Blockchain is unquestionably the hottest technology being developed today in the private and government sectors. A recent report published by Research and Market determined the global Blockchain market was valued at $411.5 million in 2017 and will grow to $7.7 billion by 2022—an astonishing annual growth rate of nearly 80 percent.
So what is it? Blockchain is simply a shared database managed by a network of computers around the world. The technology is highly resistant to data modification; transactions in a blockchain network are recorded as blocks of information in a chronological chain of data. Each chain is copied and kept synchronized across multiple nodes or computers making the system highly resilient to attacks or data loss. Data can be added to a blockchain, but no information in it can be retroactively modified or deleted without alerting the users.
From a government perspective, the technology holds the potential for enhanced transparency and auditing of public-service operations, increased supply-chain visibility to combat counterfeit products, and automation of paper-based processes to improve delivery of services to organizations and citizens.
However, the challenge with Blockchain technology is the potential for the development of “walled gardens” or closed technology platforms that do not support common standards for security, privacy and data exchange. This would limit the growth and availability of a competitive marketplace of diverse, interoperable solutions for government and industry to draw upon to deliver cost effective and innovative services based on Blockchain and distributed ledger technologies.
As the science advisor and research-and-development (R&D) arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) is pursuing two broad courses of action to encourage an open and inclusive future for Blockchain technology:
- We actively work with and support DHS component customers to understand their potential use-cases and help them achieve their outcomes with requisite R&D expertise and technologies.
- We support development of globally available specifications that are open, royalty free and free to implement to ensure interoperability across systems and prevent vendor lock-in.
Within DHS, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) partnered with S&T to explore how it can use Blockchain and distributed ledger technologies for its mission areas.
- S&T is leading proof-of-concept deployments on behalf of the U.S. Border Patrol to evaluate how Blockchain can ensure imagery and sensor data from its cameras are authentic and unaltered. This technology last week was demonstrated recently by S&T and Factom, the performer, at IoT World.
- S&T is conducting feasibility explorations with CBP to understand the benefits and challenges of using Blockchain to enhance and facilitate international passenger travel.
- S&T is conducting proof-of-concept deployments with CBP’s Office of Trade and Office of Trade Relations focused on the application of Blockchain and distributed ledger technologies for shipping, logistics and customs.
Our emphasis on architecture, standards and interoperability has positioned S&T to bring a high level of rigor, expertise and credibility essential to supporting the development of Blockchain and distributed ledger technology solutions for DHS components and other customers across the U.S. government.
Blockchain technology is rapidly moving from hype to reality in application domain areas where S&T is currently working. This reality means DHS S&T must aggressively work with its research, development, test and evaluation partners throughout government and industry so homeland security applications of Blockchain and distributed ledger technology are effective and trusted. This paradigm will lead to the development of solutions for critical homeland security challenge areas that leverage the best of our national industrial innovation.