KuppingerCole has long noted the importance of blockchain technologies, whilst also noting that the key challenges to the adoption of blockchain technologies remained standardisation, privacy & security, as well as dilemmas regarding the types of blockchain technologies to adopt. In regards to these final two points, the main arguments have centred around the use of permissioned vs unpermissioned blockchains, as well as anonymous, pseudonymous or identified blockchains.
Microsoft made some wise decisions in response to these challenges. Initially, by announcing Blockchain as a service (BaaS) offerings on Azure last November, and subsequently announcing many new partnerships with various blockchain technology start-ups and consortiums, it gave organisations the opportunity to quickly begin experimenting with various blockchain tools easily and without the need to make decisions about which specific technology to use at this early stage of maturity of blockchain technologies.
Microsoft now has further progressed its BaaS offering with Project Bletchley. Finally, organisations can begin to make use of concrete benefits of blockchains whilst still remaining agnostic in regards to which specific blockchain used to deliver these benefits.
In short, Project Bletchley enables the use of blockchains-powered middleware solutions. The first of the two major tools offered by this latest announcement are called “Cryptlets”. This blockchain and development-language agnostic tool allows an organisation to leverage the power of time-stamped decentralised ledgers (blockchains) to secure organisational data without compromising the confidentiality of this data. For example, non-repudiation of a transaction between systems which process confidential data can be ensured by referencing some encrypted, time-stamped information stored on an external blockchain, while ensuring that this information remains completely useless to any other third party not engaged in the original transaction.
Cryptlets thus enable a whole new category of Project Bletchley middleware tools that can provide additional security, scalability and performance to typical middleware use cases even if the blockchains used to provide these features do not natively allow such types of features. Some key examples of this toolset include identity, encryption and key management features. This new blockchain-powered middleware stack will work with existing Azure services such as Key Vault and Active Directory.
By using this combination of centralised, authoritative systems such as middleware, public key infrastructure and authentication stores along with features of decentralised, algorithmic consensus-based technologies such as blockchains, it becomes possible to overcome the limitations of both types of technologies whilst also providing new hybrid technologies with better security and performance characteristics.
Centralised systems are necessary to most organisations, yet the authoritative management nodes of these systems often become the targets of malicious actors. Once these key root nodes are compromised, it is often very difficult to recover from a successful attack as it is very difficult to establish the ‘last known good state’ of the sensitive data. By decentralising this information on time-stamped blockchains, it becomes much harder for an attacker to manipulate the information on a compromised authoritative node.
Project Bletchley finally provides some concrete tools for enabling these hybrid centralised/decentralised secure systems which up until now have mostly only been theoretically discussed. What is important again here is that this project is blockchain technology agnostic. Just like TCP/IP, the value from blockchains (or networking for that matter) does not come from the use of a specific blockchain implementation, but how it can support a given use case.