Remote Trust: The potential role of Blockchain in a world of remote work

Tommy Jamet and Gautier Hartzer

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Introduction

By reading this Whitepaper, you’ll discover solutions to five key challenges regarding ‘Remote Trust’ in a remote work world. More specifically, we’ll look at how DLT and Blockchain can practically help society overcome challenges from securely sending sensitive data to programming how charities can spend the money you donate. It appears that the current chaos could continue for months, so there has never been a more pressing need to manage trust in a remote world. One billion people worldwide are self-isolating and that number is going to keep rising. In times of great uncertainty, and with the whole world working from home until the health crisis improves, we’re considering ways to re-think how we work to maintain individual, national, and global productivity in the event of a protracted lockdown. The darkest of times create fertile ground for innovation. And so, perhaps, this is a chance for the world to work in an entirely new way. What if the chaos triggers a remote work revolution where employees have greater autonomy and employers save on office space and overheads?
This could bring about positive change for everyone. Nonetheless, change is often messy in the short to medium term. New challenges will arise as the world of work goes remote. Strategic decisions will be via conference calls and, when making key decisions, we need to be sure of the identities of those with whom we . That may sound obvious, but there have been real-world cases of impersonation scams over Skype resulting in millions of dollars of loss. In fact, Seven alleged fraudsters are on trial in Paris accused of impersonating a French minister to scam wealthy victims out of more than €50m (£42m)
. The way we see it at Blockchain Reply, Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLT) have the potential to help in replicating online the security we used to have with in person interactions. We call that ‘Remote Trust.’ In this paper, we analyse what the dawn of a trust-based society could look like where ‘remote working’ is simply ‘working.’

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ZERO KNOWLEDGE PROOF (ZKP) IS KEY WHEN SHARING SECURE INFORMATION REMOTELY

Perhaps the most infamous hack happened to Yahoo where hackers compromised more than one billion user accounts had been compromised. This is the classic concern with passwords and any sensitive data that a hacker could intercept or steal. As organisations move employees to work from home, the risk of such a hack increases. Home computers are unlikely to benefit from the same level of security provided by an in-house IT team. That’s why ZKP is by far the attribute of Blockchain technology that excites us most. It’s kind of like a secret language. Hacker Noon provides a good definition of ZKP: “The very term “zero knowledge” originates from the fact that no (“zero”) data about the secret is revealed, but the second party (called “Verifier”) is (rightfully) convinced that the first party (called “Prover”) knows the secret in question.
ZKP matters because it solves the problem of how to communicate secure information without worrying about interception. It’s most notably useful for online communications, mobile networks, and IoT and could, eventually, make passwords obsolete. Its application is vital for working remotely if you handle sensitive data or make strategic decisions because ZKP lets you add layers of controls for sensitive data between colleagues, suppliers, and other stakeholders. With ZKP you can verify the authenticity of information without seeing the data itself. That can bring a giant leap forward in terms of (automated) logins and identity verification.


Other use cases include age verification and visa issuance. When proving your age with ZKP, the bouncer doesn't need to see the entire ID, just the cryptographical evidence that proves your age. With the issuance of visas, you could prove your national ID and visa information without revealing details you may prefer not to share with foreign governments. In the case of remote working, you could prove information with suppliers and partners without revealing company trade secrets.


ZKP is one of the keys to solving the issue of trust in communications or, more importantly, the need to do so under ‘Zero-Touch.’ When you don’t trust the other person with secure information — and why would you?! — but you still need to persuade them that you are who you say you are, or have access to the data you say you do, ZKP can help. ZKP are mathematical methods (cryptography) used to verify things without sharing or revealing underlying data. This gives you the power to prove you know private information to another party without actually revealing what that information is. Blockchain is a superb tool to leverage the ability to securely send private information. With ZKP, organisations can maintain privacy in a data-ubiquitous world, even when colleagues work remotely.

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REMOTE TRUST IN STRATEGIC DECISIONS

It is easier to trust people face to face than it is over the phone. You can see what they’re doing. You can gauge their body language. Imagine that two people want to trade something of value. When they are physically present, they can easily verify for themselves who the recipient is, how much they’re paying, and that the money is real. This is how humans have traded for millennia, and it works. But what happens in a remote world? To overcome the limitations of physical trade in finance, we have centralised institutions like banks who we trust to count and verify the money and send it on our behalf. That works for money, but what about information?


Unfortunately, in a data-ubiquitous world, there is no centralised institution that could possibly authenticate the quantity of data required for leaders to make effective decisions. Where would such an institution even begin? How would they verify information? For organisations to function at scale, remotely, colleagues need to trust the data they’re given to make reliable strategic decisions. Imagine you’re discussing sensitive data over a conference call with a view to making a key decision. You need to rely on the quality of information, the person giving it to you, and that no one outside the call is privy.


