IBM Research India - Privacy preserving and interoperable digital assets

Privacy preserving and interoperable digital assets

We believe that a confluence of the principles of decentralisation of trust, token (i.e, digital assets) based economy and strong economic incentives for participation will give rise to a new generation of platforms that appropriately incentivize creators of value. These platforms will provide the much needed relief from the stranglehold of centralised platforms. However, for this vision of platforms that democratise the entire process of value creation, some of the hardest problems in decentralisation have to be solved. Firstly the phenomena of fragmentation and isolation of digital assets due to the heterogeneous set of technology stacks and distributed ledger technology (DLT) protocols used for building decentralized platforms poses a significant challenge of DLT interoperability. Secondly, the participants of a decentralised platform can extract maximum value by collaborating with other participants for mutual benefit. But, they would like to do so while protecting the privacy of business sensitive data. We call this problem as privacy-preserving collaboration.

To illustrate the challenges that need to be solved, let us consider a scenario in which there are two independent and sovereign decentralised platforms specializing in Trade Logistics and Trade Finance. Suppose that an exporter who is a customer of the trade finance network applies for a letter of credit (LC) from the importer's bank in the trade finance network. The importer's bank on the trade finance network would like to verify that the exporter has a valid bill of lading (BL) corresponding to the export transaction. Typically, the status of the BL and corresponding steps are tracked in the trade logistics platform. Therefore, there is a need for the trade finance platform to independently obtain the BL data from the trade logistics network along with a proof that the consumed data reflects the consensus view of the trade logistics network. Suppose the shippers (i.e, exporters) on the trade logistics networks want to get a real-time view of the average delay of shipments on a specific trade lane. However, they would like to do so, without letting other shippers figure out sensitive business information like the carriers they work with or the average delay for their own shipments! Although this sounds like an impossible task, the state of the art cryptography indeed enables them to accomplish this task.



At IBM Research India, we have embarked on a journey of interoperability of decentralised platforms and privacy preserving collaboration to help realise the vision of secure, seamlessly interoperable, and privacy protected platforms.


DLT Interoperability:
Blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT) have evolved significantly from their original visions, with permissioned networks of limited scope and guarded memberships built on platforms like Hyperledger Fabric,  Corda coexisting with the open Bitcoin and Ethereum networks. A variety of open and permissioned blockchain and distributed ledger technologies (DLTs) supporting smart contracts and decentralized applications exist today, built on very different data models and consensus protocols. Enterprises, consortia, and governments, are using these technologies to build business networks and workflows for international trade, finance, cross-border payments, and regulatory compliance. To allow these different workflows to coexist and interconnect, and to avoid assets from being trapped in siloes, we need to enable these networks and the DLTs they are built on to interoperate for the purpose of transferring and exchanging assets and data in a secure and decentralized manner.  There are different ways in which these networks and the contracts they run may depend on each other. Interoperability is the way by which transactions spanning more than one ledger can be orchestrated safely while keeping the networks independent. Ensuring such interoperability, regardless of the open or closed nature of networks and of the underlying ledger technology they are built on, is our mission. To this end, we have published several research papers and are actively maintaining an open source platform named  Weaver under the Hyperledger Labs organization, which presently supports the Hyperledger Fabric, Corda, and Hyperledger Besu DLTs. We are also actively collaborating with the wider blockchain research and development community to draft interoperability standards.
Privacy Preserving Multi-Party Collaboration:
Participants in decentralized platforms have an opportunity to unlock greater value if they can collaborate with partners and competitors (aka coopetitive settings) by pooling in their data to generate mutually beneficial insight. But, major challenge is that often the data held by the organizations contains business sensitive information and they need to keep it private. At the same time, privacy-sanitized data derived from the private data is what is required to generate mutually beneficial insights. We are working on a range of privacy enhancing technologies like zero knowledge proofs, secure multi-party computation and differential privacy to facilitate security and trustworthiness in coopetitive settings. We are developing a cloud native platform that enables  rapid development of multi party analytics applications while providing cryptographic assurance on privacy of data. Further, we would like to enable developers with low crypto expertise to put together such applications by hiding the complexity of working with crypto libraries. We believe that our platform can be used in diverse settings like multi-party analytics, advanced verifiable credentials, and efficient layer-2 protocols for DLTs with support for privacy. The effort builds on innovations spanning multiple disciplines including cloud native applications, applied cryptography, distributed systems etc. 


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