A NEW research facility at Edinburgh Napier University has been established to explore ways in which blockchain technology can protect personal data from online scammers and hackers.

The Blockpass Identity Lab, at the university’s Merchiston Campus, forms part of a £600,000 collaboration between Blockpass IDN, the blockchain-based identity application provider for regulated services and the internet of things (IoT), and Edinburgh Napier.

This initial three-year collaboration will support five PhD students and create a “world-leading virtualised blockchain environment”, demonstrating Blockpass and Edinburgh Napier University’s commitment to innovation and the development of sector-leading “citizen-focused” systems.

After a series of high-profile data breach scandals at companies like Yahoo, Uber and Equifax, the risks of centralising personal user data have led to companies worldwide dedicating an increasing amount of financial resource to cybersecurity technologies.

The digital identity market is forecast to be worth $9.7 billion by 2021, and open up a wide range of online services. Currently, the key focus is to remove risks around fraud, identity theft and counterfeiting.

In the US, there are more than 13 million victims of identity theft each year, with a new case of identity theft occurring, on average, every two seconds.

The UK is one of the top countries for identity fraud where it affects around one in 10 people and can lead to high levels of stress for those involved.

Meanwhile, in Germany, the average loss related to identity fraud is around £28,666 per victim.

Across Europe, around 17% of citizens have been affected by some form of identity theft. In 2017, credit card fraud cost over £1 billion.

The Blockpass Identity Lab will focus on key challenges around identity and aim to build new data infrastructures which respect the rights, consent and privacy of citizens.

A core factor of this is around sovereign identity, and where data, devices, systems and people can be identified with high levels of assurance.

Minister for the Digital Economy, Kate Forbes MSP, said: “This collaboration between Blockpass and Edinburgh Napier University is a great example of the type of partnerships which will help to ensure that Scotland has an innovative, world-class cyber security goods and services industry – an aim the Scottish Government and its partners are actively supporting through the publication of Scotland’s Cyber Resilience Economic Opportunity Action Plan.

Adam Vaziri, chief executive of Blockpass IDN, said that Edinburgh Napier’s international reputation combined with Blockpass’ pioneering approach to using blockchain to give users total control over their online identity would help the company establish itself at the forefront of alternative technology innovation.

Professor Bill Buchanan of the university’s School of Computing Professor Bill Buchanan, Professor in the School of Computing at Edinburgh Napier University, said that blockchain will have a “significant and positive impact on multiple industries”.

The school’s Dean, Dr Sally Smith, added: “This collaboration builds a foundation for the future and supports the development of advanced skills in blockchain research.”