In a “centralised” system, we trust a single third party (e.g. a bank) to act as the intermediary. That’s why the potential role of Blockchain in a ‘trustless’ world is paramount. In a “decentralised” world, we place our trust in the technology that allows us to determine the truth. Blockchain enables the emergence of ‘trustless systems’ where we can rely on data given, without requiring physical presence.


Here’s how the Binance glossary defines a trustless system: “A trustless system means that the participants involved do not need to know or trust each other or a third party for the system to function. In a trustless environment, there is no single entity that has authority over the system, and consensus is achieved without participants having to know or trust anything but the system itself."


As a simple example, with Blockchain you could use voice recognition as a verification tool for entry to conference calls. We could easily imagine companies operating completely remotely where employees are only required to perform relevant actions in the validation chain, whilst management maintain overview at all times, and remain able to escalate any blockage. Reply is currently working on a number of client projects to achieve this goal.

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DEMOCRATIC VOTING AND BLOCKCHAIN

Functioning democracies and shareholder meetings rely upon accurate, reliable vote counts. But what happens when voters can’t show up? According to French media reports, France postponed the second round of mayoral elections for French cities, following a recommendation from Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, due to the heightened risk of coronavirus following a tripling of new cases in just three days. Consequently, France registered the lowest participation rate in history. This could well be a necessary measure as votes could quite easily be swayed or manipulated if 95% of voters chose to stay home. Many consider it their moral duty to fulfil their democratic right. Drew Hinkes, a crypto attorney with Carlton Fields, is one of those people. “Based on what we're hearing from scientists and specialists, it is smart to take precautions,” Hinkes said. “But still, there are some forms of public engagement that take precedence over public health, namely, the health of our democracy.“I do feel strongly that as Americans, we should vote while it's still safe to do so,” he continued.


So what if we could vote securely from home? Blockchain technology would enable the French, and others, to continue the vote in an even more efficient manner than usual, while maintaining security, integrity and democracy. What’s more, secure voting via a Blockchain could play a key role in shareholder meetings where votes must be placed and reliably counted. This would provide a quick and efficient way for shareholder decisions to be made. Back in 2016, Jeremy Clark and Aleksander Essex foresaw the potential for Blockchain in voting. As computer scientists in separate universities in Ontario, Canada, they created a method they called CommitCoin. CommitCoin provided a way to use a Blockchain to let anyone vote from anywhere in an official election. Most importantly, each recorded vote cannot be tampered with. That means no politician, party, or election official could ever possibly even dream of changing the vote. As part of the ‘trustless’ revolution, Clark said, “CommitCoin allows you to not trust anyone.” BitCongress is another example of a company using Blockchain technology to improve the voting system of governments and boardrooms. BitCongress uses a tokenised system that matches one person with one unchangeable vote. Each vote is permanently recorded and is designed to guarantee that vote manipulation is impossible — as is vote duplication. However, not everyone is convinced.


New research from a team of MIT engineers discovered a disturbing number of significant vulnerabilities in one of the voting systems at the forefront of the Blockchain movement, called Voatz. Created with the purpose of providing a replacement for absentee ballots, Voatz’s Blockchain-based voting project has been funded with more than $9 million from Venture Capitalists. Using the Voatz app, users could vote remotely, verifying their identity through the phone’s facial recognition software. The app has been trialled in minor US elections, including the 2018 general election in West Virginia. Whilst the MIT team of engineers believed vote manipulation could still be possible, Blockchain enthusiasts argue that distributed ledger technology makes this unlikely. Whatever the truth, allowing users to vote via their mobile phone, from wherever they are in the world removes friction from the voting process. By making it easier to vote, democratic elections will see a higher turnout, and boardrooms will find it easier to collect votes from shareholder meetings. If your organisation holds shareholder meetings, a Blockchain-based voting application could help you reliable count votes, without worrying about vote manipulation.

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PROGRAMMABLE MONEY TO INCREASE REMOTE TRUST

The problem with electric money is it is expensive to send across borders due to the sheer number of intermediaries required. An international transfer can run through various banks with expensive fees and retail exchange rates. What’s more, once sent, the sender loses track of their money. In most cases, that’s not a problem, it is no longer your money if you transfer it to someone else, but what if you’re transferring money for a particular purpose, say a charitable donation? As early as 2016, 91% of bankers surveyed by IBM across 200 banks in 16 countries revealed they were investing in Blockchain technology as a means to accept deposits. For many, programmable money is the future. Programmable money, like cryptocurrencies, allow for the efficient and secure exchange of money without third-party intermediaries and the fees that they bring. The reason cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, for example, are called programmable money, is because you can program its use. This could, to name but a few examples, let governments track how financial support is spent by companies and individuals program the use of their charitable donations.


