Bellaj Badr, CTO at Mchain discusses blockchain's industry adoption, its future scope, security prospects and more [Interview]

A blockchain, in simple terms, is a time-stamped series of rigid record of data which is managed by a cluster of computers. Originally the brainchild of a person or group of people known by the pseudonym, Satoshi Nakamoto, Blockchain is not owned by any single entity. It stores a variety of information like date, time, amount of transaction, information of the participants involved in the transaction. This open-source technology also offers a huge degree of traceability, security, and speed in the transaction.

A few days ago, Packt Publishing interviewed Bellaj Badr, CTO at Mchain and the author of one of their books Blockchain By Example, along with Richard Horrocks and Xun (Brian) Wu. Being an experienced security and software engineer, Badr points out that the most important feature of blockchain is the trust it enables in trustless digital environments. When asked about what’s currently exciting in blockchain tech, he pointed out Hyperledger Besu, an Ethereum project that joined Hyperledger. While Badr acknowledges that blockchain is not yet a mainstream technology, he is confident that blockchain can enhance the security of many specific security systems.

Dig into the full interview for detailed perspectives on Blockchain from Badr.

On why Blockchain continues to grow

Blockchain is no longer just a secure transaction ledger of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. More companies are now trying to bring technologies like Artificial Intelligence and IoT in Blockchain. What features of Blockchain have helped pivot it from being a supporting tool to a foundational technology?

The most important feature of blockchain remains its ability to enable trust in trustless digital environments without intermediaries. This ability has the potential to help us building p2p (peer-to-peer) services for lower cost and higher efficiency. Disintermediation represents a huge economic opportunity, as it will cut extra costs and delays introduced by the chain of intermediaries. In my opinion, we can build such economies only by adopting the blockchain technology.

Moreover, the high level of security guaranteed by the blockchain can help us secure IoT networks or even the whole internet. A smart contract can also be a good tool to propose innovative mechanisms in the real-world industry. For example, AXA proposed blockchain-based flight insurance that uses smart contracts to refund its customers when a flight delay occurs.

On what excites Badr about the current and future scope of Blockchain technology

2019 has been a busy year for the Blockchain community so far - the recent Hyperledger Fabric 2.0, the much anticipated Ethereum 2.0, Facebook’s Libra and the continued volatility of Bitcoin. What excites you about them and what can be better? Where do you see the greatest scope for Blockchain technology adoption in the immediate future?

2019 was an eventful year for the blockchain ecosystem. The most important event was the announcement of Libra by Facebook. An important project that confirms the interest of big tech companies in this technology.

Bitcoin regained momentum and reached USD 14K, which is a good sign, indicating that the interest in bitcoin isn’t over. Alongside this, I was very excited about Hyperledger Besu, which is an Ethereum client that joined the Hyperledger project. Besu will help to build private Enterprise Blockchains to interact with Ethereum public Mainnet.

I am also very excited by the new components of serenity (acronym for ETH 2.0)- Proof Of Stake (PoS), eWASM (new virtual machine) and sharding. The orchestration of these new elements will surely boost the scalability and processing time of Ethereum, thus making it a better blockchain. Besides, eWASM will enable us, developers, to write smart contracts in powerful languages like C, C++, Rust or Go.

In my opinion, the greatest scope for blockchain adoption would be the proposition of Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC). In fact, Blockchain provides a reliable technical infrastructure for central banks that are necessary to run a cryptocurrency-like currency.

I was also a little bit disappointed by the delay in the roll-out of ETH2.0 which would be deployed next year. ETH 2.0 would be a great leap in the blockchain history and we would learn a lot from this experiment.

On the other hand, we are beginning to see the mainstream adoption of Blockchain. Eg: Moscow employed a blockchain-based internet voting system in its recent election and Facebook is aggressively trying to build its own cryptocurrency. Has Blockchain truly come of age or is there cause for institutions to tread more carefully?

I think Blockchain still needs time to become a mainstream technology. As you know blockchain will disrupt many systems and businesses but the world isn’t ready for the change. Internet took a long path before becoming as it is now. Mindset change that’s what we need and for this to happen we can hope for the new generations that can embrace the change easily, to drive the revolution. I think within a few decades blockchain will be omnipresent as the internet is now.

On Blockchain security

You are a security engineer who loves developing Blockchain solutions. In recent years, we’ve seen organizations and even countries (EVMs, email servers, etc) being subject to various cybersecurity attacks. Can Blockchain be a part of the solution set here? How do you think adopting Blockchain will help industries or aid pentesters in building better solutions for security?

Blockchain can help to enhance the security of many systems and to solve some specific security issues. For example, it can help us to build distributed CA (certificate authorities) and fight against fraudulent SSL certificate which is a serious problem. Also, it can help us to define control access policies as smart contracts to make access control more secure.

Badr’s advice for a career in Blockchain

In your book, ‘Blockchain By Example’, you talk about building blockchain projects using various development platforms like Ethereum and Hyperledger. What should developers keep in mind while deploying blockchain-based projects? What is your advice to someone looking to build a career in Blockchain?

The most important thing to keep in mind is that blockchain isn’t the holy grail. We should use it only when it’s needed. A developer should be able to justify why he should use a blockchain and not another technology.

In my opinion, building a career in Blockchain starts by grasping the underlying concepts (cryptographic, networking, etc.) and understanding the initial trust problem (Byzantine general problem) that was solved by Satoshi Nakamoto. Afterward, a developer can choose a blockchain project like Ethereum or Hyperledger or Corda to start with.

About the Author

Bellaj Badr is an experienced security and software engineer who loves blockchain with a passion. Currently, he is the CTO at Mchain, a blockchain start-up that develops blockchain solutions for companies.

Alongside his role as CTO, Badr acts as a technical consultant, offering strategic and technical consulting to many companies worldwide. Aside from this, he is involved in many blockchain projects involving the establishment of new blockchain business-oriented protocols. Badr is a frequent speaker at developer conferences and is father to two angels. His latest talk was at the annual Devoxx Morocco 2019 conference. You can find him on Linkedin.

About the Book

This book Blockchain By Example by Packt Publishing will give you an insight into the blockchain ecosystem to help you build real-world projects. Each project will teach you just enough about the field's leading technologies, Bitcoin, Ethereum, Quorum, and Hyperledger in order to be productive from the outset.

As you make your way through the chapters, you will cover the major challenges that are associated with blockchain ecosystems such as scalability, integration, and distributed file management. In the concluding chapters, you’ll learn to build blockchain projects for business, run your ICO, and even create your own cryptocurrency. By the end of this book, you will not only be able to tackle common issues in the blockchain ecosystem, but also design and build reliable and scalable distributed systems.

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