Fake diplomas are big business. Said to constitute a billion-dollar global industry, they present the world with an unfortunate problem, insofar as many of the buyers of such diplomas are people in positions of acute responsibility.
In fact, forgeries aren’t only a concern for the professional and academic world, since they manifest themselves in the form of fake tickets (to sporting and music events), fake IDs, fake house sales, fake cheques, and also forged artworks. There is, in other words, plenty of money to be made out of imitating documents and certificates, yet it would seem that the global ‘fake industry’ has its days numbered.
That’s right, blockchain technology is coming to get it, and despite blockchains being hastily championed as the saviour of everything from vegetables to cars, its use in sniffing out forgeries is a very natural and logical fit. But while it will make confirming the source of diplomas and tickets much easier, widespread adoption and public education will be necessary if its effects are to maximised.
Learning Machine, an American specialist of blockchain-based digital identity and credentials, launched its Blockcerts open standard in 2016, which provides organisations with a means for verifying that documents (e.g. degrees) have really been issued by the institution someone claims it has.
As CEO Chris Jagers explains to Cryptonews.com, “Blockcerts provides a standard way of creating and verifying official records, using any blockchain, in a digital format that is tamper-proof, instantly verifiable, and owned by recipients.”
“Because Blockcerts are represented by a unique string of numbers and letters (a hash), and this unique hash is stored on the blockchain,” Jagers continues, “any attempt to alter the document means that it can no longer generate that unique code for later verification.”
This system will also help to detect fraudulent universities, in that it will “allow people to check the signing keys of the issuing institution.” However, given that take-up is still very limited, Jagers notes that “public registries of signing keys” – such as the one Learning Machine is building in collaboration with Malta’s Ministry for Education and Employment – will be necessary if disreputable institutions are to be caught out.
Limited signup is perhaps the main issue affecting other blockchain-powered attempts to combat forgery, although the early signs yield hope that usage will become much more widespread in the future.
For example, Aventus is a Jersey-based non-profit that has recently signed a deal in the UK to sell 10,000 tickets to the upcoming World Cup. These tickets will be recorded on the Ethereum blockchain via the organisation’s Aventus Protocol, which is an open-source, blockchain-based ticketing and smart contract ecosystem.
“The Aventus Protocol has been designed to ensure only legitimate events and unique tickets can exist on the blockchain,” explains Aventus’ chief technology officer, Andy Grant.
“The technology [is] used to deliver tickets to fans and the way tickets are validated to allow access to an event make it very difficult to pass off forged tickets as genuine.”
However, Grant tells Cryptonews.com that, even with blockchain-based validation of tickets, forgeries may still continue to exist off-chain. “Someone could still carry out off-chain activity (for instance, sending someone a faked PDF of a ticket), that could dupe a consumer,” he says.
In view of this possibility, he asserts that the success of blockchain technology in reducing fake tickets and documents will depend on more than the technology itself. “The Aventus Protocol Foundation considers consumer education a key part of its responsibility to improve security and reduce fraud and counterfeit tickets.”
Education will indeed be an essential part of virtually every blockchain-powered attempt to reduce forgeries, whether it comes from Verisart, Slatix, Cheque Chain, ChromaWay, or MasterCard (to name a few). In particular, users will need to be taught about what blockchain records actually prove and don’t prove when it comes to suspicious documents, since as Jagers suggests, the mere fact of being on a blockchain isn’t necessarily enough to prove that an organisation is genuine.
“Simply being on a blockchain does not make a claim legitimate,” he warns. “It simply verifies that a digital file has not changed since it was originally issued.”
However, this warning aside, Andy Grant expects a significant reduction in forgeries once adoption becomes widespread. “Once consumers get used to blockchain tickets then there’s no limit to eliminating fake tickets,” he predicts.
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Author: Simon Chandler