The University is building a pioneering new research lab to explore ways in which blockchain technology can protect personal data from online scammers and hackers.

The laboratory will be built at Merchiston campus as part of a £600,000 collaboration between the University and Hong Kong-based Blockpass.Students in computing room

A blockchain is a growing list of records or blocks, which is secured using cryptography and resistant to modification, and the technology is currently being used by Blockpass to develop an identity verification platform.

Its research collaboration with the University will see the creation of the Blockpass Identity Lab. The initial three-year collaboration also includes funding for research staff, PhD studentships and a virtualised blockchain environment.

A series of data breach scandals at companies like Yahoo, Uber and Equifax highlighted the risks of centralising the storage of personal user data. Blockpass is using blockchain to develop alternatives which allow users to retain control of their identity, with only them deciding who can access their sensitive personal data.

A key focus of the lab will be to create world-leading knowledge and innovation around citizen-focused systems which enshrine the right to privacy.

Professor Bill Buchanan of Edinburgh Napier’s School of Computing, director of the lab, said: “The world is changing and cryptography is now being used to fix many of the problems we have created on the internet. It can now help create a better society, with the citizen at its core.

“We aim to contribute to the building of a new world, based on blockchain. Whether it is health and well-being, or the changing of our public services, it is likely to be blockchain methods that will provide the foundation for the future.”

We aim to contribute to the building of a new world, based on blockchain.

Professor Bill Buchanan

School of Computing

Edinburgh Napier has a track record of expertise in using blockchain technology and has also been involved in a pilot scheme to ensure remote care carried out via connected medical devices is safe, secure and private.

The Data Lab project, involving Edinburgh Napier computer experts, NHS National Services Scotland and industry collaborator Spiritus Development, reflects the growing use of connected devices in acute care settings.

They will increasingly be used to help people manage such chronic conditions as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and neurodegenerative disorders in their daily lives through wearables and other mobile-enabled technologies.

By combining a blockchain-enabled distributed registry and robust analytics, the project partners also seek to reduce action response times when recalls and field notices are issued by device manufacturers and regulators.

While it will not involve the direct use of patient data, the challenging project will lay the groundwork for ensuring such remote care is safe, private and secure.