Instead of 64 gigabytes, he works with 180 kilobytes; Big Data has become Small Data, which is just as challenging in its way.
Ubirch is primarily concerned with the security of the data. This should not be confused, Jugel explains, with securing the devices or the infrastructure. “It’s about whether the data that devices are processing is also accurate and authentic.”
For the Internet of Things, this is extremely important. Different actors and machines are interconnected in a production chain, and much is controlled by data that devices and sensors collect and send. If that data is manipulated — whether intentionally or through a bug — enormous damage can be done. “An example would be a smart grid,” Jugel explains, “a manipulated date can be enough to cut power to a producer or location.”
The Internet of Things makes it extremely important that data be trusted. That trust, Jugel says, can’t be achieved through traditional technologies. This brings us to — you guessed it — blockchain.
Ubirch started working with blockchain about two years ago. The technology is designed to help validate data — even large amounts of it — in a way that is not only secure but also privacy compliant.
The actual plan was to form an application for insurance companies: Special sensors, such as those on buildings or vehicles, would report when damage occurs, and because the insurance company trusts the sensors, it could automatically settle the claim. That would save the cost of the appraisal.
“Insurance companies are already experimenting massively with such models of an automated claims settlement. Of course, the authenticity of the data is a sensitive issue here,” Jugel explains.
Ubirch helps by turning sensors into “oracles” — sources that feed blockchains with data.
“The sensor has a small client that runs autonomously on their microchip. The client generates a key pair and registers the public key on a blockchain. Then it signs all the data coming from the sensor with the private key.”
This already proves that the data actually comes from the sensor.
However, the data itself does not end up on the blockchain. This is important to Jugel:
“The client hashes the data, for example, temperature and time, sign the hash, and sends it to our server. We never get to see the data.”
The server at Ubirch then anchors the hash of the data in a blockchain. This allows anyone to verify that the data is authentic independently.
Initially, Ubirch worked with Bitcoin, then Ethereum. With both the one and the other blockchain, Jugel quickly discovered that it gets pretty expensive pretty fast to use them directly.
So Jugel and his team developed a way to scale the application.
“We build a sidechain by aggregating the sensor data into a hash tree. We then put the root of the hash tree on a blockchain at certain intervals.”
The concept is very reminiscent of the rollups currently used on Ethereum.
For this, the startup uses multiple blockchains. In low frequency, they deposit the root on the Ethereum blockchain, in higher ones on the IOTA tangle and the chain of Ethereum-Classic. To that end, they are testing Govchain, a private Ethereum-based blockchain from Germany, as well as the “Bloxberg” certification chain.” “We use multiple connectors. These are tools for us to anchor information, and the more redundancy we create, the better.”
Trusted sensors for insurance remain in an experimental phase. In contrast, Corona testing became Ubirch’s first active application of the technology rather by accident.
“We received a request from our investor community, asking if we could validate the results of the PCR tests to make it easier for people to work and travel again.”
An example: someone has been tested, the result was negative, and he now wants to fly. When he gets on the plane and enters another country, how can he clearly prove that the test was negative?
The data must be authentic. A single infected person who falsifies the test result can cause a lot of damage on an airplane, and he can endanger numerous lives if he spreads the virus in another country. At the same time, however, data protection is more critical than ever. Primarily because of the Corona pandemic, which requires measures that could ultimately undermine data protection if care is not taken.
But how do you reconcile the two? Data security and data protection?
With Ubirch’s technology, here’s what happens when someone takes a test at Frankfurt Airport, for example:
Someone takes the test and enters their data, such as name and date of birth. The lab checks the sample and enters the result and the data into Ubirch’s client. The client combines the data — name, date of birth, test result — and adds the lab’s cryptographic identity and a secret. The whole thing is then hashed and sent to Ubirch’s server. The adds the hash to a hash tree and stores its root in a blockchain.
If you didn’t understand the technical details, it doesn’t matter. The result is that the tested person has his name and the effect in pure form on his certificate on paper, and someone else — say, at the entrance to the airport gate or a soccer stadium — can use an app to check whether the test result is valid. And all this without any private data going online or even be exchanged.
It would also work without blockchain, for example, through a signature by the laboratory. But with blockchain, Jugel says, you can make it much more efficient and better automated. This could also allow thousands of people into a stadium, ensuring they all have a valid negative test result.
Jugel, CEO of Ubirch, sees “strong indications that proof of test results are increasingly required,” for example, at airports, but also events such as soccer matches or trade fairs.
“With our solution, we can bring valid test results to the point where they are internationally viable.”
The concept can also be applied to other medical applications. One topic that’s big right now, of course, is digital vaccination cards, so people can carry around their vaccination status on paper or their smartphones without sensitive data ending up on the web. Presumably, something like that will come later this year.
Other possibilities include digital prescriptions.
“You can think it through in a whole lot of places, depending on where the need and acceptance are. We don’t come from the health care corner, but I feel we can make a good contribution here to advance digitalization.”
The Corona pandemic could accelerate a process that has already begun. The digitization of health-related data is probably unstoppable. Therefore, it is all the more important to remain vigilant that data protection does not fall by the wayside.
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WHATEVER YOU DO, DO IT WITH LOVE AND PASSION!