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Blockchain health apps privatize COVID-19 data but security is a concern

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New procedures are being implemented as the world slowly begins to reopen amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While temperature checks and mandatory face masks have become the new normal, the world is also witnessing the rise of digital health apps, or “health passports.” 

Many of these applications serve as a solution to trace individuals’ whereabouts or to store COVID-19 test results, which can then be presented to officials during travel or gatherings to show proof-of-health. While innovative, privacy and regulatory concerns have been expressed with digital solutions designed to trace contact or store user data via smartphones.

Blockchain ensures privacy

In order to solve this problem, IBM Watson Health — a data, analytics and technology partner for the health industry — has launched a privacy-based application that will enable individuals to safely travel or return to physical locations upon showing COVID-19 test results and temperature scans. Known as the “IBM Digital Health Pass,” this platform leverages IBM blockchain technology to ensure user data remains private when shared with organizations that require a verified health pass.

Eric Piscini, vice president of blockchain for IBM Watson Health, told Cointelegraph that the Digital Health Pass platform specifically uses blockchain to establish self-sovereign identity, along with verifiable credentials:

“Privacy is extremely important here, which is the reason we use blockchain to verify credentials and allow individuals to control their identity without the intervention of administrative authorities. Individuals with credentials like COVID-19 test results can present these to verifiers, such as airlines, without exposing their medical information.”

According to Piscini, three layers are built into the Digital Health Pass platform. The first layer is made up of the issuers of credentials, which include testing labs and hospitals. The second layer is the platform itself, which serves as the ruling engine. Finally, there are verifiers on the platform, like airlines, that are interested in knowing if individuals are safe to engage with. “Most of these players run a node on the IBM blockchain network, which uses sophisticated cryptographic techniques so that data exchange can be verifiable and trusted,” he added.

Piscini further mentioned that medical data isn’t stored on the platform, comparing the Digital Health Pass to a credit score. In this case, the blockchain ledger captures an individual’s health score, but organizations, or the verifiers, have no visibility into the user’s personal data. Verifiers only see a “green light” once a QR-code is scanned on a smartphone to show if an individual is healthy. The verifiers then decide whether or not to engage with individuals based on their own policies.

Although the Digital Health Pass solution is still being piloted, Piscini noted that a number of companies have expressed interest in leveraging the application once it becomes publicly available.

Similar to IBM’s Digital Health Pass, distributed ledger technology platform Hedera Hashgraph has struck an agreement with Safe Health Systems, a partner of Mayo Clinic, to build a digital health ID system. Known as “HealthCheck,” a COVID-19 testing and health status solution built on the SAFE digital health platform.

Ken Mayer, the CEO of Safe Health Systems, mentioned during a recent Hedera Hashgraph webinar that Digital health IDs are created for individuals. Sensitive data is kept private, as this is stored and verified on the Hedera Consensus Service. Mayer said that many enterprises are signed up to use the HealthCheck app, including Delta Airlines and several universities:

“We have partnered with the largest buying co-op for U.S. universities that have about 5,000 members. We also just partnered with the largest employee benefits marketplace who is starting to push this out, starting with employers and schools. Basically, the solution is a white-label mobile app.”

Privacy concerns remain

While both Digital Health Pass and the HealthCheck app leverage blockchain and distributed ledger technology to secure and privatize user data, concerns remain. Jonathan Levi, CEO of enterprise blockchain solution HACERA and co-founder of MiPasa — a blockchain-based platform that standardizes, normalizes and authenticates data sets for open-source use — told Cointelegraph that it’s critical for users of these applications to understand their entire data workflow:

“From somebody taking a screenshot or a scan of their medical results to using a proprietary mobile application, it’s important for users to know what’s being stored on a blockchain, who runs the nodes, how users and nodes interact with the ledger, including who has access to the logs.”

Even though Digital Health Pass and HealthCheck are regulatory compliant, Levi explained that understanding the data flow is important to ensure that an individual’s data is never compromised. “We all remember the concerns raised by the U.K. NHS contracts that allowed unprecedented transfer of health data on millions of U.K. citizens to private tech companies,” he said.

During the Hedera Hashgraph webinar, Mayer did mention that HealthCheck has data integrations and partnerships with Quest, LabCorp and Mayo Clinics Labs, along with several other smaller medical labs that automate the process of returning results quickly for users. Understanding what those labs will eventually do with that data is critical.

