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Blockchain technology, An exploratory case study to identify the underlying principles and to determine the corresponding capabilities

The first few years since its technical origin...
19 april 2018 / 144

The first few years since its technical origin in 1983, the Internet was nothing more than a technology that enabled daily computer communications [3]. This changed since the introduction of the term Internet of Things (IoT) in 1999 [4]. After that time, it became also possible to connect other physical objects than computers to the Internet. This led to the development of connecting all sorts of devices to the Internet, in fact experts estimate that there will be 38.5 billion connected devices in 2020 [1]. Connecting such an amount of devices to the Internet introduces several security threats. Actually, all these devices form different groups of autonomous computers on the IoT or so called distributed systems [5]. A serious threat to those kind of systems is the Byzantine Generals Problem (BGP). This problem is defined as malfunctioning components that give conflicting information to different parts of a system [6]. When this information is accepted, there can arise various
faults and failures in a system that have severe consequences. Therefore, a solution for this threat is needed in order to enable a safe use of the IoT in the future.Blockchain technology is seen as a possible solution for the BGP because it
empowers a system to identify components that give conflicting information. In short, it is an encrypted chronological database that is recorded by a network of computers [7]. This database is spread among every device in a network so it can
easily be noticed and ignored when a device distributes conflicting information. It implies that the use of a traditional Trusted Third Party (TTP) will be redundant because there is no more need to verify information externally.

Timeline of threats

Experts estimate that there will be 38.5 billion connected devices to the Internet in 2020 [1]. All these devices will form different groups of autonomous computers that must be able to exchange data in a secure way in order to prevent major
incidents. This implies that there is a need for new technologies, which can deal with the growing amount of connected devices and the different types of distributed systems. Therefore, this study has examined if the identified underlying principles of blockchain technolgy have the capabilities to add additional value to the current distributed solutions in multiple domains. This was done by conducting an exploratory case study that consisted of a critical literature
review, which was followed by a number of expert-interviews. These were subsequently analysed by applying the grounded theory strategy of Charmaz [2].

The critical literature review showed that the underlying principles of blockchain technology are able to handle a large amount of devices that safely exchange data in complex and distributed environments. Besides safety, these principles also
enable the removal of the traditional Trusted Third Party (TTP) and stimulate the self-regulating character of a network. This removes a set of devious and inefficient procedures and improves the integrity of the overall process by empowering nodes to perform tasks in an autonomous way. By performing the expert-interviews it became clear that the respondents were unfamiliar with some of the identified underlying principles. This indicated that there is a lack of knowledge about multiple core elements of blockchain technology among the experts. This was an unexpected result and it turned out that several interviewees found it difficult to view the technology just as a combination of the
underlying principles. Besides that, a selection of related use cases were also discussed during the interviews to test what the respondents considered to be value adding implementations of blockchain technology. It appeared that the
smart industry use case in the industrial sector had the most potential. This was due to the amount of laws and regulations to comply with, the fact that there is no flow of money involved and the less risky nature of the data.

This research consisted of an exploratory case study that was conducted to identify the underlying principles of blockchain technology and to determine the corresponding capabilities. The previous paragraphs emphasized that there is a
lack of knowledge and that the technological know-how needs to be improved in order to enable the development of blockchain implementations. It shows that this study has been a baseline measurement and indicates that there is much more research needed in order to fully understand blockchain technology.

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