Edinburgh Napier to host ‘world’s first’ Blockchain identity lab

The world’s first dedicated research facility for developing a new form of cybersecurity technology to protect personal data from scammers and hackers has been launched at a Scottish university.

Edinburgh Napier University will host a pioneering new laboratory to explore ways of using sophisticated ‘Blockchain’ software as a means of removing the risk of online attack.

The £600,000 ‘identity lab’ – developed in partnership with Hong-Kong-based Blockpass – was unveiled on Wednesday, hours after a new Scotttish Government cybersecurity ‘action plan’ was published.

Kate Forbes, Minister for the Digital Economy, said: “This collaboration between Blockpass and Napier University is a great example of the type of partnerships which will help to ensure that Scotland has an innovative, world-class cyber security goods and services industry – an aim the Scottish Government and its partners are actively supporting through the publication of Scotland’s Cyber Resilience Economic Opportunity Action Plan.

FutureScot’s Cyber Security Leaders’ Summit, 6 December.

“This exciting work to explore how blockchain technology can protect personal data from online scammers and hackers carries on the tradition of innovation and excellence exemplified by John Napier, the Scottish mathematician who is best known for his invention of logarithms and who is credited with bringing the decimal point into common use.

“It is fitting that this tradition of innovation is continuing in the university which is named in his honour.”

The initial three-year collaboration will support five PhD students and create a world-leading virtualised blockchain environment, demonstrating Blockpass and Edinburgh Napier University’s commitment to innovation and the development of sector-leading, citizen-focused systems.

There will be multiple events during the week of the launch. The inaugural Blockpass Identity Lab Conference on Digital Identity, Blockchain and Advanced Cryptography will be hosted on Friday 28 September 2018. This will be a day of research, new solutions, and thought-provoking discussion under the direction of Prof. Bill Buchanan O.B.E.

Blockchain will have a significant and positive impact on multiple industries and the Blockpass Identity Lab will help to support its ongoing development

Buchanan, Professor in the School of Computing at Edinburgh Napier University, said: “We are proud to be joining forces with Blockpass to create the first dedicated blockchain laboratory in Europe. Blockchain will have a significant and positive impact on multiple industries and the Blockpass Identity Lab will help to support its ongoing development.  I look forward to providing updates on the progress of our PhD researchers and the latest innovations that we are providing to our corporate clients.”

A Hackathon will take place on Saturday 29 September through to Sunday 30 September, inviting participants from all backgrounds to come together and build things related to digital identity and/or blockchain, or other distributed ledger technologies, identifying user-cases and prototyping applications for these emerging and revolutionary advances.

After a series of high-profile data breach scandals at companies like Yahoo, Uber and Equifax, the risks of centralising personal user data have become a key corporate concern, with companies world-wide dedicating an increasing amount of financial resource to cybersecurity technologies.

The digital identity market is forecast to be worth $9.7bn by 2021, and open-up a wide range of online services. The key focus now is to remove risks around fraud, identity theft and counterfeiting.

In the US, there are more than 13 million victims of identity theft each year, with a new case of identity theft occurring, on average, every two seconds.

The UK is one of the top countries for identity fraud and affects around 1 in 10 people, which can lead to high levels of stress for those involved. In Germany, the average loss related to identity fraud is around £28,666 per victim. Across Europe, around 17% of citizens have been affected by some form of identity theft, and the levels increase by the day. In 2017, credit card fraud cost over £1 billion, and included 5.2 million people cancelling their cards.

The Blockpass Identity Lab will thus focus on key challenges around identity and aim to build new data infrastructures which respect the rights, consent and privacy of citizens. A core factor of this is around sovereign identity, and where data, devices, systems and people can be identified with high levels of assurance.

‘Blockchain 101’

The way the internet is currently configured means people’s data is usually held by online services in a central location – and can therefore be easily be targeted.

High-profile hacks have highlighted the risks of centralising personal user data, which is increasingly becoming a corporate concern.

Blockchain is a form of technology whereby data is encrypted – converted into blocks of code – and distributed across a network of computers, or ‘nodes’. It can be retrieved only by the user who inputs a private key, thereby virtually guaranteeing security and privacy.

It is the brainchild of a person or group of people known by the pseudonym, Satoshi Nakamoto, and was devised to be the delivery mechanism of the digital currency ‘Bitcoin’. Since then, the technology – described as the backbone of a new type of internet – has been exploited for a range of other distributed ledger technologies (DLTs).

Blockchains are resistant to modification, and cannot be copied. Applications for the technology can be found in any industry where data is the primary function for the business, whether it’s banking, law, insurance or in public services such as healthcare, education or justice.

FutureScot’s Cyber Security Leaders’ Summit, 6 December.