New blockchain applications are spreading fast in every type of business. It can do things once hard to do reliably, like validating supply chain sustainability, giving consumers more trustworthy information and even rewarding people for getting exercise.
Does your business need to get to grips with blockchain, and how could you use it to transform your business for the better?
Kaspersky’s new podcast, Insight Story, unpacks emerging tech trends with global specialists and businesses successfully using the tech. Episode 3 looks at blockchain. I speak with UK-based Helen Disney, Director of The Realization Group and Founder of Unblocked. Germany-based Abhi Sharma, Global Lead of Mobility Platform, Blockchain and Partner Universe at BASF also joins us.
A simple way to understand blockchain
Helen likens blockchain to an old idea everyone recognizes. “We’ve had ledgers for a long time – someone sends you an invoice, you write down when someone pays and match the two. Blockchain is a digital, distributed ledger. It provides an audit trail for all transactions and activities on a shared network. ‘Distributed’ means everyone in that network has a copy, so you can’t go back in time and change things.”
Businesses see that a reliable, shared ledger that’s hard to change makes more things possible. Helen says, “There are examples of using blockchain in business and for social impact, like in healthcare and supply chains, in creative industries, the energy sector and environmental initiatives. In financial services, blockchain can create efficiencies, speed up settlement times and let people transact with assets not currently tradable.”
Blockchain brings a community together, whether for business or social goals – you can incentivize people and let them collaborate in new ways.
Helen Disney, Director, The Realization Group and Founder, Unblocked
Blockchain Research Institute continually examines the many applications of blockchain, from ocean health to medical research to border security. Grand View Research estimates the global blockchain market is worth 10 billion US dollars today and will grow 88 percent each year.
Cottoning on to value in supply chain sustainability
Abhi Sharma explains a BASF blockchain initiative that capitalizes on the premium consumers are willing to pay for sustainable products to incentivize sustainable cotton production. The largely undifferentiated nature of the commodity market has made this challenging in the past.
Abhi says, “Farmers have had no incentive to use better practices to protect the environment because that information doesn’t flow to the consumer.”
Seed 2 Sew aims to change that. “Farmers enter information in a mobile application at every stage of their season, harvest and delivery of goods. When they use sustainable practices like natural irrigation, they can enter the practice in the application and take photos for proof, creating extra value.”
It’s not just farmers who could claim credit for doing the right thing. “Other players in the market could be motivated to install solar panels, use sustainable electricity and so forth.”
Blockchain collapses the whole value chain into a single point where everyone can see and influence it.
Abhi Sharma, Global Lead of Mobility Platform, Blockchain and Partner Universe, BASF
Seed 2 Sew is designed to fit naturally with how farmers already work. “They’re not sitting at a computer filling in spreadsheets – they’re taking photos in the field and feeding that data into the blockchain. Their motivation is high, because there’s high demand on the retail side for more sustainable products.”
And on the retail side, consumers need confidence in sustainability claims. “Consumers are becoming more conscious. They want to buy less, but buy more meaningful, story-driven products. We’re creating that traceability and transparency that prevents greenwashing.”
Where to start with blockchain
But where should a business leader start? Helen thinks it’s down to understanding your business as much as blockchain. “Think about, in my business, where could this be beneficial? Do I want to offer some reward points or incentives to customers, change the business’s financial infrastructure, or do something with my supply chain? Start with what’s important to you, and look for real-world examples of what’s been done.”
Many early-adopter projects haven’t continued, and Abhi sees lessons in that. “Organizations need a start-up culture. You need fail fast, learn fast models. But it’s more about the people than the investment – whether they can drive a project, whether they can scale it. Your people will drive your idea into the marketplace.”
He thinks exploring blockchain is worth it regardless of whether you ultimately use it. “For those who’ve dived into it, it shifts their mindset. Thinking about the possibilities gives them different ideas. Once you realize you can do something in a decentralized or distributed way, it changes how you think.”
Blockchain and cybersecurity
Head of Kaspersky Global Research and Analysis Team (GReAT) for Latin America, Fabio Assolini, thinks businesses should note risks associated with blockchain, whether you use it in your business or not.
“Blockchain isn’t immutable. Attacks on these systems have happened, like 51 percent attacks.” That’s when a group of cryptocurrency miners achieves control of more than half of a network’s computational power, allowing them to alter the blockchain.
“Another problem with blockchain is double-spending – under certain conditions, miners can modify blocks to spend cryptocurrency twice. For small companies, that can be a real problem.”
But cybercriminals using blockchain is behind a fast growing number of attacks. “Cryptojacking is one of the most common attacks. Cybercriminals hijack the power of processing on your servers by programming your device to mine cryptocurrency for them. When they invade a system, they will also sell the access to other cybercriminals.”
Cryptojacking is rising dramatically – Kaspersky research showed a 230 percent increase in 2022.
It can slow systems and ramp up your energy bills, but Fabio warns there aren’t always obvious signs. “More professional fraudsters prepare crypto mining software that runs smoothly. The administrator may not realize there’s something going on.”
Businesses can prevent cryptojacking by adopting cybersecurity best practice. “There’s no single action, but a set of good practices to protect against remote access. For example, you need firewalls, access control to all systems and logging of all user activity,” says Fabio. “Attacks that install crypto mining software will also be detected by a good endpoint security solution.”
Where will blockchain go next?
Blockchain will be as common as smartphones, according to Helen. “In the future, we’ll all have a web wallet and assets and tokens sitting on blockchains.”
She believes the incentives and benefits will compel consumers to adopt blockchain-based products fast. “We’re already seeing examples, like play-to-earn games, where you can earn cryptocurrency playing computer games and then trade it for other things. Sweatcoin lets you earn money for walking. These apps also generate data business or research organizations could use to understand our lives better.”
Our experts have a few thoughts for those considering or starting to use blockchain. Abhi says, “Business leaders should think more about how to maintain it. I see many sustainability-related blockchain initiatives, but few survive.”
Helen thinks we need a more widespread understanding of blockchain to unleash its true potential. “We can solve big global problems by building communities of interest and incentivizing change. Blockchain is for everybody. You needn’t be technical to understand it. Make time to learn, and you’ll find it fascinating.”