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Cryptographers spank blockchain, social media

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Video: Uncomplicating blockchain

Blockchain and social media got a spanking Monday from the luminaries of cryptography gathered for their annual pow-wow at the RSA Conference[1].

"Blockchain[2] is often viewed as security pixie dust," said Ron Rivest, an MIT professor and the 'R' in RSA. The message is "any application you have can be made better and more secure with blockchain." Rivest said the technology has interesting properties - decentralized, public access and immutable - but it fails on scale, throughput and latency.

He said voting is particularly a bad fit. "You want to make sure the voters have the ability to know their vote was recorded properly," and that means verification, "it doesn't matter if it is immutable if it is wrong," he said.

See: Executive's guide to implementing blockchain technology[3]

Rivest's peers on the panel added to the critique. He was joined on stage by Adi Shamir, Borman professor of computer science at The Weizmann Institute in Israel; public-key cryptography pioneer Whitfield Diffie currently the cryptographer and security expert at Cryptomathic; Paul Kocher,a security researcher and consultant; and Moxie Marlinspike, the founder of Signal.

Shamir suggest a distinction should be made between cryptography and crypto currency, and when Diffe interrupted and suggested one should be spelled with a 'C' and one with a 'K', Shamir chided him for stealing his joke.

Shamir added the technology is "overhyped," but said it might be one way to guarantee the validity of digital signatures once quantum computing takes over. "In the future, one way to use blockchain to guarantee the security of digital signatures is to simply prove the signature was generated today before quantum computers were available."

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