One day in 2007 while taking a solitary walk in Kyoto’s Bamboo Forest, Satoshi Nakamoto stopped to rest by an ancient Sakaki tree. Tired from his long walk he quickly dozed off and was visited in a dream by a shaman who shared with him the secret of how to build a de-centralized cryptocurrency. Upon waking he rushed home and wrote his legendary white paper “Bitcoin: A Peer to Peer Electronic Cash System“
Ok, not really.
Nakamoto's genius wasn't any of the individual components of Bitcoin, but rather the intricate way in which they fit together to breathe life into the system. The academic pedigree of Bitcoin often goes unknown (see here) but the cryptography behind those individual components has been well known since the 1990s and Guardtime’s cryptographers have been very active participants in that history.
One of the core concepts behind Bitcoin is called linked timestamping and Buldas and Saarepera from Guardtime were the first cryptographers to give a formal security proof in 2003 i.e. what properties do you need for hash-functions and data structures in order to build a formally verifiable security proof. You can read the proof here.
Formal verification might sound arcane but if you want to build a house you had better make sure the foundations are solid – and formal methods and verification are the basis of everything we do at Guardtime.
We launched the company in 2007 with the goal of creating a formally verifiable security system for the Estonian Government i.e. eliminating third parties, trusted insiders or cryptographic keys in the verification of the integrity of government records, networks and systems.
Cryptography like mathematics starts off with assumptions (axioms) and from those assumptions derives conclusions. The goal was to eliminate humans from the list of assumptions needed to make assertions about the time and integrity of digital records – documents in a government registry – configuration files in a network router – software running inside an IOT device etc.
The challenge was not cryptography but engineering, building a scalable and reliable service for the government that would continue to function even under constant cyber-attack.
The system went in to production in April 2008 and over the last decade we have continued to innovate adding more and more functionality to the platform. We have added post-quantum signatures to replace RSA, Anti-Tamper hardware (Black Lantern), a provenance calculus designed to track and trace digital information as it crosses organizational boundaries and many other new ideas.
The end result is a stack of technologies, designed in spirit of the Unix philosophy - abstraction and encapsulation of functionality into layers each of which does one thing well.
Ultimately, blockchains are just tools used to solve customer problems. Guardtime’s mission in life is to leverage the tools we have built, work with partners and build the highest quality enterprise solutions.