EuroCACS 2016: Blockchain will unleash new wave of change in tech

Speaking at EuroCACS 2016 in Dublin, ISACA's Dr Ron Hale described how crypto-ledgers could disrupt many established industries.

Dr Ron Hale, chief knowledge officer at ISACA
Dr Ron Hale, chief knowledge officer at ISACA

The blockchain which underpins virtual currencies such as bitcoin will revolutionise the way many services are delivered in much the same way as the world-wide web and mobile apps have already done - that was one of the messages delivered yesterday at EuroCACS 2016 in Dublin.

As chief knowledge officer at ISACA, Dr Ron Hale's job is to study current technological trends and how they might impact ISACA members.

“The technology that we have known about for years, like digital signatures and digital hash and such as that, can be combined in ways that are really innovative and provide a lot of benefit,” Dr Hale told SCMagazineUK.com.

A blockchain is a continuously-growing, distributed database that is hardened against tampering through encryption and decentralisation. As such, it can exist beyond the control or ownership of any single entity.

The concept of the blockchain was published in 2008 by someone calling themselves Satoshi Nakamoto – all attempts to positively identify Nakamoto have failed but he or she used the blockchain concept to establish the bitcoin crypto-currency and owns a sizeable number of the coins. 

The idea of the blockchain has developed into the broader concept of the crypto-ledger. In his presentation, Dr Hale listed a dozen different startups that are exploiting crypto-ledgers including Linq, a share trading system for unlisted companies, currency exchange platform Ripple, the OpenBazaar peer-to-peer shopping platform, Verisart for identifying the provenance of works of art and ShoCard, a digital identification platform.

Dr Hale is very interested not just in the technology and its applications but also the impact it will have on society. “Outside of just creating digital ledgers, what is the societal change that will happen as a result of it? If you look at the technology that has gone into internet, web and mobile, it's one thing but the impact it's had on society has been tremendous.”

He added: “One of the takeaways is that the speed of innovation is going to be more than we will ever estimate, and the change it will introduce will be huge… The blockchain, as some people have said, could be the dial tone of the next generation.”

His research is aimed at helping ISACA members understand the impact that rapidly changing technology will have on their jobs. It is also used to help the organisation develop new products for its members.

“That's looking at drawing on a lot of empirical research, some studies that I'll do, surveys, focus groups, talking to visionaries and bring that all together, that we will then use as feedback for the development of our own products,” he said.

Other areas of research that he is focusing on including cyber-insurance and the future of the IS audit function.

“One project I'm personally working on is in the area of IS audit and looking at the change that auditors have experienced,” he said. There are some people within the profession who question how much longer the specialist function of IS auditor will continue to exist as financial auditors take more interest in information technology within the organisations that they audit.

And early findings on cyber-insurance? “It's a mess! The problem is that people don't know how to value cyber-risk,” he said. So ISACA is looking at how to address that challenge by benchmarking organisations based on the maturity of their IT and business processes.