Berkeley Blockchain Event Hosts Say Security of Blockchain Solutions Is Paid Too Little Attention

On October 2 and 3, 2017, Berkeley (CA) will host Crypto Economics Security Conference 2017, an event hosted by Blockchain at Berkeley in the University of California. The conference will focus on the issues of security in various blockchain systems.

According to the hosting organization, the blockchain community today lacks academic presence, which results in poor development of respective protocols.

“Much of the industry has been focused on adoption when the underlying blockchain protocols still have a long journey to go. We’re hoping that by creating this event, we’ll inspire others to follow,” the event’s website says.

ForkLog contacted Vlad Makarov, one of the conference’s organizers, to find out more about blockchain initiatives at the University of California.

ForkLog: What Crypto Economics Security Conference is about?

Vlad Makarov: We understand that blockchain is a fundamental technology that reshapes the way we do many things. However, the feasibility of public and private blockchains heavily relies on their security, architecture, and economic incentives. For that reason, we decided to hold a technical conference titled Crypto-Economics Security Conference (CESC) in February 2017.

The agenda committee of the conference consists of eight people, which includes both developers and university people. The industry is represented by Joseph Poon, co-creator of Lightning Network and Plasma, Vlad Zamfir of Ethereum, among others. The committee also includes people from the University of Tokyo, the University of California, the Singapore University of Technology and Design, and the University College of London.

Aside from security, the conference will discuss improvements in miner rewarding systems and general architecture of various projects. We plan to invite 20 to 25 speakers who have their own ideas. All of them have sent us their works anonymously.

FL: What’s the history behind Blockchain at Berkeley?

V. M.: The organization came from the Bitcoin Association at Berkeley that has been existing for a while. However, its manpower was steadily reducing as the price of bitcoin went down, until there were only eight of us.

One of guest scientists from Netherlands named Tobias came up with the idea of creating a consulting blockchain club. He and Max Feng, a student of Berkeley who currently presides at Blockchain at Berkeley (B@B) started working on rebranding the Bitcoin association at Berkeley and recruiting new members. In fact, it was a slight change of direction that resulted in the Bitcoin Association becoming B@B. Currently there are 80 active members.

Our main goal is to educate and unite community members who are interested in blockchain and bitcoin. We also support and develop blockchain-related projects.

FL: How do you fund your activity?

V. M.: There are three main directions at B@B today: R&D, consulting, and education. It’s hard to say which one has greater priority. R&D and consulting are profitable, but the thing isn’t about just money. Education is also an important component of our activity. Initially B@B was conceived as a consulting club, however a course on blockchain technology that we teach to the same students as we are, is quite popular at Berkeley.

R&D and consulting make up our revenue. Initially, there was only the consulting division. Back then, our advice and clarifications could suffice to our customers. However, there were more and more people coming to us over time. They knew enough about use cases, and blockchain’s strengths and weaknesses. They wanted ready-made solutions for their businesses. That’s how the R&D department came to be. We work with some famous brands like Airbus, for whom we develop a supplies management system. Of course, some names of our customers can’t be disclosed.

FL: What about education projects then?

V. M.: The University of California at Berkeley is one of California’s ten public universities. It is the oldest of them all. I can’t speak for other universities, but we have DeCal.

DeCal is an educational initiative of students. The university often lacks resources to launch a course that teaches modern technologies, and DeCal allows students to launch such courses. As a part of the program, a group of students can create its own course that features their own quizzes, tests, workshops, and evaluation systems. The entire course has to be approved by the dean. Having successfully taken a course, students get a certain amount of credits. Therefore, students teach other students. And, believe me, there are no freebies and leniency. Even if you’re a fourth year and your third year friend teaches you something, you’ll have to study just like everybody else.

B@B has a DeCal on blockchain and cryptocurrencies. The course became full-fledged in the first semester of the 2016/2017 academic year. Thus we try to increase blockchain awareness, and give people necessary expertise and understanding of the technology.

FL: How did you get into blockchain?

V. M.: My education in finance invited me to audit (the big four) or consulting. Most of my friends from Kyiv-based universities are working or at least have worked in those areas. Everything I know about their jobs seems boring to me. I had no desire to write or double check something, I just wanted to create working products.

What is cool about IT is that you can see the results of your work in little time. That’s why I moved to the Valley and started learning to code. A few weeks before I moved I heard about blockchain and realized it was a great chance to creatively apply my financial expertise and somehow improve the financial system. In the Valley, I started attending B@B meetups, and gradually became a full-fledged member of the community.

FL: What do you think of Segwit2x and the way it may impact the industry’s future? How important is that for the community?

V. M.: In my opinion, Segwit2x is a middle ground between miners and deverlopers. I think there’s no need to make a Frankenstein monster out of Segwit, which is a great idea. However, as for our organization’s official view, we’re quite reserved.

“B@B generally tries to stay apolitical and nonpartisan with regards to Bitcoin politics, and instead focuses primarily on the discussion of the technology behind such controversial issues,” says Max Feng, the president of Blockchain at Berkeley.

FL: ­Where do you think the industry is heading these days?

V. M.: Cryptocurrencies may be viewed as a pyramid scheme until blockchain is employed by people and companies who integrate it in their products and thus create a natural, not speculative, demand for them. Therefore, practical implementation of at least some use cases mentioned before is crucial for the technology’s future. If it doesn’t happen, we may say that cryptocurrencies were indeed a bubble. As for technologies, the issues of scalability, queues, and transaction costs has to be solved, otherwise there won’t be any real product. They turn the decentralized network into a centralized one where mining pools hold all the reins. Of course, it’s not absolute power but it’s too serious for a network that had been conceived as a decentralized one. PoS and SegWit might become the most suitable solutions.

E-democracy and supplies/resources management are two of the most promising directions. Finance develops as well but there is too much regulation there. In most cases, people who set up such frameworks have only a poor understanding of blockchain technology. They are very slow in decision-making and can’t find middle grounds. It doesn’t matter how cool is your fintech idea or startup. Without relevant regulatory framework you risk becoming a thug.

Interviewed by Eugene Muratov