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Ethereum not ready for government adoption, according to IEEE

  • The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) revealed the results of an evaluation that proved the compatibility between Ethereum and U.S. safety requirements.
  • The assessment rules out the possibility that Ethereum will be implemented by the U.S. government and could negatively influence its overall adoption. 

The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) has published the results of an evaluation of 4 relevant blockchain technology projects. The evaluation measured the compatibility of Ethereum, R3 Corda, Multichain and Hyperledger Fabric with the safety standards of the US federal government.

The IEEE evaluation is important because the institution can evaluate which projects or new technology can be suggested for the use of the U.S. government. The assessment, called “Blockchain Compliance with Federal Cryptographic Information Processing Standards,” was published by the IEEE in conjunction with the Reliability Societies.

The assessment is mandated by the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002 (FISMA). According to this law, programs, products and platforms that use blockchain technology must comply with the cryptographic requirements of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The U.S. federal government can only use technology that complies with NIST standards.

For a project to pass the evaluation, it must meet the following criteria: first, it must be supported by a single entity dedicated to its development and to establishing a roadmap for its future. Second, the platform must allow for independent and private networks without limiting the application to a single global network. Finally, the platform must be well supported by developer libraries that allow software developers easy access to the information and protocols of the blockchain system.

Implications for Ethereum adoption

Regarding Ethereum, the evaluation determined that it meets the requirements to be part of the study. The Ethereum Foundation operates from Switzerland and is in charge of guiding its development and offering limited supervision to the project. In addition, the evaluation determined that Ethereum operates on a global and public scale, but can also be used to create private blockchains. Finally, there are developer libraries for Python, Java and Javascript making it feasible for the platform to be integrated with IT products.

However, of the 5 platforms evaluated, only R3 Corda meets NIST requirements and standards. Ethereum fails, according to the IEEE, because it uses a Proof-of-Work algorithm to create consensus across its nodes. This algorithm is energy demanding. A study from Stanford University in Stockholm supports this statement and also catalogs Bitcoin within cryptocurrencies that require a large amount of energy.

The PoW algorithm that Ethereum uses is Ethash. This system is “incompatible with NIST requirements” and therefore the IEEE cannot validate its implementation. However, the IEEE categorizes Ethereum as a “moving target”. Due to the fact that Ethereum is in a transition to change its consensus algorithm to a Proof-of-Stake with the release of the Ethereum 2.0, the IEEE highlights that its analysis may vary in other publications. The IEEE says:

Ethereum also fails to comply with the NIST requirements for digital signatures. Ethereum uses the secp256k1 elliptic curve, which is not one of the elliptic curves approved by NIST. Because secp256k1 does not meet NIST requirements, the implementation cannot be validated.

The rigorous standards of NIST have made it a reference for the adoption of any technology. Businesses tend to be guided by assessments and adopt NIST-approved technologies. The United States government is one of the largest buyers of technology. Therefore, offering NIST-approved technology is an important incentive for businesses.

In that sense, the IEEE’s assessment could have negative implications for the adoption of Ethereum in the government sector, but also with companies seeking to do business with the U.S. government. A future assessment by the IEEE remains to be seen, once Ethereum has completed its transition to Ethereum 2.0.

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About Author

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Reynaldo Marquez has closely followed the growth of Bitcoin and blockchain technology since 2016. He has since worked as a columnist on crypto coins covering advances, falls and rises in the market, bifurcations and developments. He believes that crypto coins and blockchain technology will have a great positive impact on people's lives.

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