Within PHOENIX, a research project financed by the European Union, partners endeavor to create a system of detecting and mitigating cyber threats that maximizes trust between parties and minimizes access to personal data of consumers. Blockchain is the perfect tool for doing so, and here is why.
PHOENIX H2020 project is a European Union collaborative project with the goal of providing a cyber-shield armour to the European Electrical Power Energy Systems (EPES). The scope of the project is to enable end-to-end protection against potential cyber-attacks by providing an efficient, proactive cyber threats detection and mitigation system that complies with major international quality standards.
Blockchain technology has been proposed as the backbone technology of the PHOENIX project for storing and sharing cyber threat intelligence. Among others, PHOENIX has the objective to provide at trust between the involved parties (e.g. utilities, customers, etc.), data integrity and immutability, as well as high resource availability while ensuring confidentiality and privacy of personal data. Blockchain technology seems to be the best solution that is able to address all these challenges at the same time. In order to explain the rationale behind the usage of said technology, we will go through a set of questions proposed in this link. Figure 1 summarizes the five questions that, in principle, you should ask to determine whether blockchain is suitable for your use case.
In PHOENIX, data will be produced and shared among different parties. Blockchain enables parties to efficiently write data on a single shared database continuously kept in sync. The distributed nature of the technology, coupled with that mechanism of synchronization, makes blockchain resilient against Denial-of-Service (DoS) attacks and difficult to be compromised. This feature is important in order to enable the efficient and secure exchange of various types of data: cyber threat information, meter data, data regarding permissions, and other operational data.
As already said, multiple parties are involved in PHOENIX: EPES. Of course, EPES are geographically distributed across the Europe and are governed by different sets of national legislation and regulation. Through the features of authentication and identification, blockchain is able to manage access to data and operations, i.e. defining who can do what inside the system. Blockchain enables the definition of access control rules that specify what kind of operations a participant is allowed to perform.
In the context of the PHOENIX project, EPES that participate in the system may also have possible conflicting incentives from the business point of view (i.e. competing for the customer acquisition). Blockchain technology, through smart contracts and digital signatures, is able to regulate interactions and ensure non-repudiation of data, enabling trust between parties. Smart contracts ensure that data are produced, stored and shared between parties by following specific business rules. In this way, parties are protected against possible threats (i.e. cyberattacks) that may have significant economic impacts.
In order to establish trust, immutability and integrity are essential features. Every transaction executed is permanently stored on the system and cannot be modified by parties in order to obtain business advantages. Blockchain, through the usage of access control rules, digital signatures, and hashing of data, is able to guarantee protection against spoofing and tampering attacks.
When pondering whether to implement blockchain without problems, one should consider whether personal data are processed. In the PHOENIX project, parties manage a huge amount of data, among which there might also be personal data. For example, data belonging to users, sourced from their meters, can be used for profiling purposes. Furthermore, one should also be aware that the use of blockchain is in potential conflict with a core principle of privacy, which is the right to be forgotten. Immutability and transparency, two of blockchain’s own core principles, render personal data within the ledger unmodifiable in perpetuity and accessible to everyone and anyone with the right to access. Therefore, in order to ensure compliance with GDPR rules and principles while implementing blockchain, this kind of data cannot be stored inside the blockchain. Instead, by adopting a privacy-by-design approach throughout the entire project lifecycle, innovative solutions can be designed to combine – in a compliant way – privacy and blockchain.
For more on blockchain, read this article by Alessio Bianchini.