Business aviation is turning to Blockchain for secure record keeping
The chances are that you have already heard about Blockchain. But whilst it is often mentioned in the same breath as BitCoin, Blockchain is not another currency. It is a secure and comprehensive keeper of records.
The new world of Blockchain does, however, have to thank Bitcoin for its existence. At the outset it was originally designed as a digital ledger that stores all transactions that the bitcoin had passed through. The data is all digitally coded together, which means no part of that data can be altered at any stage without each other part being affected.
It does this by assigning a digital code and timestamp to each transaction. The digital code is used throughout the Blockchain, with each stage being recorded in the ledger. In a dystopian vision of the future we are all assigned a citizen code, with each and everything we ever do recorded against us in a permanent record using that code. Blockchain is very much like that, but far from dystopian in commercial transactions such as, if we take it to its ultimate in the world of commercial aviation, the registration and sales of an entire aircraft. On a smaller scale, Blockchain can track every time plane has been serviced, what was done and what was used.
In the strictest sense of the term, a Blockchain is a publicly available digital ledger that exists in multiple places, rather than just one single place. Each of the stakeholders in the Blockchain hosts the entire Blockchain rather than just the stakeholder ’s individual part.
Decentralised hosting is one of the main reasons that Blockchain evangelists say it is ‘unhackable’. Because it does not exit in one single location, it is harder to target.
The term Blockchain was originally two words block and chain but evolved over time due to the amount of data that was being processed. Rather than the records being updated all at once, it was sent out in blocks of data.
This means that each member of the Blockchain has access to exactly the same information at exactly the same time. Because the data is digitally signed with a hash function, nobody without that hash can alter any part of the Blockchain without the alteration being known immediately to all other users.
A hash function is very much like a key used in a relational database to tie pieces of data together, although in cryptography a hash hides that key and outputs a random series of numbers and letters that makes it harder for hackers to break.
Blockchain’s integrity, as no block of data can be altered without the agreement of all other participants, is especially attractive when it comes to aircraft transactions. Because of the security that Blockchain enjoys, it eliminates the possibility of spoof emails, for example asking transaction participants to make monetary deposits.
Using Blockchain technology can also speed up the aircraft transaction process. Rather than multiple emails floating around (which could be intercepted and altered) and sending documents for signatures by courier, each party to the transaction has access to the component parts of the Blockchain and is able to digitally sign documents in situ, with the signing of the documents made immediately available to everybody else.
Blockchain is also vital to tracking individual component parts of an aircraft or engine. As each part has its own serial number, its journey from being made to being used can be tracked at each stage of its life. If that part is later sold on, the new owner will be able to see the real age of the part and where it had previously been used.
The technology that underpins Blockchain is still in its infancy, but its time has come. Whilst there are many claims that it is 100% ‘hackproof’ because of its decentralised nature, the notion that anything is 100% safe is always open to test.
One weak link in the Blockchain, or indeed in any chain, lies with the users themselves. Users often use the same passwords across multiple systems or even send their passwords by email or by other insecure methods that are open to abuse. Perhaps.
But with Blockchain technology, such human errors or failures become increasingly improbable. Remember the old acronym WYSIWYG – what you see is what you get. Blockchain can deliver that in the wide world of commercial aviation.