Blockchain can secure online identities in wake of major data breaches, says Ethereum co-founder Joseph Lubin

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Separate online identities allow users to make hotel reservations, listen to music, pay bills and log in to Facebook. Each time new information makes its way online, leaving the user more vulnerable to hacks and data breaches.

Blockchain technology could solve this problem, Ethereum co-founder Joseph Lubin said Sunday afternoon. In light of a series of high-profile data breaches, it could become more appealing to the everyday Internet user. Mariott announced this week that a data hack left 500 million accounts exposed.

Facebook is battling a trust problem after a number of large security breaches and internal documents showed the company was at one point considering selling data.

Lubin was the first keynote speaker at the sold-out Blockland Solutions conference held this weekend at Cleveland’s convention center. He co-founded Ethereum, a blockchain-based computing platform and operating system, and then started ConsenSys, a group of companies using the system.

Blockchain, a technology in its early stages, is a online distributed ledger system. Though its most widely-known use is as the underpinnings of cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, it can also be used to securely store information such as supply chain functions or medical data.

Lubin mainly spoke about the applications of Ethereum and blockchain technology, including online transactions.

How would blockchain secure your data?

Think of all the accounts you use online. Each time, you give your data to a company and agree to a user agreement. In some cases, it’s detailed information — Marriott Starwood accounts included passport information.

“Identity is broken,” Lubin said. “Decentralization is the answer.”

Lubin touted a ConsenSys company called uPort, which he said allows people to take control of their online identity. Users enter their information into the Ethereum-based blockchain system, which is decentralized. They then use a private key to store all their information.

The example Lubin used is that a uPort identity could store whether or not somebody paid back a loan. Then, the user could go to another lender and use their uPort identity to prove a good lending history, cutting out banks. The loan process would go much faster and the user would retain exclusive access to the full information.

It would essentially allow someone to create one identity that would selectively allow companies to access information without giving it away.

uPort isn’t widely adopted yet. The Swiss Federal Railways recently began using uPort for worker credentials. Zug, Switzerland — where Ethereum is based — is using it for a bike sharing program.

Microsoft and Accenture are prototyping a similar product. Competition isn’t just on the Ethereum system; developers are working on identity tools on Hyperledger and Bitcoin-based blockchain platforms as well, Coindesk reports.

Though the technology isn’t completely developed and there is no standard yet, Lubin said finding a new, secure way to manage data is “absolutely necessary.”

“Service providers ask for as much information as they can get,” he said. “How many data breaches … do we need to experience before we change how our identity and data has been managed?”

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