Enterprises that leverage blockchain technology have become a defining characteristic of 2019. As Facebook continues to make headlines for its Libra blockchain project, fifty companies worth over a billion dollars are pioneering the current enterprise blockchain landscape.
Interestingly, over half the companies listed on the Forbes 50 Enterprise Blockchain list are powered by Hyperledger, the open source collaborative effort hosted by the Linux Foundation. Yet while Hyperledger and Ethereum have become a standard for corporate blockchain projects, some enterprises are tapping into the Bitcoin blockchain to ensure unprecedented levels of trust, security and transparency.
Bitcoin: More Than A Cryptocurrency
While Bitcoin is best known for being a decentralized digital currency, the Bitfury Group recognized the potential in leveraging the Bitcoin blockchain when developing Exonum, their asset-management blockchain framework.
"Leveraging the Bitcoin blockchain was one of the core things we were thinking about when developing Exonum three years ago,” Gleb Palienko, head of Exonum, told me. “We saw that there were different market demands at that time, yet there were not many platforms in place, aside from Ethereum and Hyperledger. We first developed an enterprise government platform that was permissioned. However, we understood that governments and enterprises wouldn’t want to use a public blockchain, but they would still want the benefits of one, such as data immutability.”
Understanding the potential that a public blockchain could bring to the enterprise in terms of security was a driving factor in the creation of Exonum.
“When designing Exonum, we wanted to ensure the immutability level of a public blockchain, and bitcoin is the most secure public blockchain out there,” explained Palienko.
Exonum was ultimately developed to guarantee the highest level of auditability of a permissioned blockchain, so that any user can verify information is actually stored on the blockchain, without relying on validators.
"Unlike other private blockchains with validators, Exonum uses specific data structures like Merkle trees to store everything and enforce auditability. We also offer an anchoring service, which periodically stores a snapshot of the Exonum network to the Bitcoin blockchain. This prevents node maintainers’ collusion with incentive to rewrite historical data. Finally, we have developed a light client available in four programming languages that allows any business or government to build trusted client applications. The light client can verify the cryptographic proof by Exonum that transactions are really stored inside the blockchain,” said Palienko.
While the Exonum blockchain does have similarities to Ethereum (especially private installations) and Hyperledger (mainly IBM Fabric), the anchoring feature is what sets it apart from other enterprise blockchain frameworks.
"We provide out of the box support of anchoring. Anchoring allows achieving immutability guarantees comparable to those of public blockchains, without disclosing any blockchain data. That's how we leverage the Bitcoin blockchain. Exonum uses it as a globally accessible and ultimately secure and immutable storage, while providing more flexibility and understandable governance,” said Palienko.
The Bitcoin Blockchain For The Enterprise
Having proof that data is stored inside a blockchain framework without having full access to that data is showing to be valuable for a number of enterprises, specifically for governments and healthcare companies.
"The entire reason we have a permissioned blockchain that anchors to Bitcoin is to give enterprises the best of both worlds. They aren’t putting everything out in the public, but still have the extra security of the public anchor, while having the ability to secure and look after their own data. This hybrid environment is much more attractive when you talk to enterprises,” Christopher Dickson, head of blockchain solutions at the Bitfury Group, told me.
For example, The Republic of Georgia is currently in talks with the Bitfury Group to help with time stamping for blockchain-based land registry titles. Since April 2016, The National Agency of The Public Registry (NAPR) has been collaborating with Bitfury to use blockchain technology to restore public trust in institutions and government agencies.
According to a detailed report, Bitfury created a blockchain-based timestamping layer on top of NAPR’s existing digital land registry system. This project has allowed land registry certificates to be timestamped and hashed on the bitcoin blockchain. In turn, this adds immutability and allows the owner of the document to prove to anyone that the receipt existed no later than the time of timestamping, and that it was authorized by NAPR.
"At NAPR we have an electronic placement of shareholders rights and we want to ensure that all this data on the business registry will be timestamped and placed on the blockchain. There are disputes between shareholders when changes occur and we want to cover all timestamping instruments to avoid future disputes,” Elene Grigolia, land administration specialist at NAPR and blockchain legal consultant told me.
To guarantee this vision would be met, Bitfury has suggested that the Republic of Georgia use Exonum for timestamping due to the fact that it anchors data to the Bitcoin blockchain.
In the report, Bitfury explains that, “anchoring removes the need to trust the administrator(s) of an Exonum Blockchain unconditionally; at the same time, it keeps sensitive data private.” Exonum is still being tested in the Republic of Georgia as of September 2018.
In addition to government use cases, leveraging the Bitcoin blockchain has also proven to be useful for the trillion dollar global healthcare industry. For example, Nebula Genomics, a startup that operates a technology platform containing genome-sequencing data, uses the Exonum blockchain as a tamper proof device for medical record keeping.
"We use Exonom to record consent of our study participants. For example, if a pharmaceutical company wants to access our anonymized genomic data, they can send a request through the blockchain, which ensures transparency and creates trust. We don’t store the patient data itself on the blockchain network, but the permissions are stored and recorded here. We then timestamp all of these permissions. If a company or researcher has permission to use the data, they collect it and store it on the cloud and can then access it, but the beauty is that everything has been documented on the Exonum blockchain,” Dennis Grishin, Chief Scientific Officer of Nebula Genomics, told me.
And Longenesis, a Riga, Latvia-based but Hong Kong-incorporated company, is also recording medical records on the blockchain. The company has a custom made Exonum blockchain data management solution for data transaction transparency and traceability, with a primary focus on medical-consent technologies.
Using Longenesis’s platform, a patient agrees to specified care or participation in a study. The patient can withdraw that agreement, while the medical provider can offer to extend, modify or amend the agreement.
According to the company, it will be providing its medical-consent platform-as-a-service to South Korea’s Hanshin Medipia Medical Center and Infinity Care.
"We built on Exonum because as a private blockchain framework, it prioritizes security and trust. This is critical for the life data economics systems Longenesis is building for medical institutions around the world. Our Exonum blockchains enable us to trace virtually every transaction that happens with clinical data, as well as record patient consent, and enable compliant, transparent data sharing between pharmaceutical companies, research organizations and hospitals. We expect that this model will open up medical data to support new drug development, disease research and more.” Garri Zmudze, CEO of Longenesis, told me.
More Projects To Come
While Exonum’s users are primarily governments and large enterprises, Bitfury notes that many more projects are underway.
We have more than thirty in house projects being developed and a number of countries are looking to use Exonum, including the UK, Ukraine, China and The U.S. Rather than viewing blockchain platforms as ‘science projects,’ we are taking the approach that blockchain is necessary and can be integrated into other platforms. Additionally, we leverage the Bitcoin blockchain, which other players in the market could do, but that would go against their models. For us, this is our vision and this is what differentiates us,” said Dickson, head of blockchain solutions at the Bitfury Group.