The surge in blockchain-related projects has brought about myriad proposed solutions to everything from decentralized storage and computing to censorship-resistant mediums of value transfer. However, blockchains are still built on the existing Internet stack, something which Marconi, a new networking and distributed ledger protocol, cites as a significant infrastructure vulnerability.
"All these blockchain projects build atop the same network infrastructure consisting of switches and routers connected by Ethernet," details Jong Kim, Chief Architect of Marconi. "Ethernet is a networking technology that has improved in terms of bandwidth but otherwise has gone relatively unchanged for the past 30 years."
The problem is that Ethernet was originally designed with connectivity as its foremost consideration, rather than privacy or security, which are usually addressed higher in the Internet's OSI model -- such as TLS and SSL.
However, the lack of inherent privacy and security at the Ethernet level is not the only problem.
According to Kim, there are two other eminent concerns with current networking infrastructure that are often overlooked. In particular, core network infrastructure is challenging to manage and relies on expensive hardware, which has subsequently enabled central dominance of a few Internet service providers (ISPs) -- a problem for sustaining net neutrality.
How do you overcome some fundamental problems of the Internet's infrastructure? Kim and his reputable colleagues at the Marconi Foundation propose Marconi -- the 'Smart Ethernet Protocol.'
A History Among Tech Giants and Lessons Learned
The Marconi team comes from a background of building and scaling network infrastructure for numerous major tech companies including the likes of Google, Intel, and Microsoft. What they realized from their first-hand experiences were the issues in network-management applications and the inflexible, expensive hardware requirements for scaling seemingly innovative networks.
"When building and scaling data centers and networks for thousands of devices at Google, we often needed thousands of networking appliances just to support the devices," detailed Kim in Marconi's recent mainnet press release. "Each network appliance had to be a specialized piece of hardware that was not only expensive but difficult to update and manage."
The problem of centralized control drawing from expensive network maintenance and hardware costs also extends directly to blockchains and their applications.
"In any given region, a small number of entities -- often just one or two service providers -- serve as the gateway for all Internet traffic," details Kim. "When the Internet service provider suffers fiber cuts, equipment failure, or purposely interrupts service to perform maintenance, all users lose Internet access."
Relative to blockchains, such service interruptions -- whether intentional or not -- present censorship concerns, begging the question: are blockchains as truly decentralized and censorship-resistant as they claim?
"Monopolistic control is problematic for countries that lack net neutrality now that blockchain networks have grown to considerable sizes," says Kim. His sentiment mirrors the fact that Ethereum's blockchain data directory is growing by 416 percent annually.
"As blockchain adoption continues, unfortunately, blockchain traffic will likely fall under the crosshairs of ISPs," says Kim.
Cryptocurrencies are already in the crosshairs of many governments too. India is looking to outright ban cryptocurrencies , the position of cryptocurrencies in China is consistently precarious, and Russia's threat to shut off regional Internet access is the precise example of what Kim is expounding.
The solution? Design a new protocol that can enhance, or in some cases even replace, existing network infrastructure.
Kim and the Marconi team set about building a networking and blockchain protocol at the OSI layer 2 (i.e., Ethernet) where packet-level encryption, decentralized applications, and branchable blockchains are all augmented abilities of one of the Internet's key technologies.
The result is a new networking management infrastructure that retains the connectivity of Ethernet but supplements it with security, privacy, and decentralized networking. One of the most significant advantages of Marconi is that it removes the need for expensive hardware for bootstrapping or maintaining a network.
"With the Marconi Protocol, you don't need deep networking expertise or specialized hardware to set up a robust, flexible and secure network, and you surely won't need to buy new hardware when you want added functionality," says Kim.
The Marconi team is hopeful that everyone from network administrators to security applications developers will realize the potential impact that leveraging their protocol can have on security and costs. Marconi recently launched their mainnet after two years of development, which will include out-of-the-box features such as multi-cloud deployments, firewalls for securing blockchain networks, and secure gateways for preserving online activity.
"With our Mainnet launch, today marks the culmination of two years of hard work by the team," says Kim. "We are excited to reach this milestone but believe that this is just a step in our journey as we look forward to advancing and growing the platform."
To bolster their already impressive technical roster, Marconi recently brought on board a new advisor, Dr. Whitfield Diffie . Dr. Diffie may not ring any immediate bells, but he is one of the pioneers of public-key cryptography, which Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies use as a core component of their design. Diffie, Ralph Merkle, and Martin Hellman, all prominent cryptographers, helped solve the key distribution problem in cryptography -- with the solution known as the Diffie-Hellman key exchange .
"It wasn't too long ago that blockchain as a whole was considered uncrackable, and sophisticated hackers caught up in short order -- it's almost the irony of humanity," detailed Kim in a recent CCN piece .
Security and privacy are a continually evolving struggle against would be malicious entities, and Marconi believes that by restructuring one of the Internet's core technologies -- Ethernet -- that privacy and security can once again take the lead.