Can Blockchain Prevent the Next Equifax? Not So Fast

Blockchain is a marvelous technology. It relies on sophisticated cryptography to create a tamper-proof ledger across multiple computers, eliminating fraud and mistakes. It’s no surprise, then, that pundits are popping up who say using blockchain can avert the next Equifax breach.

Too bad it’s not that easy. While blockchain is poised to transform a lot of things—from shipping to the diamond industry—it can’t fix sloppy data practices at the credit bureaus.

According to David Treat, who leads the blockchain practice at Accenture, the architecture of blockchains is not designed for massive data sets. He explained that, in the case of Equifax, the company’s business practice is about using algorithms to query a massive repository of customer records in order to spit out a credit score.


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While consumers and companies could use a blockchain to access the score, it’s still up to the credit bureaus to protect the underlying pool of personal information. Doing that, says Treat, requires segregating sensitive data and properly encrypting it.

“Their focus should be on the latest encryption and security techniques for hardening and protecting data sources,” he said, adding the same advice applies for large retailers and other institutions sitting on stacks of personal information.

But while blockchain can’t be a substitute for good data hygiene, the technology will have a role in helping individuals exert control over their identity. For example, Accenture and Microsoft are building blockchain tools that will help migrants and refugees access school and medical records. Meanwhile, Treat predicts that blockchains will be useful for age verification—meaning a young person could use a blockchain app instead of a state drivers license to enter a bar.

The bottom line is blockchain may be marvelous but it’s not a magic bullet. Thanks as always for reading—more crypto and cyber news below.

Jeff John Roberts


Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my, PGP encrypted email (see public key on my, Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.


Some side hustle. Several websites tied to CBS’s Showtime deployed ad code that forced visitors’ computers to mine crypto-currency on the sly. We’re pretty sure CBS didn’t green-light this particular pilot (a rogue hacker is the most likely culprit) but it’s worth noting Pirate Bay deliberately did the same thing recently. What company will try this next?

Hackers feast on restaurants. Cyber-crooks did a drive-by on drive-thru chain Sonic, and are poised to pig out on millions of stolen credit and debit cards. Meanwhile, hackers also struck Whole Foods—no word if they’ll be charging three times the usual price when they sell the stolen data on the dark web.

You say social media, I say surveillance. It’s long been clear social media isn’t just a way to keep tab on our friends—it’s also a way for advertisers and law enforcement to keep tabs on us. But you can turn up your paranoia dial little further: Homeland Security will begin collecting social media data on all immigrants and naturalized U.S. citizens (!), while the Justice Department is seeking an order for Facebook to disclose who “liked” an anti-Trump page.

Thanks for a job not well done. Equifax explained that CEO Richard Smith “retired” after his company’s giant data debacle. The retirement should be a very pleasant one: a Fortune review of security filings indicate Smith will collect over $ 90 million in the next few years. Meanwhile, the company is trying to make amends with an apology and credit freeze offers that don’t really cut it.

Losing trust in Telegram. Many in crypo-land have long suspected the secure messaging app, Telegram, is compromised by weak encryption and ties to government. Their opinion won’t improve in light of claims by a former Telegram executive that the company has a Moscow office where staff work cheek-by-jowl with Kremlin sympathizers.

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A young man died suddenly in Colorado this year, leaving his family the burden of sorting out his estate. Little did they know their loved one had been investing in Bitcoin, the digital currency that cost as little as $ 13 in 2013 and recently climbed as high as $ 5,000.

The grieving family stood to inherit a small fortune—that is, if they could only find and access the cryptocurrency.

—An excerpt from The Ledger, Fortune’s new fin-tech franchise, that looks at the challenges of tracing crypto-currency when someone passes on. If the owners don’t tell anyone about their assets (which may be worth millions), they may be lost forever.


A Stanford psychologist on the “art of avoiding a**holes.” For real. Vox has a fun (and useful) Q&A with the author of The No A**hole Rule, a 2010 guide to keeping jerks out of your company. His new work expands his advice to everyday life, including how to take the wind out of an a**shole’s sails.