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9 ways developers can rebuild trust on the Internet

Peter Wayner | July 23, 2015
Public keys, trusted hardware, block chains -- developers should use these tech tools to help secure the Internet for all

Build more block chains and extend them for others
The bitcoin ecosystem is intriguing for many political and social reasons that often overshadow the block chain at the core. People love to speculate as to whether bitcoin will overthrow the central banking system or whether it will enable a lawless, anonymous criminal world. Whatever the answer to those questions, it's important not to let the speculation distract us from the fact that the block chain can add stability and trust to the Internet.

At the core, bitcoin is a centralized ledger that records transactions in a way that's very hard, if not practically impossible, to change. The entries in the ledger generally record who transfers a bitcoin to whom, but there's no reason why it can't be used to fix other data into virtual concrete. If a student turns in a paper, he or she could also record a hash of the document in the block chain. If the paper were to be lost in a spam filter or some other failure, the student could still prove that the paper was submitted at a certain time.

There are a million different opportunities like this to add trust to the Internet by recording values in case anyone doubts that they existed at a certain time and a number of bitcoin startups are exploring how to commercialize them. Despite numerous issues with the concentration of the bitcoin mining world and the high cost of running the block chain, the technology at its core is solid and useful for so much more beyond mere monetary transactions.

Add chaining to Internet interactions

One of the simplest parts of the Internet, the basic HTTP call, does little more than deliver a pile of bits. The HTTPS adds a layer of security that can keep out casual eavesdroppers and flag changes, but it can be expensive to use for all interactions.

A simpler solution is to compute a Merkle tree for all interactions. While not all HTTP traffic falls in a simple ordered list that's easy to hash up into a tree, much of it does. The confusion that comes from the barrage of AJAX calls from some pages can be simplified with small changes to the architecture.

Build out cross-linked certified websites
The basic Git repository provides more than a place to store files. The protocol for saving files and pushing them into other repositories also watches for tampering by computing a SHA-1 hash of all files when they're committed.

But why stop with one repository? Why not swap digital signatures or hash values with other repositories and spread out the network of trust?

The Inter Planetary File System is one experiment that's trying to turn the Web into one big, connected file system. We need to explore more ways to link the information between websites. The curators can work together to build a web of trust between the sites.


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