Related: IBM executive says blockchain becoming a useful ‘real business tool’

Levi further explained that MiPasa — which was deployed on the IBM blockchain platform to collect and validate COVID-19 data for the World Health Organization — is similar to IBM’s Digital Health Pass in that both platforms are consent-based. The main difference according to Levi, though, is that the Digital Health Pass platform records the consent of users who are logged into the mobile application and then scans their medical test results to show proof-of-health.

MiPasa, however, simply seeks to provide an employer and an employee (or a user and a verifier) with data and analytics tools, allowing both sides to decide the best course of action.



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An encryption study revealed a surprising fact about blockchain adoption in Mexico

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A report called “Encryption Trends in Mexico 2020/2021” surveyed a total of 353 representatives from companies throughout Mexico.

The study, published by privacy research center the Ponemon Institute, indicated that 40% of the Mexican companies surveyed were looking to adopt blockchain and cryptocurrencies in some form. Out of this segment, 71% were focused specifically on crypto usage.

The figures also showed that 51% of these companies were intent on implementing blockchain for asset management and transaction handling purposes, while 37% expressed an interest in the implementation of smart contracts. Many of these companies could ultimately use blockchain to improve their security systems and guarantee proper encryption processes, the study said.

Though Mexico is not often viewed as a major blockchain player on a global scale, the country has played an active and ongoing role in terms of adoption. In September, Mexico announced plans to enable a blockchain-based electronic voting system for certain citizens residing abroad. The county aims to make this available in time for its 2021 election cycle.

Cointelegraph Spanish reported in August that Mexican companies had raised over $1.3 billion in the fintech sector. Part of these funds went toward blockchain technology development within the country.



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With job listing, Canada’s central bank takes additional steps towards a CBDC

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The Bank of Canada is looking to hire an economist who has a deep knowledge of financial technology and digital currencies, potentially signaling the latest in a series of steps towards a Canadian Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC). 

According to the bank’s official page, the economist’s duties will be to monitor and analyze the latest developments related to electronic funds and payments, implement research projects, prepare analytical notes, and work on the “potential development of a CBDC.”

The Bank has defined a set of requirements that the applicant must meet, among which are an in-depth knowledge of Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other major cryptocurrency platforms, as well as familiarity with traditional payments systems like card networks, merchant acquirers, and point of sale technologies. 

The applicant must also have experience in handling and analyzing public blockchain data and analyzing consumer survey data.

Oct. 25th, 2020 is the deadline for receiving applications.

The Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Canada, Timothy Lane, has recently called on central banks worldwide to issue their own digital currencies, highlighting their importance for the economy in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. At the Central Bank Payments Conference Lane also said that Canada’s CBDC development was progressing at “a good pace.”

In laying the foundation for a CBDC, the Bank joins the Bank of England, the U.S. Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan, among others, who have also begun conducting research into the viability of CBDCs. 



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Amid IRS bounty and competitor progress, Monero developers ship a major update

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First announced in September, Monero developers today went live with a network update featuring a new version of its node software, codenamed ‘Oxygen Orion.’ The product of 30 contributors, the update promises significant improvement across nearly all aspects of the privacy-focused cryptocurrency’s performance. 

The highlight of the new update is the compact linkable spontaneous anonymous group (CLSAG) feature. According to the Monero blog, CLSAG will reduce transaction sizes by 25% and improve transaction times by 10% while maintaining transactional privacy.

The developers wrote: 

“CLSAG enables smaller and faster transactions with rigorous security.” 

In addition to CLSAG, the new update brings security improvements to the network especially with regard to Dandelion ++, which is responsible for hiding user IP addresses.

Technically speaking, Monero updates are hard forks so it is imperative that network participants make sure that their software is up to date. Users who store their XMR in a hardware wallet will need to stay updated with the latest firmware, the blog noted. 

This latest update comes amidst an uncertain outlook for the cryptocurrency due to pressures on multiple fronts. 

In September the U.S Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offer a bounty of up to $ 625,000 to anyone who can crack Monero’s privacy. Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security claimed to have acquired software that can track Monero transactions, though some researchers question the veracity of those claims. 

Meanwhile, rival privacy cryptocurrency Zcash is heading into a halving event sometime this November, which some analysts believe will lead to bullish price action for the competing asset. 

In spite of these headwinds, positive social media sentiment for XMR is up roughly 4% in the past week, according to analytics provided by TheTIE. 



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