On Jan. 26, the internet came to some screeching halt along much of the East Coast. Email services went down; YouTube video clips flickered out midstream; large numbers were likely affected, only when temporarily. But the outage, attributed to a surge in traffic, underscores the metastasizing vulnerabilities surrounding the way most of the globe conducts commerce, consumes enjoyment and communicates.
The implications of this kind of outages should be seen as particularly alarming for those in cryptoland: namely, for the ever-growing amounts of participants in an emerging decentralized ecosystem for transferring peer-to-peer value with Bitcoin ( BTC ) who build smart contracts on Ethereum or start any number of platforms and bridal party that perform untold amounts of functions and services.
Indeed, such outages highlight a serious challenge to building the hoped-for long term of a decentralized web which is more secure, reliable and safer.
Every time Gmail or Telegram falls because of such disruptions to the existing web, it’s the reminder of how exposed this particular emergent decentralized world is to centralized vulnerabilities. And it’s something of the Achilles heel that has yet to be satisfactorily addressed.
Simply speaking, the full blossoming of blockchain and other decentralized systems depends on the reliability of an existing internet architecture that is not only highly centralized but also in need of the facelift.
Web: The beauty and the beast
As beautiful as the original architecture of it — and, believe me, it really is beautiful — the internet as you may know it has become a tad clunky. It’s been decades since its creation, and it is showing its proverbial age group. The evidence of this is the increasing number of outages that have interrupted major cloud services, for example Amazon Web Services plus Microsoft Azure, along with business-critical messaging platforms like Slack. The resulting losses in order to corporations, as well as to everyday web users and crypto enthusiasts, might be in the billions.
Last year, for example , Cloudflare went down and the drop in Bitcoin transactions that resulted has been palpable. It’s notable if so that the Bitcoin network by itself was not down. The peer-to-peer consensus-building infrastructure it’s constructed on was fully intact at all times, but the drop inside completed transactions indicates a critical weakness in the system given that so many crypto users rely on centralized storage and trade options. And many of those services were depending on, in turn, Cloudflare.
The above example highlights how, in many cases, the viability of those services essentially to one single point of failure — utterly unlike the raison d’être of Bitcoin and blockchains a lot more generally.
It’s a problem that has grown far worse during the COVID-19 pandemic, unfortunately, notably because the web has become even more central to the work and personal lives. According to recent data published by ThousandEyes, a network intelligence company, global internet disruptions soared as the pandemic hit last year. Rising rates associated with usage were cited being a reason behind the outages that increased 63% in Mar when compared to the pre-pandemic time period. By June, there were approximately 44% more disruptions compared to that which occurred at the beginning of last year.
It’s safe to say that when considering that an astounding 25% of Ethereum workloads in the world run on Amazon Web Services, there should be more than pause just for concern. At this moment in time, every single blockchain-based application, whether it is Bitcoin, Polkadot or Cosmos, is completely powerless without the help of a handful of centralized, internet-based services and infrastructure.
The solution exists
This isn’t to convey negativity or hopelessness, however , since there are solutions to the problem that can be applied relatively quickly and without substantially overhauling what is already being used. One is to leverage the strength of the internet as it currently appears, enhancing the mechanics that will underpin it by focusing on the abundance of nodes and redundancies in data that are already built into the machine.
Think of the node as a conduit meant for channeling the data you depend on. And with a smarter, more dynamic routing protocol that could easily be layered on top of the existing internet, for example , we can more efficiently route transmissions round the nodes that are blocked or congested and, instead, retrieve data from the nodes by which such data can movement more freely.
In addition to this, there’s the issue of solving underlying security issues. In particular, an examination of the internet’s default routing technology, referred to as Border Gateway Protocol, or the BGP, reveals vulnerabilities which are currently being exploited by arranged attackers with potentially broad-ranging effects on all forms of internet-based applications. Such assaults are not only increasing in rate of recurrence but they also threaten more costly outages and delays.
For example , in Apr 2018, criminal actors exploited weak points in core web infrastructure to redirect users of an Ethereum wallet developer’s website to a phishing web site. This compromised their accounts credentials and robbed them of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cryptocurrency. It’s complicated, but during the assault, the internet’s authoritative redirecting servers were corrupted plus told to direct traffic to IP addresses owned with the criminal actors instead of the designed IP destination that would normally have been specified by the BGP.
The weak spot is rooted in the fact how the BGP was designed when there have been far fewer internet users, which means that its original architects didn’t foresee, understandably so , nowadays need to secure the network against so many malicious actors. Thus, this routing protocol is easily manipulated for nefarious ends.
Blockchain is the answer
Blockchain technology, it should be mentioned, provides a potentially critical solution to this problem. Though IPs could still be hijacked at the lowest degree, a blockchain-powered routing layer would allow enterprises to connect their devices and infrastructures with a private network without posting their IP addresses — the ones bad actors can use to target their particular services. Plus within this layer, every connection between devices can be encrypted without using the centralized experts that have been a key vulnerability within current architectures.
Indeed, by more efficiently course-plotting internet data and taking the power of blockchain to bolster security, I’m hopeful for new synergies to emerge between the existing web and the nascent decentralized one. It’s only a matter of time, In my opinion. And when this happens, the stones is the limit for Bitcoin, Ethereum and all the incredible blockchain-based systems being built.
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed listed here are the author’s alone and don’t necessarily reflect or signify the views and views of Cointelegraph.
Jonas Simanavicius will be the chief technology officer associated with Syntropy, a San Francisco-based company that focuses on building a programmable internet that provides novel technologies for making internet interactions faster, more reliable and secure for businesses and everyday users. They are responsible for all technology development at the company, including the SDN engine, platform, network plus blockchain strategy. Previously, he worked on the engineering groups of Royal Bank of Scotland and JPMorgan Pursuit.