Getting big on blockchain

New International Standards for blockchain help to facilitate a common understanding and support its adoption in a safe and secure way.

Few minutes to read
By Clare Naden
Published on

It’s the technology behind Bitcoin and its use has expanded far beyond its financial sector roots to nearly every other industry, from healthcare to agriculture. Expenditure on blockchain and digital ledger technologies (DLT) is tipped to amount to nearly USD 16 billion by 2023, but such rapid growth can give rise to risks and confusion, ultimately hindering its adoption. ISO’s new expert committee [1] on blockchain has published its first standards and documents to support the technology, with many more in the pipeline.

Blockchain is a shared ledger that is designed to be tamper-resistant and to create definitive and immutable records. It is attractive to many industries and governments as it records transactions in a transparent and secure way, thus increasing trust, limiting intermediaries and reducing costs.

However, blockchain’s rapid growth has led to a wide array of terminology that can be confusing for many. The recently published ISO 22739, Blockchain and distributed ledger technologies – Vocabulary, helps to resolve this issue by defining the basic terms relating to blockchain and distributed ledger technologies and providing a common language that can be used worldwide.

Emily Dawson, Manager of the committee that developed the standard, said there are also many other issues that need to be addressed, such as those related to governance and security.

“Concerns around the privacy of personal information, for example, are often seen as a major barrier to the adoption of blockchain solutions, so we have developed a technical report to provide clarity around that.”

Newly published, the technical report ISO/TR 23244, Blockchain and distributed ledger technologies – Privacy and personally identifiable information protection considerations, identifies and assesses known privacy-related risks and offers ways to mitigate them. It also covers the privacy-enhancing potential of blockchain and DLT.

Another area of potential confusion is the concept of smart contracts, which are computer programs stored in a distributed ledger that are designed to automate transactions based on agreed terms, leveraging the security offered by DLT systems. Dating back to the 1990s, the term has evolved from its original meaning, and uniformity in what it means is lacking in practice. To clarify this and enable smart contracts to be used more effectively, the committee published technical report ISO/TR 23455, Blockchain and distributed ledger technologies – Overview of and interactions between smart contracts in blockchain and distributed ledger technology systems. It provides an overview of smart contracts, describing what these are, how they work and methods of interaction between them.

Future standards and documents to be published by the committee include:

  • ISO/TR 3242, Blockchain and distributed ledger technologies – Use cases
  • ISO 23257, Blockchain and distributed ledger technologies – Reference architecture
  • ISO/TS 23635, Blockchain and distributed ledger technologies – Guidelines for governance

ISO 22739, ISO/TR 23244 and ISO/TR 23455 are available from your national ISO member or the ISO Store.

  1. ISO/TC 307, Blockchain and distributed ledger technologies, the secretariat of which is held by SA, ISO’s member for Australia.
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