Reuben Jackson


Will Blockchain Kill the Passwords?

Passwords are a bane of modern life. They never seem to end. If you use the same password for everything (not recommended), you run the risk of hacks and identity fraud. Too many passwords, you are liable to forget one at the wrong moment. As our digital life expands into more platforms, apps, and devices, things are almost at a breaking point. How many passwords do you have? How many forgotten? Enough is enough.

Breaking passwords is an ancient art, dating back centuries. Spies and kings of centuries past relied on passwords and code-breaking to carry out their duties. Many historians credit the Allied effort to crack the Enigma device as a key factor in the outcome of WWII. Mathematicians, “script-kiddies,” and criminals alike enjoy the rewards from breaking new passwords to peer into places they shouldn’t go. In the modern world, our entire global economy (and our intimate personal life) relies on a delicate balance between accessibility and security.

Recently, breaking passwords made an impact on everyday consumers of the world’s biggest brands. Sony, Apple, Yahoo, Adobe, Equifax — the list goes on and on. Even the popular password manager app LastPass suffered a hack — a virtual treasure trove for identity fraud artists. Hackers uncovered email addresses, passwords, authentication hashes and password hints for millions of users. If you want to feel sick to your stomach, read this list of major data breaches maintained by Wikipedia. Can you find yourself on the list?

In a year of hacks with victims in the hundreds of millions, it’s time to talk tough about online security. As the pace of online commerce and communication increases, the world needs a better solution. A few young startups have embraced the blockchain as a potential cure to “password-itis” and a safer internet for everyone. Centralized architecture is a liability when one hack allows access to all of the data stored away safely behind a single wall.

It’s not just personal photos and messages at risk. Critical infrastructure such as power plants, traffic lights, and financial markets rely on passwords to keep out nefarious elements looking to do harm. Online identity fraud costs society billions of dollars every year, and we all pick up the tab for the insured losses. In a connected world, criminals from around the globe are lurking at every turn. We all become all victims eventually.

Phishing, server breaching, and password cracking all rely on a point of attack. Faking credentials is your ticket to entry. Online security is an elaborate game played by security professionals and hackers, one side trying to stay ahead of the other. Two-factor authentication was a beneficial recent development, but it relies on continuous uninterrupted access to a second device in most cases. A decentralized authentication protocol, similar to the blockchain behind cryptocurrencies, might just change the rules of the game for good.

Companies like REMME use the blockchain to protect everything from critical infrastructure, the Internet of Things, medical devices, financial information, and payment platforms. Decentralized ledgers are much harder to fake as opposed to a single resource. It’s much easier to forge a diary than a best-seller with millions of copies available for public reference.

In the case of REMME, a specific SSL certificate lies within the blockchain to authenticate each user. The data itself is encrypted and safe from prying eyes, but the fidelity of the record-keeping is impossible to disrupt using decentralized authentication. The days may be numbered for password servers, eight-character minimums, and “please use one of the following: capitals, lowercase, numbers, special characters.”

Strong security protocols and user-friendliness are typically polar opposites. Given the freedom, most users choose “12345” or “password” for their online accounts. Developers solved the problem with draconian rules for passwords and behind-the-scenes tactics such as hashing and salting. Now, we live in a dystopian world, relying on human memory for our security and failing to stop major hacks on private information every year. The blockchain is already a major disrupting force in the banking and financial world. Online security is an obvious next step for a better, safer internet for everyone.

As more and more of the world’s commercial activity moves onto the web, the demand for trusted communication and reliable payment architecture will grow. Passwords aren’t the only problem, but they are a major impediment to speed, convenience, and security. Even if everyone on Earth could memorize a thousand passwords with a hundred characters each with flawless ease, the problem won’t go away. We all need a better solution, and we may find it in the blockchain.

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