Blockchain and the Warfighter

The incredible progress made in cyber technology over the last several years has benefited society in countless ways, but with it has come a host of vulnerabilities. The sharp increase in the frequency and ferocity of cyberattacks has far-reaching impacts on our financial and national security infrastructure. It should come as no surprise, then, that federal government agencies have set their sights on blockchain as a promising solution.

Originally developed for and associated with the digital currency Bitcoin, blockchain is a cryptographic distributed ledger technology that allows for secure and nearly tamper-proof recordkeeping. Each transaction or tracking entry forms a new block connected in a chain to the other blocks of data so that they are all connected but do not link back to any one centralized hub.

Everyone connected to the network will receive a copy of the blockchain that automatically updates each time someone makes an additional entry. Because no one person owns or controls this data, it cannot be deleted or copied by anyone, and cannot be edited without knowledge and consent of the entire network.

This makes it difficult to hack; because there is no single point of entry, even if a hacker successfully compromises a block, they would only be able to breach some of the blocks, not the entire chain. Moreover, since the blockchain auto-updates every ten minutes, a breach would be almost immediately identified, allowing for swifter damage control.

Despite its many benefits, entities outside of the financial industry have been slow to embrace this technology. That is quickly changing, however. Last year, the Swedish government began testing blockchain for its land registry system, which had previously been recorded strictly on paper. The tests progressed into the next stage earlier this year. Estonia is also making steps to convert its health record system over to blockchain.

The United States Department of Defense recently began soliciting proposals for developing new blockchain functions to help secure the Warfighter as well. Once implemented, blockchain has several potential benefits within the DoD including protection from hacking and leakers, decentralized equipment management, secure communications systems, and more.

John Bergin, DoD’s business technology officer, even spoke of blockchain’s potential when linked with additive manufacturing processes. In his example, if a piece of equipment breaks on an aircraft carrier, they would be able to securely print only the pieces needed and use blockchain to pay for and track that part, which would avoid violating IP rights of suppliers.

DARPA has published Small Business Innovation Research solicitations for blockchain development to build a secure messaging system that could facilitate cryptographically-sound transaction records for sensitive tactical information, agent and troop locations, and intelligence reports. This system could also protect sensitive data including nuclear weapons and military satellites. 

As blockchain functions are developed further, we look forward to seeing what other potential value this tech could have for our Warfighter. 

Brendan Gilfillan