Research Month: Richard Otolo – Applying blockchain to improve efficiency and security in the authentication of academic credentials
A team of six researchers at @iLabAfrica have been developing a system to digitize academic credentials using distributed ledger technology (DTL). The objective of the team was to digitize the academic certificates of students who obtain academic qualifications from Strathmore University, in an immutable, non-repudiable and easily verifiable way. This is one of the initiatives to contribute to greater transparency in the education sector and improve efficiency in the verification of academic certificates in the region.
The general practice in the authentication of academic certificates is tedious as it involves contacting the institutions that issued the specific certificates in order to verify them. Individuals presenting copies of certificates are often required to have them authenticated by advocates. These processes are subject to manipulation and fraud.
$15,000 KENET grant
Over 12 months, the team implemented a grant of $15,000 from the Kenya Education Network Trust (KENET). The project team – Eunice Maingi, Fiona Wachira Kimuu, Innocent Kithinji, and Maureen Gate – was lead by Richard Assanga Otolo, Information Technology Security Center Manager @iLabAfrica with Dr. Joseph Sevilla as the Principal Investigator. @iLabAfrica is a Centre of Excellence in ICT Innovation and Development established in January 2011 under the Faculty of Information Technology at Strathmore University—the Centre became autonomous in 2017.
According to Mr. Otolo, the proposal for this project involved setting up a distributed ledger network which would provide Strathmore University with a platform to host the academic credentials of students who have graduated. “We thought, what if there was a database which both employers and higher educational institutions could access? Organisations hiring can then log into the database and confirm the authenticity of the certificates without having to contact the issuing higher education institutions” he says.
In the project, the team deployed Ethereum blockchain, which is a public blockchain platform. A blockchain is a distributed ledger that provides a way of recording and sharing information by a community. In this community, each member can access the most updated copy of the information and all members validate any updates collectively, or assign the role of validation to a few trusted members among them to quicken the process. The information could represent transactions, contracts, assets, identities or practically anything else that can be described in digital form. Entries are permanent, transparent and searchable, which makes it possible for community members to view transaction histories in their entirety.
“Blockchain has distributed ledger technology to give it a greater perspective: you are creating more trust and visibility especially in places where there is lots of mistrust. It is storing information in a way that it is secure and accessible to trusted parties,” he explains.
Plans for PhD
Mr. Otolo holds a Master’s degree in Mobile Telecommunication and Innovation from Strathmore University with a thesis titled: An information sharing system for crowd-sourced software testers. “I am working towards a doctorate in cyber security for industrial control systems. “I have already handed in my concept note to the School of Graduate Studies.”
In October, the team presented the results to KENET. They are now working on publishing the results of this project. “There is a potential to commercialise this functional prototype. Strathmore University is the pilot case; and we intend to scale it up to other institutions of higher learning so that an ecosystem for the database can be established.”
This article was written by Wambui Gachari.
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