Trinity researcher Dr Hitesh Tewari is exploring a number of ways in which blockchain technology can pave the way for data privacy.
From its humble beginnings to becoming the first decentralised cryptocurrency, bitcoin has come a long way.
The bitcoin protocol, which has an immutable, distributed blockchain at its core, has since inspired others to spawn numerous blockchain-based cryptocurrencies and tokens.
From there, new concepts continued to evolve, from smart contracts that are locked into the blockchain to non-fungible tokens that can represent real-world items such as artwork and real estate.
While the latter is rightfully treated with some scepticism, the core blockchain technology is a powerful instrument as we move forward in the digital transformation space.
Dr Hitesh Tewari is an assistant professor in the School of Computer Science and Statistics at Trinity College Dublin. His research has spanned computer networks, electronic payment systems, cryptography and blockchain technology.
In September, Trinity was listed among the top 50 universities for blockchain by CoinDesk.
“Researchers like myself have been using the blockchain to redesign centralised networks (fixed and mobile) for a decentralised environment, in order to make them more transparent, secure and robust,” Tewari told SiliconRepublic.com.
“In 2017, I along with my team, demonstrated an elegant solution to a long-standing electronic voting dilemma, and developed a fully auditable and anonymous e-Voting protocol by making use of a cryptocurrency called Zcash. I am also utilising my expertise in zero-knowledge protocols (ZKPs) to develop privacy-preserving smart contracts for strengthening the area of user privacy.”
Decentralised privacy-preserving systems
Any time we are using social media, accessing smart devices or paying for things online, we are leaving digital footprints all over the internet.
But as we become more privacy conscious, the need to have control over our personal data has become more important than ever. That’s where the uses of blockchain can come in.
Tewari’s current research focuses on decentralised privacy-preserving systems, from autonomous vehicle security to next-generation cryptocurrencies.
With the internet increasingly under the control of a small number of major tech firms, he has created a framework for a decentralised internet where end users are in control of their data and their digital footprint is kept private.
‘The genie has been let out of the bottle and decentralisation is here to stay’
– HITESH TEWARI
“In the e-health space, I have developed a healthcare management ecosystem that allows a patient’s medical records to be stored securely and anonymously on a blockchain. This enables data to be mined by third parties to determine healthcare trends etc, without them inferring personal details of individual patients,” he explained.
Additionally, with connected and autonomous vehicles increasingly being fitted with complex sensors and processors, Tewari is actively researching secure ‘vehicle-to-everything’ communications using blockchain.
Future blockchain trends
Blockchain-based cryptocurrencies have been consistently making headlines in recent years, with some dubbing decentralised finance (DeFi) systems as the ‘Wild West’ of banking.
“The idea of a fully anonymous blockchain-based cryptocurrency or a DeFi that is not under the control of a national government terrifies the incumbents, who desperately want to maintain the status quo that has been in place for the past century,” said Tewari.
“Central banks around the world are scrambling to come up with their own cryptocurrency offerings, also known as stable coins, which are pegged for example to the US dollar, euro etc.”
European finance chief Mairead McGuinness said earlier this year that a bill to introduce a digital euro could be tabled in the EU early next year, while Joe Biden signed an executive order with a plan for digital assets in the US, including the potential for a digital dollar.
“I believe that as blockchain-based cryptocurrencies become more mature and start addressing some of the big challenges such as increasing the number of transactions per second and reducing energy consumption, big e-commerce players such as Amazon and Alibaba etc will start accepting such cryptocurrencies as payment for goods and services,” Tewari added.
But while cryptocurrencies are gaining popularity, the environmental toll associated with securing transactions on the blockchain is something that needs to be considered.
“With the heightened awareness of the devastating effects that climate change has on our planet, I propose to develop energy efficient and high transaction throughput protocols for the next-generation of cryptocurrencies by developing novel consensus mechanisms, lightweight cryptographic protocols, etc,” Tewari said.
He added that in conjunction with mass adoption by end users, there will be less volatility in the price of these crypto tokens as they will start to play an important functional role in the global financial system.
“I also believe that in the future ZKPs will be increasingly employed to preserve the privacy of end users, while providing irrefutable proof of identity, payment and fulfilment of contracts to the providers of goods and services in today’s increasingly digital world,” he said.
“The genie has been let out of the bottle and decentralisation is here to stay.”
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