Scientists develop first high-resilience, cryptographic time source based on blockchain technology

Scientists develop first high-resilience, cryptographic time source based on blockchain technology
  • Turning point in development of blockchain technology could enable blockchain to provide a more resilient time source than GNSS for the IoT and distributed systems
  • Innovation removes blockchain systems’ need for reliance on external internet time sources, making government and commercial systems more resilient to external attacks.

Ground-breaking new research, is rethinking central timekeeping, with a way to globally synchronise clocks across a blockchain and to provide a more secure and tamper-proof global time source for everything from IoT devices, like measurement devices in supply chains, to entire distributed systems, particularly where the disruption of a central clock represents a security risk.

The research is realised by Ouroboros Chronos, the Greek word for time, which is the latest iteration of Ouroboros, the consensus algorithm that underpins the Cardano blockchain. The new protocol could dramatically boost the resilience of critical telecommunications, transport and trading systems and infrastructures by synchronising to a unified network clock that has no single point of failure making it extremely hard to attack.

The UK Government’s Satellite-derived time and position: Blackett review recently highlighted the need for more resilient timing data and the dangerous dependence of critical sectors from smart grids to autonomous vehicles on Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) which are vulnerable to jamming, cyber attacks and space weather. The Network Time Protocol (NTP) is also used by many computers as a proxy for global time, and as such is a potential attack vector. The world’s first National Timing Centre led by the National Physical Laboratory was recently created to investigate alternative and more resilient timing services for everything from telecommunications to smart transport. International metrology centres currently have to compare clocks operating at different frequencies and in multiple locations for accuracy and the new research enables blockchain technology to more securely synchronize clocks.

The breakthrough from Chronos is the creation of an internal, blockchain time synchronisation system. The new clock synchronisation mechanism enables participants across different geographies to synchronise to a unified and resilient global clock, replacing weaker time sources that might be susceptible to manipulation. It further enables the blockchain protocol to accurately time-stamp transactions with a cryptographically secure source of time, free of the vulnerabilities of externally hosted clocks, and will make cryptocurrencies more resistant to attacks that target time information. By enabling accurate timing and thus full traceability of all transactions, this scientific achievement also marks a major step towards creating fully auditable and fraud-proof financial systems.

Chronos is the latest enhancement to the Ouroboros protocol which underpins the Cardano blockchain, the green blockchain that overcomes the energy inefficiency problems of Bitcoin and Ethereum. It is currently being used to improve traceability, transparency and sustainability across US beef and lamb supply chains and even provide a decentralised national database of digital student and teacher IDs tracking local academic attainment to help target resources , boost lesson planning and combat credentials fraud across Ethiopia.

Professor Aggelos Kiayias, director of the Blockchain Technology Laboratory at the University of Edinburgh and Chief Scientist at IO, who led the research, said: “The problem of synchronising clocks without a central time-keeper is essential in creating a truly robust decentralized financial system. For the first time, we have developed a blockchain mechanism that enables a dynamically evolving group of parties to calibrate their local clocks so they are consistent – even if they come and go following arbitrary participation patterns. By creating a blockchain based global clock, we have also paved the way to a more secure, tamper-resistant time source with many possible external applications.”

The published research is available here

About IO Global

IO Global is an R&D and product engineering company, committed to using peer-to-peer innovations to provide 21st century services to the 3bn who don’t have them.

We build blockchain based products for governments, corporations and academic institutions and upskill people across the world, empowering them to solve the most pressing problems faced by people in their countries.

We have core beliefs in decentralization, privacy, economic identity and financial empowerment for everyone, and stand opposed to centralized control and bureaucracy.


Publication date: 
10/27/2021 - 14:30

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