Private blockchains to be even safer thanks to NiRvAna project

The project NiRvAna, Noninterference and Reversibility Analysis in Private Blockchains is among the Research Projects of National Relevance 2020 (Italian PRIN) funded by the Italian Ministry of University and Research.

The project, which is unique in Italy, aims to analyse the application of IT security features to private blockchain technology.

The research project was coordinated by professor Marco Bernardo of Carlo Bo University di Urbino, joined by a research unit coordinated by professor Sabina Rossi of Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, and by professor Carla Piazza of the University of Udine.

What is a blockchain?

The blockchain technology was created in 2008. It records digital transactions that take place among untrusted parties, in a decentralised environment and without the supervision of an authoritative body that guarantees the identity of each party.

Thanks to an IT structure called distributed ledger, transactions are consolidated with a consensus protocol (i.e. an algorithm) which guarantees that transaction data cannot be altered or removed.  

Blockchain technology is at the base of so-called cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, but its applications are not limited to the realm of digital payments. 

“Because the blockchain ledger cannot be modified, blockchain technology ensures that transactions are secure and transparent,” says professor Sabina Rossi, professor of IT at the Department of Environmental Sciences, Informatics and Statistics. “From a technological perspective, this is a revolutionary idea which is innovating and will continue to innovate in many different sectors. Consider, for example, the farm and food supply chain, or the logistics sector: thanks to blockchains, we can certify and track the origin of goods and avoid fraud and forgery. 

The possibility of having a complete record of contracts and agreements is useful also in the world of finance, insurance and public administration.”

NiRvAna aims to analyse private blockchains — i.e., blockchains which are managed by an organisation which users regard as highly trustworthy. The organisation determines who can and cannot access the network and therefore read the data recorded there. The project will focus on IT security, understood both in terms of data protection and absence of data leaks, and in terms of reversibility (the possibility of undoing transactions). 

Unlike public blockchains, in which there is no hierarchy, private blockchains involve different types of users and different levels at which information can be accessed. Typically, private blockchains have a designated authority that manages them and defines which actions users can take depending on their access rights. 

“Bitcoin’s blockchain is not private, so no one governs it,” says professor Rossi. “Because of this, anyone can become involved in it, but no one can check the information that is memorised there, nor modify or eliminate that information. Moreover, no one can alter the protocol that determines how this technology functions.  

On the contrary, our project focuses on private blockchains and in particular on CBDC — central bank digital currency. This prospect is relevant today, given that an ever greater percentage of financial transactions happen digitally, and that we are progressively abandoning paper money. There are also some advantages regarding cost-cutting and the fight against tax evasion and laundering. 

It is clear that a digital currency that has legal tender must also have a functioning IT platform. 

The NiRvAna researchers will use theoretical IT models to ensure the correct functioning of private blockchains, the IT security of transactions, optimal performance and quality of the service. 

“In addition to contrasting tax evasion and money laundering, this type of technology also meets the needs of emerging economies by providing an inclusive ecosystem that responds to noticeable gaps in financial access, which are still quite widespread today,” ” says professor Rossi.

Research Projects of National Relevance (PRIN) 2020

The PRIN programme aims to support basic research in Italian universities and institutes. It funds projects that, due to their complexity and nature, might require the collaboration of various research units across Italy.

The programme is intended for high-profile scientists and is connected with sustainability, originality and the feasibility of the research that is proposed. 

When the evaluation phase for 2020 came to an end on 14 December 2021, Ca’ Foscari obtained funding for 12 projects, half of which are coordinated by the university. 

For a list of the projects which have been funded, please check the PRIN page (in Italian)