Blockchain and the Future of Serialization

This is a summary of the topic “Blockchain as the basis of Serialisation” I had presented at the recent AIPIA Amsterdam 2017 (Smart Packaging Conference).

Motivation: Why Use Blockchain?

Blockchain brings the promise of a distributed, trustable database that enables safe sharing of sensitive product information among business partners, especially if it has a transactional nature. This mainly applies to changes in state, such as location or ownership, that can be shared without fearing harmful modification, either intentional or unintentional one.

In the context of Serialization, we need to consider two separate aspects, each requiring a different approach to Blockchain deployment:

Track & Trace: This part of the Serialization industry, where serial numbers are used to track products and trace their location is fully suited for Blockchain integration, as it requires transactions to be recorded and shared among various parts of the distribution network. By securing the recorded transactional aspects of the process – namely change in location, quantities, and ownership, product’s status becomes reliable and impossible to manipulate. Shipments disappearance, bad destinations and other phenomena damaging today’s cross-countries logistics can be fully eliminated.

This type of application is illustrated below –

Authentication: Authenticating ‘things’ – namely products, is the second most popular target for serialization. While not all authentication methods share the need for serialization, those that do are evaluating the use of Blockchain technology to improve the reliability of their solution.

However, Blockchain is only a partial solution to the challenges of Authentication. It is an excellent tool to secure the uniqueness of each value stored in the database (in this case a distributed one), an avoid intentional or unintentional changes. This includes the solution provider’s team. Yet duplication of tags, using the same code over and over again is not secured and the shared access to the database (which is the whole purpose of Blockchain implementation) makes it easy.  This is illustrated next:

Additional security measures that secure access to databases are needed, using more ‘conventional’ technology such as multi-level user authentication and others. Also, duplication of the tags themselves needs to be avoided therefore current tag technology such as encrypted NFC is definitely a must.

Pitfalls towards Practical Implementation

Blockchain technology is serving well certain coins-related markets and is starting to create the basis of breakthrough transactional apps in various fields. Yet when applied to mass-market apps such as product authentication, several challenges remain to be solved and careful selection of base technology is required:

Cost of Mining: Leading platforms such as Etherium, used in e-coin-related apps., present steep mining cost and create a challenging environment for mass-market applications. A technology that promises less than 10 $cents per code is required, which implies careful selection of the blockchain core engine.

Size of network: A distribution of transactional data at more than 10 nodes is recommended to ensure a high level of resistance to change. While public networks such as Etherium already offer a massive number of nodes that keep duplicates of transactional data, new platforms or self-run versions of Blockchain technology may not be that secure.

(For a slide version of this post see my following presentation)

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