RSA yet to be sold on magic pixie dust qualities of blockchain

Just because you can solve your problems with a blockchain, doesn't mean you should, according to RSA CTO Zulfikar Ramzan.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

While the world rushes to slap a blockchain onto a growing number of applications to generate hype and excitement, RSA CTO Zulfikar Ramzan has told ZDNet that he is not convinced that many use cases of blockchain couldn't be addressed by more traditional mechanisms, such as a database.

"For example, we talk about like supply chain management, people tout that as a very classic blockchain use case," he said. "But to me, that seems like that's a shared database use case -- and you know, it's funny because people who don't understand the security nuances don't understand why a database is not worse than a blockchain, in fact I think in many cases it is better."

Ramzan said that in many cases, blockchain is a "heavy duty model" designed to address problems with a lack of trust, but often the solution has a number of trust assumptions built in. For instance, in the case of tracking an object, the process for assigning identifiers and adding the identifers to the blockchain need to be trusted.

The CTO told ZDNet that blockchain is starting to be regarded as magic.

"It's become this magical pixie dust, where people think you can solve all problems, and yes, maybe you can use it to address a certain set of problems, but just because you can and doesn't mean you should.

"You can buy a sledgehammer to push a thumbtack into a wall. You could also just use your thumb. It's a much cheaper solution, and probably better for other reasons as well. I think that's where we are."

Also read: 9 reasons to be cautious with blockchain

However, Ramzan was not prepared to write off blockchain totally.

"I don't want to discount that there will never be any applications, or there aren't legitimate use cases where you could try blockchain outside of cryptocurrencies. But I think people who haven't really spent time understanding the nuances will ... use a buzzword to get people excited about technology."

Earlier this month at RSA Conference, MIT professor and the R in RSA, Ron Rivest, said blockchain has interesting properties -- decentralised, public access, and immutable -- but it fails on scale, throughput, and latency.

During the conference, its app was found to be leaking attendee data, with RSA admitting at the time that 114 names were accessed.

Addressing the response on Wednesday at Dell Technologies World, Ramzan said the company took the issue "pretty seriously".

"From my perspective, regardless of who makes the app, conferences often have numerous third parties involved, and no company runs the entire thing on their own, and third-party risk is a really critical part of risk," he said. "You can't eliminate risk, but the real goal should be how do I compensate for it and respond swiftly enough.

"That, to me, is really what we can reasonably hope to achieve in an ever-increasingly and more complex world."

Disclosure: Chris Duckett travelled to Dell Technologies World in Las Vegas as a guest of Dell

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