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Cryptocurrency, or digital currency, first hit the scene in in 2009 by Bitcoin, and the market has since expanded to include other brands such as Ethereum, Ripple, Litecoin and Zcash.

Because it is based on unique blockchain technology, a decentralized network that doesn’t require a third party to process transactions, cryptocurrency operates independently from the global banking system.

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Data stored in a blockchain is permanent and cannot be modified, and it has been adapted for a wide variety of uses beyond cryptocurrency.

The privacy that users of a network based on blockchain technology have, however, is a major drawback. Because users are nearly impossible to identify, these networks attract terrorists, criminals and black market businesses who wish to remain anonymous. Some experts believe blockchain technology poses one of the biggest potential threats to U.S. national security.

Cyber Security

A team of cybersecurity researchers from Northern Arizona University’s (NAU) School of Informatics, Computing, and Cyber Systems, led by professor of practice Bertrand Cambou, just earned a $125,000 grant by the U.S. Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) to study how to apply NAU’s technology to secure the blockchain with novel digital signature schemes.

The project leverages another study by the team, funded by the AFRL and the Arizona Board of Regents, to determine the value of ternary computing — based on logic using three possible values instead of binary computing, which is based on two values — in strengthening cybersecurity.

“The long-term objective of this project is to develop an architecture that is compatible with cloud-based solutions, providing unprecedented levels of security to the blockchain technology with ternary computing and ternary physical functions (T-PUF), which are the ‘electronic fingerprints’ of advanced nanoelectronic devices,” Cambou said.

The NAU team, which includes ITS engineer Duane Booher, cybersecurity lab manager Ian Burke and Ph.D. student Christopher Philabaum, as well as graduate and undergraduate students, will work together during this preliminary phase of the research to design, characterize and validate a working prototype demonstrating the value of ternary computing to secure blockchains.

This project is the first step of a wider multi-year research project to develop technology making blockchains resistant to quantum computer attacks, with the potential to have a significant impact on the way online transactions are protected in financial, governmental and industrial applications.

“This one-year project represents a preliminary phase to provide proof of concept of our long-term vision to secure blockchain with NAU technologies for the protection of strategic functions such as financial institutions, smart manufacturing, supply chain and inventory management,” Cambou said.

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