Let’s take a closer look at the charitable donation example for a better understanding of how programmable money can help facilitate financial remote trust. Many would-be donors reject the notion of donating to charities for their steep administration costs and lack of transparency as to where the money really goes. But programmable money could change that, resurrecting the image of trustworthy charity in the process. Programmable money would reduce administrative costs and fees through automation and provide accountability regarding fund use.


Over a Blockchain you could donate programmable money and see the difference your donation makes. Inevitably, trust between donors and recipients will rise and, with it, the number of donations received. As such, programmable money has enormous power for positive social impact. A good example of this is the Binance Charity Foundation (BCF), which launched its blockchain-based donation portal at the UNCTAD World Investment Forum. The foundations lets non-profits and charities provide transparency and accountability to donors by providing access to immutable financial information. That means donors can see exactly how an organisation spends the donations it receives and where the money goes. Such transparency is sure to increase efficiency as donors would surely favour donating to charities that manage donations most efficiently. The platform, built on Blockchain, ensures that the donation process is traceable, immutable, and reliable. ''Donations through the BCF platform will ensure full transparency, accountability and direct reach to end recipients,'' said Helen Hai, the head of the Blockchain Charity Foundation (BCF). BCF’s mission of bringing accountability to charitable donations has the potential to positively impact the lives of millions around the world. The platform ensures that the funds reach their party and lowers administrative costs so that a greater portion of the donated funds are put to use. Imagine what could change for you if you could use programmable money in your own organisation. You could program funds earmarked for specific budgets. Expenses could be easier to track. You could send and receive funds across borders instantly without intermediaries and the fees they bring. When you can see where your money is going and how it is spent, trust is no longer an issue.

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VALIDATING EXAMS AND GRADUATING FROM HOME

A potential side effect of the COVID-19 lockdown may well be the limited access to a recently graduated workforce. Students in the UK have already been sent home from university and school. Not being able to finish their studies and take exams might cause delay in becoming certified and starting a career — if there are still businesses hiring. And what about those half-way through their studies? At Cambridge University, more than 1000 students have signed a letter to Graham Vigo, pro-vice chancellor for education, asking the university to overhaul its summer exam process amid concerns over exam performance. That would mean students set to graduate this summer would re-sit their entire final year. But what would that mean for students in their penultimate year? Would they be displaced The petition comes at a time where the university’s vice-chancellor, Stephen Toope, announced the university has asked all students to leave. Classes will move alone and Cambridge will see no exams take place in its hallowed halls. Toope wrote: “We are all facing an unprecedented crisis. It may be months before we resume normal activity.” The university has now shut officially.


What will happen on a wider scale? We could essentially see a whole year’s worth of students forced to retake one year’s study, meaning supply for professional jobs dries up all of a sudden, only for double demand to hit the workforce one year later. What will that do to salaries and employment figures? With classes moving online, what is stopping exams moving online, too? Trust. The Solicitors Regulation Authority has said that, despite potential delays to qualification, law schools are not permitted to move assessments online. The SRA has warned educators that they must maintain supervised assessments. ‘It’s important that supervision is in place to ensure integrity and security and we recognise this might mean some assessments could be delayed,’ a spokesperson said. As a consequence, students will not be able to take examinations from home, although they may convert to offering online classes. There exists the proposed use case, with Blockchain, that a university could irrefutably verify the identity of each student sitting the exam, certify the amount of time the exam took to complete, and work as a record of grades obtained.


However the issue is complex as exam conditions would need to be verified as well. A student could verify their identity, but that doesn’t mean they’re alone. The most effective current use case for Blockchain in higher education is for the validation of certificates. In fact, we’re already seeing the use of Blockchain for grade verification in Greece. Putting diplomas on a Blockchain removes paperwork from the process and lets anyone, like employers, for example, verify if someone holds a degree and what grade they achieved. Normally, upon graduation, a student receives a paper copy of their certification with records stored in a centralised database. To verify a potential employee’s claims on their cv, an employer must check either the official diploma or call the university. Under-qualified applicants often sneak in unsuspected Recording certifications on a Blockchain reduces the likelihood of fraud by offering easily accessible proof. What’s more, with cryptographic proofs, employers can be certain that the document is the unaltered original version.

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CONCLUSION

The world is trending towards remote work. Thus, trust and security are the major issues arising as a result of workplace changes. How will they affect the work your organisation does? Are you prepared? Blockchain technology is already playing a significant and increasingly impactful role in the resolution of the issues that arise in real world use cases, leading to the creation of a new ‘Remote Trust’ world. The ideas presented in this whitepaper can be deployed for commercially ready solutions today. Reply is already working with various clients in different industries to apply the use cases mentioned in this whitepaper. For more information about how you could apply these use cases in your organisation, please reach out to one of us at Blockchain Reply. You’ll find our contact information below.


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