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Blockchain secures credentials, diplomas and certificates

Diplomas, certificates, PCR test results and the land register have one thing in common: they must be forgery-proof. New technologies such as blockchain help to secure such documents. More and more universities are therefore introducing blockchain diplomas.

Who would have thought three years ago that a negative test result for a virus would one day be so relevant to the daily lives of many people around the world? After all, anyone who wants to fly since late summer 2020 must show such a test result. This proof must be forgery-proof – so that no one who is ill can smuggle in a fake test result. This is possible thanks to blockchain technology.

Corona test certificates at airports

In Germany, for example, the start-up Ubirch from Cologne is cooperating with a test provider at five major German airports on the forgery-proof PCR test certificates: “Anyone flying from Frankfurt, Düsseldorf or Cologne/Bonn can choose to put their test certificate in the form of an anonymized fingerprint in the blockchain – even if they don’t know what it actually is,” explains Matthias Jugel, CTO of Ubirch.

QR code with info on the test

Ultimately, the person being tested has nothing to do with the new technology either, because it runs in the background. Jugel: “The test result is entered into a lab info system.” Then an automatic process runs in the lab, as follows:

  • If the result is positive, the health department is notified. This is dictated by law.
  • If it is negative, it generates a QR code, behind which is a URL. The QR code contains information about the person tested, the type of test and the time.

Matthias Jugel explains, “From this, a so-called hash is generated, which is a kind of cryptographic fingerprint. We store this in the blockchain. We only get anonymized data and store it the same way.” Airport personnel can scan this QR code with a corresponding verification app. “In combination with the ID card, this ensures that the person flying has really been tested and the result is negative,” Jugel says.

Vaccination passport based on cryptography

Incidentally, Ubirch also developed the German vaccination pass port with a consortium around IBM. However, it is not based on blockchain technology, but on cryptography. However, blockchain appears in many other applications that come from Ubirch. For example, in digital training certificates that the company developed for the German Digital Economy Association. They are stored forever and tamper-proof in the blockchain.

Ubirch CTO Matthias Jugel

Anyone flying from Frankfurt can choose to place their test certificate in the Blockchain as an anonymized fingerprint.

Matthias Jugel, Blockchain specialist and CTO of Ubirch.

Blockchain for testimonials and certificates

“Counterfeiting in the physical sector, in whisky, in tobacco, in all kinds of collectibles is on the rise,” Professor Fabian Schär tells FinanceNews TV. He teaches on the topics of fintech and blockchain at the University of Basel. Schär has been pushing to secure diplomas via blockchain at his university since 2018. At first, the university secured certificates for individual courses via the blockchain. In the meantime, diplomas are also available on the blockchain. If a university receives such a blockchain diploma from an applicant, it can check whether the University of Basel actually issued it. At the same time, this ensures that no applicant has fudged his or her diploma.

Universität Basel, Kollegienhaus
Blockchain has made inroads: University of Basel.

Preventing fake diplomas and final grades

Professor Fabian Schär says his secretariat saves a lot of time this way. That’s because every day, several callers inquire at the university whether a person actually graduated with a certain final grade. This is not surprising: anyone who knows a bit about image processing can quickly turn a satisfactory grade into a “very good”. Besides, there are fake diplomas for relatively little money on the Internet. “I can imagine that in the future, digital value units will become more and more important. And with that, tokenization on the blockchain. Everyone will be able to check whether something has gone right,” Schär tells FinanceNews TV.

Advantages of the blockchain for documents

  • Forgery-proof
  • Protected from damage by fire or water
  • Easier to process further in digital processes
  • Time-saving

Blockchain certificates simplify processes

A test run with forgery-proof high school diplomas also started in Germany this summer. Some schools in the German states of Berlin, North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate are taking part. “In cooperation with Bundesdruckerei, school reports are provided with a digital signature and entered into a blockchain operated by Bundesdruckerei,” according to the school ministry in North Rhine-Westphalia. “This can later be used to verify the authenticity and validity of a digital certificate, but not to read the certificate content.” In addition, some North Rhine-Westphalian universities are also involved in the field test, they say. For the first time this summer, they are enabling their prospective students to enroll by presenting their digital report card. Certified copies of the Abitur certificate are therefore no longer necessary.

Application process runs more efficiently

Accordingly, blockchain credentials are not only forgery-proof and data privacy-compliant, but also bring other advantages. These include the fact that with them, application processes, which are almost exclusively digital, run more efficiently: The quality of a paper certificate suffers when it is digitized. It is also susceptible to water and fire. The model project in Germany is part of the Online Access Act (OZG), which aims to make all government services in Germany available digitally by the end of 2022.

Blockchain documents for many industries

There are also an increasing number of use cases for blockchain in finance. For example, securities transactions are possible via it, and insurance contracts are expected to be smart more often in the future. Ubirch, for example, had worked with a conference provider to offer insurance for attendees: Should the value in the room exceed a certain CO2 value, the participants would automatically receive a payout. So smart contracts can be used to settle claims faster in the insurance industry. “Another example from our everyday work is from the food industry: with the help of sensors and the blockchain, it can be documented, for example, that the cold chain has been maintained. Or that the humidity was not too high during tea transport,” says Matthias Jugel. “So in these cases, it’s all about quality control and documentation.”

Is the land register going digital?

Experts are even thinking about the land register in the blockchain. Sweden likes to serve as a role model. Mats Snäll has been leading a project at the Swedish Cadastre, Mapping and Land Registry, Lantmäteriety: A proof of concept for using blockchain technology for real estate transfers. “We have shown that digital contracts can support such a transaction. The process of selling and buying, financing and proper land registration can be well mapped with it.” However, Snäll said, such a transition would require legislation that supports digital contracts instead of paper-based transactions

Another question, he said, is how to manage such a system. “Finally, all of our administration is based in centralized entities. However, blockchain is based on distributed ledger technology. It works through the interaction of different partners, nodes and parties,” says Mats Snäll. “This is still a big challenge for the world to solve.” Snäll now works at DIGG, a digital government agency in Sundsvall.

Why are documents so secure in the blockchain?

The blockchain is a decentralized, public database where all information is stored chronologically. In addition, they are mirrored on very many servers around the world. For documents, certificates or credentials, this means the following: If it were possible to change a data record, there would still be enough copies available. These show that there has been an attempted change. In addition, a change would require so much computing power that hardly anyone is likely to have it. This is another thing that makes data in the blockchain so secure.

FAQ – Frequently asked questions

What is the role of blockchain in documents?

Schools or universities, for example, store graduation certificates in the blockchain. It also plays an essential role in the documentation of digital PCR test results. In addition, blockchain is increasingly being used for insurance contracts or quality documentation.

What are the benefits of blockchain for credentials and certificates?

It is forgery-proof. This means that fraudsters cannot simply alter the documents with image editing software. In addition, they are safe from fire or water in the decentralized database. In increasingly digitized processes, it also makes sense if the basic document is already available in digital form.

Bettina Blass

Business Journalist & Editor | Consumer Specialist.
Main focus: Economy | Consumer Protection | Internet

Bettina Blass

Wirtschaftsjournalistin & Redakteurin | Verbraucherspezialistin
Schwerpunkte: Wirtschaft | Verbraucherschutz | Internet