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CHIPS Articles: NIST Blockchain Overview Now Available

NIST Blockchain Overview Now Available
By CHIPS Magazine - October 3, 2018
The Institute of Standards and Technology announced the publication of NIST Internal Report 8202 or NISTIR 8202, Blockchain Technology Overview, a high-level technical publication that studies the history, scope and characteristics of this emerging technology which has enabled the development of numerous cryptocurrency systems.

Blockchain is a powerful new paradigm for business and many companies are questioning whether it is appropriate for them. “There can be a temptation to employ it purely for its novelty value,” said Dylan Yaga, a NIST computer scientist who is one of the draft’s authors. Dylan spoke about some possible use cases in January, including banking, supply chain management and tracking insurance transactions.

The report was created partly to help IT managers make informed decisions about whether blockchain is the right tool for a given task. NIST recommends that blockchain technology should only be used if it creates value and makes sense for your organization.

According to NIST’s definition, “a blockchain is essentially a decentralized ledger that maintains transaction records on many computers simultaneously. Once a group, or block, of records is entered into the ledger, the block’s information is connected mathematically to other blocks, forming a chain of records. Because of this mathematical relationship, the information in a particular block cannot be altered without changing all subsequent blocks in the chain and creating a discrepancy that other record-keepers in the network would immediately notice. In this way, blockchain technology produces a dependable ledger without requiring record-keepers to know or trust one another, which eliminates the dangers that come with data being kept in a central location by a single owner.”

Blockchain use has attracted enough supporters that there are now several hundred digital currencies on the market, and many more companies are investigating in innovative ways to employ blockchain technology.

“Because the market is growing so rapidly, several stakeholders, customers and agencies asked NIST to create a straightforward description of blockchain so that newcomers to the marketplace could enter with the same knowledge about the technology,” according to NIST officials.

The final report, NISTIR 8202, considers various blockchain implementation approaches, existing limitations and misconceptions surrounding blockchain, and several areas of consideration for federal agencies and organizations seeking to understand and manage blockchain technology.

It is designed as an introduction to provide the foundation for a planned series of publications on more specific aspects of blockchain, NIST explained in the release.

The document has undergone substantial revisions in response to the feedback received during the public comment period which ended in February. Three sections from the draft have since been removed from the final publication: Permissioned Use Cases, Permissionless Use Cases and Blockchain Platforms.

While the rapidly changing landscape and areas of interest around this technology — as well as an ever-increasing number of platforms — have rendered these sections unsuitable for this high-level document, topics discussed in those sections are still being considered for future works, NIST said.

Additionally, Section 8.1.2, Bitcoin Cash, contained an erroneous and unverified statement which has since been removed in final editing.

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