of ordinary databases without encryption in internal project or application development”.
Fluree’s platform FlureeDB was selected because, like all blockchains, its point-to-point architecture is highly scalable, uses data encryption, provides a standard format for semantic data, and the data stored on it is immutable. Smart contract rules on the blockchain also allow the configuration of permitted distributed ledgers to restrict who can view the information based on their security permissions and project participation.
The US Air Force will not be the first government agency to consider applying blockchain. According to Avivah Litan, vice president of research at Gartner, the US Department of Defense has been testing it for supply chain and logistics management.
Litan believes: “Fluree’s structure is quite clever. It is an interesting smart sharing use case because it is encrypted and immutable so no one can change it. We always worry about enemies or internal interception. We still need to worry Malicious people get someone’s account through bad behavior and write data in this way. But it’s more difficult to do this in Fluree than in traditional systems. “
CyberVein Blockchain Database
Having mentioned the characteristics of a blockchain-based database, it seems that Fluree’s blockchain database is able to do all the things that a normal blockchain database can do, with a few specific functions that are requested by the USAF being developed. Although such functions are not disclosed by the USAF.
The Fluree blockchain database will still have the scalability and size problems that exist within the blockchain technology. The USAF will need to store an enormous amount of data in the database, therefore Fluree will need to find a way to resolve this issue, as well as the speed of the database as the size get bigger. The USAF will also need the Fluree blockchain database to be able to inter-operate with other blockchain or traditional databases. Such function will be difficult to develop, but there already exists similar function in the blockchain industry, like how Bitcoin can be exchanged with Ethereum through a cryptocurrency exchange.
However, just storing and managing the data within the database is not optimizing the use and value of data. The CyberVein blockchain database, in addition to the basic functions of a blockchain database, also uses the AI technology, specifically Federated Learning, to analyse the data for model building for the corresponding needs, without compromising the data privacy. Data by itself is useless, its value can only be optimized when it is analysed with a pool of other data. The result of the analysis can give insight to various matters and prove to be very useful for corporates or governments in decision making. An application case has already tested by the Zhejiang University CyberVein R&D Center, using both blockchain and federated learning technology to achieve the diagnosis of different types of keratitis in patients with an accuracy of more than 80%, which was better than 96% of the doctors that cooperated with the testing.
Although the CyberVein blockchain database is highly efficient, but it still has problems with scalability and inter-operability. CyberVein database does not have a problem database size, because the database incorporated DAG technology with the blockchain technology, providing a back-up space for the database where data can be stored and retrieved as per needs, without compromising the security of the database as a whole. As for scalability, CyberVein is coping well for now, it will pose as a problem in the future, and the development team is already looking at ways to work around it, to ensure a seamless database operation.
Fluree’s database will surely meet the USAF’s requirements, although it is unclear what the specific required functions may be, and overcome the challenges that the blockchain database may face. However, unlike CyberVein’s databse, which can use federated learning to achieve higher value of data, the Fluree database is missing out on the essence of having a massive data set pool. When Fluree and the USAF discloses the information regarding the database’s features, there surely will be many other blockchain database to follow suit, including CyberVein, which will eventually make Fluree fall into the red ocean if it does not continue to innovate.
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