LCCC is embracing technology that can secure our digital lives.
For many people, if they know the term at all, “blockchain” is synonymous with cryptocurrency. Blockchain can be confusing, and its association with cryptocurrency only adds to that.
So think of it this way: Cars have engines, but not all engines are in cars. Engines can also power trains, boats, airplanes, etc. Blockchain is like the engine, and cryptocurrency is the car. It can’t run without blockchain, but blockchain has many applications beyond cryptocurrency.
Blockchain is a digital system that records information in a way that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to change or hack into the system. It creates a digital ledger of transactions that can be duplicated and distributed across a network, and only those with access can read that data.
Blockchain is the underlying technology used to record and track everything from medical records to original content to food supply chain logs. The more we live our lives online, the more important it becomes, as it can store vital data and information while keeping it secure from hackers.
“The benefits of the entire process are massive,” says Hikmat Chedid, a professor of computer engineering technologies and director of the Advanced Digital Forensics Institute at Lorain County Community College. “It includes many, many fields.”
With blockchain, one block is connected to another, each of which contains information. The chain includes as many blocks as necessary for a given purpose, and each block is chronologically connected with those that come before and after it. When new information is added — or when existing information is amended or changed — new blocks are added.
Information stored in a blockchain is secure because it is an immutable digital ledger. All participants are known to each other, and the blockchain is typically decentralized, meaning the computers — or nodes — holding it are in different geographic locations. If one node contains an error, it can use other nodes as a reference point to correct itself. However, a single node cannot alter data contained within the blockchain, meaning the transactions in each block are irreversible.
“If you change any one bit in any block, all the blocks after become invalid,” Chedid says. “You have to validate millions and millions of transactions just so you can alter the information that was on the blockchain. The hash value is a security code that comes out of a program that validates the data. Everything you write down has a hash value. If you alter any piece of the data — even one character — that changes the hash value.”
And because the hash value is included in the next block on the chain, alterations lead to all blocks on the chain being altered.
“As a result, everybody will realize something fishy is going on,” he says.
This system creates trust and accountability, two key characteristics when sensitive information is involved. While blockchain is still susceptible to security issues, those issues are typically attributable to the user.
“Hackers have come up with methods not to alter the blockchain without notice, but to fool the user,” Chedid says. “So if you enter the wrong website to access your blockchain, it might be a website a hacker has created to get you to enter key information.”
But when accessed and managed correctly, blockchain is a reliable means of secure storage. Our digital livelihoods — such as financial, health and educational records and perhaps, one day, our votes — are safer in a blockchain than in a more traditional database.
Lorain County Community College is embracing the benefits and future potential of blockchain by offering an associate degree in Blockchain Engineering Technology, a one-year technical certificate and two short-term certificates.
“Many newer jobs will be created because of the efficiency and the need of people who are well-trained in blockchain,” Chedid says. “There will be a need for people who can write smart contracts, develop blockchain and train bankers and health care facility researchers on how to use blockchain. You need a technician to maintain the blockchain, and you need people to mine, or validate, millions of transactions. And with more technologies coming up, we are doing things smarter and more efficiently.”