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At Egnyte, we’re always keeping an eye on new technologies that might help us refine the user experience. The latest blip on our radar is blockchain. Blockchain is making headlines as a permissionless public ledger for bitcoin.

Because bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are peer-to-peer, anyone can connect to their networks and send or verify new transactions. These new transactions create timestamped blocks, and each block contains the hash value of the one before it. The ultimate result is a hash-based proof-of-work chain, that can’t be tampered with unless attackers redo the whole proof-of-work.

The implications for finance are very exciting. In a sense, blockchain is one of bitcoin’s major innovations. In order to realize the ideal of peer-to-peer transaction without an intermediary, a single version of the truth had to be created. Relying on clever code and public buy-in, blockchain is that truth.

The question then becomes, how would we apply it?

Blockchain works best in decentralized applications, without a central authority. The clearest use case is e-commerce between buyer and seller, with no need a third party like Amazon or eBay or a bank.

In our universe, we’re the centralized authority for transactions. That makes any blockchain application a stretch, at least for now.

But the philosophy behind blockchain is very relevant to us. The idea of tracking who has interacted with and modified a file, from its creation to present, underpins our new product offering in content governance. It’s not the same technology, but it is the same general idea.

shutterstock_440366560That said, I can see a blockchain-specific application in which file openings/modifications can be recorded in a distributed, immutable log. Building a distributed audit log like this addresses use cases around sharing and maintaining data integrity.

Say a user was concerned with files being tampered with in transit between them and Egnyte. If the file’s hash is added to its entry in the chain, Egnyte can receive a receipt with the file. The user knows it hasn’t been touched in transit.

What if a user wants a provable history of all changes: a public ledger tracking modifications to the file? That’s the clearest application of a blockchain-style data structure. The blockchain is available to every node in the network; when a node joins, it automatically downloads the most recent version.

A provable history of all changes to a file would look similar. The user can even leave the network, rejoin later, and be brought back up to speed automatically.

What if a user wants to record viewers of a file? Before anyone opens it, they’ll have to provide an address. We’ll record those somewhere in a public ledger, so when a user rejoins the network they’ll automatically download an updated list of the people who looked at a file.

Last, but certainly not least of the potential applications, is proving device ownership via client SSL certificates. This is a good idea that hasn’t taken off, but blockchain might help. We can generate a client cert on the device itself, and record it in the ledger.

Once the cert is generated, that can be the check for ownership. Instead of logging in or using other authentication, a client can access relevant info once their device certificate is proven valid. This ties back into a broader security concern our clients bring to us: access control.

As organizations move their data to the cloud, the need to make sure only the right people are accessing information becomes more pressing. With a blockchain-style ledger of SSL certs, IT can ensure permissions are aligned and do a real-time check of who’s accessing a given file based on the device being used.

In the realm of smart content governance, there are more issues than simply access control. Data residency and retention, for instance, is becoming thornier with international legislation like Safe Harbor. But as we continue to offer our clients new solutions to maximize their content, we’re always keeping an eye out for the next game-changer.