New research is rethinking central timekeeping by providing a way to globally synchronize clocks across a blockchain and provide a more secure and tamper-proof global time source for everything from IoT devices, such as measurement devices in supply chains, to entire distributed systems, particularly where the disruption of a central clock represents a security risk.
Ouroboros Chronos, the Greek word for time, is the most recent iteration of Ouroboros, the consensus algorithm that underpins the Cardano blockchain. The new protocol has the potential to significantly improve the resilience of critical telecommunications, transportation, and trading systems and infrastructures by synchronizing to a unified network clock that has no single point of failure, making it extremely difficult to attack.
Satellite-derived time and position for the UK government: The recent Blackett review highlighted the need for more resilient timing data and the dangerous reliance of critical sectors ranging from smart grids to autonomous vehicles on Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), which are vulnerable to jamming, cyber attacks, and space weather. Many computers use the Network Time Protocol (NTP) as a proxy for global time, and as such, it is a potential attack vector. The National Physical Laboratory recently established the world’s first National Timing Centre to investigate alternative and more resilient timing services for everything from telecommunications to smart transportation. International metrology centers must currently compare the accuracy of clocks operating at different frequencies and in multiple locations, and the new research enables blockchain technology to more securely synchronize clocks.
Chronos’ breakthrough is the development of an internal blockchain time synchronisation system. The new clock synchronisation mechanism allows participants from all over the world to synchronize to a unified and resilient global clock, replacing weaker time sources that could be manipulated. It also allows the blockchain protocol to accurately time-stamp transactions using a cryptographically secure source of time, free of the vulnerabilities of externally hosted clocks, making cryptocurrencies more resistant to time-based attacks. This scientific achievement, by enabling accurate timing and thus full traceability of all transactions, also represents a significant step toward creating fully auditable and fraud-proof financial systems.
Chronos is the most recent addition to the Ouroboros protocol, which underpins the Cardano blockchain, the green blockchain that solves Bitcoin and Ethereum’s energy inefficiency problems. It is currently being used to improve traceability, transparency, and sustainability across US beef and lamb supply chains, as well as to provide a decentralized national database of digital student and teacher IDs tracking local academic attainment in Ethiopia to help target resources, boost lesson planning, and combat credentials fraud.
“The problem of synchronizing clocks without a central time-keeper is essential in creating a truly robust decentralized financial system,” said Professor Aggelos Kiayias, director of the Blockchain Technology Laboratory at the University of Edinburgh and Chief Scientist at IO, who led the research. For the first time, we created a blockchain mechanism that allows a dynamically evolving group of parties to calibrate their local clocks so that they are consistent – even if they come and go according to arbitrary participation patterns. We have also paved the way for a more secure, tamper-resistant time source with numerous potential external applications by developing a blockchain-based global clock.
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