How to make documents forgery-proof in the digital world
Data certification carried out by the Austrian Public Blockchain allows users to make important documents such as certificates or application documents forgery-proof. Both WU Vienna and the WU Executive Academy regularly use this service.
Alfred Taudes, WU crypto expert and head of the Austrian Blockchain Center, explains how blockchain certification works and how companies can benefit from the diverse potential applications there are outside the realm of universities.
How can you prove that a certain version of a document or data existed at a specific point in time? This can be crucial for artists such as designers or illustrators to avoid disputes over their drafts revolving around copyright issues. But this kind of data security would also be beneficial when it comes to scientific expertises, certificates, construction projects, or sensitive documents of production companies.
Good news first: This type of data certification already exists in the shape of a blockchain application operated by several public institutions and open to companies. The WU Executive Academy and a number of WU institutes already use this service to authenticate their certificates.
Blockchain data certification is based on the Austrian Public Blockchain. Alfred Taudes, founder of the WU’s Research Institute for Cryptoeconomics and scientific head of the Austrian Blockchain Center, explains: “Data can always be manipulated – but not in the blockchain.” More specifically, the existence of the documents is proven through cryptographic hashes, i.e. hash totals for encryption. This means that they receive a virtual stamp in the blockchain that cannot be altered.
The process works as follows: The file is uploaded and the hash value that is recorded in the blockchain with an exact time stamp is calculated. A confirmation of data certification, for example by means of a QR code, makes it possible to authenticate the data at any time.
It is a lot like a decentralized digital signature, only much simpler and suitable for smaller volumes. This makes it possible to present data in a way that cannot be counterfeited.
The benefits of the blockchain technology take full effect here. “No organization can change the data as they are not saved in the database – the only thing that is saved is the cryptographic key, something akin to a fingerprint.” Together with the exact time, this unique key is recorded in the blockchain. “The most important aspect of this technology is that it combines a time stamp with the impossibility of altering the data,” Alfred Taudes states. Otherwise, data can be manipulated at any time, for example with the help of graphic design software such as Photoshop. “But with data certification it can be proven beyond doubt what the document looked like at a specific point in time.”
The service can be integrated into different systems. As mentioned above, also the WU Executive Academy uses it to lighten the administrative burden of certifying report cards. “This way, certificates become official because no part of them can be changed.” At Alfred Taudes’ institute, students receive certificates issued by SAP Austria in addition to their grade if SAP-relevant contents are taught in a course. These certificates have by now become well established on the Austrian labor market and are often attached to electronic application documents. These confirmations can be certified through the blockchain, which makes it possible for the recipient of the documents to verify their authenticity beyond doubt. This feature has been well received by students, which is why its scope of application is currently being expanded and new functions for the automatic certification of larger volumes are being developed.At WU Vienna, data certification is also used to thwart the retroactive manipulation of empirical studies of hypotheses. In the private sector, it is applied to secure quality data and product descriptions. For members of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber, this service is free of charge. They can, for instance, use it to secure their entire business correspondence as well as protect draft contracts.
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