I am making a running list of fakes (fake videos (also called deepfakes), fake news, fake images, fake credentials etc), ahead of our new product to prevent and detect suck fakes.
The recent college admissions scandal resulted in the largest case of its kind to be prosecuted by the US Justice Department. A massive federal investigation code-named ‘Operation Varsity Blues’ uncovered this scandal and charged several high-profile people with bribery, racketeering, money laundering, conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. The internet commentary about this topic includes phrases like “broken admissions system”, “rich can buy their way into college”, etc etc.
There must be several other cases of fraud that go unnoticed on a daily basis. It’s in human nature to shortcut the rules, collude and cheat to achieve one’s own short-term goals, hoping to get away with one’s fraudulent actions. Let’s discuss how to use Blockchain technology and create a rigorous system to prevent some aspects of such scandals in future.
Problems: Fake athletic certificates and phony athletic profile. Taking photos of students on a stationary rowing machine. Photoshopping students’ face on another athlete’s photo.
Solution: A genuine high-school athlete achieves his/her athletic credentials during a four year period. Getting a genuine athletic certificate involves achieving several intermediate goals. For example, if you achieved a black belt in karate in your 11th grade, you must have progressed through beginner level (with white, yellow and orange belts), intermediate level (with green, blue, purple, brown and red belts) and then reached the advanced level (with a black belt). TrueCerts technology allows sports coaching centers to create certificates for each of these intermediate athletic achievements, sign them using their private keys and post only the SHA-256 hash of the certificate on a public blockchain, thus immutably time-stamping each achievement at the specific day/time the athlete achieved it. The athletic photos can be time-stamped similarly.
This process achieves the seemingly impossible combination of security, privacy and transparency !! Security is achieved by the asymmetric key encryption. Privacy is achieved by the one-way nature of the cryptographic hash function SHA 256. Transparency is achieved by the fact that anybody with the access to the sports certificate (upon student’s consent) can compute the SHA 256 hash of the certificate and verify that it is stored on a public blockchain validly signed by the private key of the issuer (sports coaching center). This eliminates the fraudulent behavior of creating a bunch of fake credentials and photos, all at once, in a brief period of time. Using a fairly decentralized public blockchain is very important here.
Problem: Bribing coaches to accept certain students in their sports teams or issue fake credentials.
Solution: This problem can be solved by having several people (perhaps five coaches, some administrative assistants, one principal, one vice-principal, etc) in the organization collectively responsible (using multi-signature wallets and m-of-n signatures) to issue credentials. Each of the involved person is accountable for every issued certificate.
Bribing one coach is easy. Bribing ten people is hard. People often hesitate bribing multiple people. Collusion becomes increasingly hard when you increase the size of the group involved. When there are more people involved, there is a higher chance that at least one of them is honest (and brave) to overcome the pressure of the others and blow the whistle.
Problem: Fake college entrance exam (SAT, ACT) test scores
Solution: Current paper-based test score issuance and verification system is too time-consuming and error-prone. These credentials can be easily faked or tampered with. An ideal solution involves creating a digital certificate, validly signed (or multi-signed) by the issuer and time-stamped with a SHA 256 hash on a public blockchain. See my previous post about preventing fraud in academic transcripts and making the entire system efficient.
Problem: Other students taking entrance tests on your behalf.
Solution: This is a problem of verifying the identity of the student taking the test. The current system of using paper-based credentials is broken. It’s easy to create fake driver’s license, passports etc. At TrueCerts, we have created an automated multi-step identity verification that combines your standard KYC identity procedures, utility bills and more importantly biometrics. We define identity as a several data points achieved over a period of time, not just one piece of paper. It’s very hard to cheat all of these steps. If you have a look-alike twin then consider yourself lucky 🙂
Partially solvable problems: Bribing officials to change student’s answers in paper-based exam can be solved to certain extent by using a completely computer-based exam. Bribing proctors to tell the answers to a student (during the test) can be solved with computer-vision-based cheating detection software. Some photoshopped images can be detected using image analysis techniques.
Hard to solve problems: (1) Getting a fake medical certificate that your kid requires an isolated room to take the test and then bribing the proctor to tell him/her all the answers during the test. (2) Laundering bribes using a non-profit entity. Phew…. These things actually happened during this college admissions scandal. As the famous saying goes “a person is capable of as much atrocity as he/she has imagination”.
In summary, combining the existing technologies we can solve several of the above mentioned problems and simultaneously achieve security, privacy and transparency. The main goal here is to make the bad people’s job as difficult as possible and simultaneously making the good people’s job very efficient.
Stay tuned for my next post about a huge list of real-world fraud and corruption stories that can be prevented rigorously by using cutting-edge technologies.
Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to offend University of Pennsylvania or IIT Kharagpur or Yahoo or any individuals or parties involved. The goal of this blog post is to point out some of the inefficiencies and acknowledge them as one of the motivations behind developing TrueCerts platform.
The year was 2005. I was applying for a PhD program in Computer Science in the top US universities. I have applied to 14 US universities. On Dec 2nd 2015, I received the following email (see the screenshot below) from the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), Penn Engineering, Office of Academic Programs, Graduate Admissions. I have redacted the name, email address and the phone numbers in the emails, to preserve their privacy.
Here are the photos of the original transcript (I received from IIT Kharagpur when I graduated) and the additional transcripts (I received from IIT Kharagpur when I requested them for my PhD application). They are all laminated by IIT Kharagpur and sent to me. Feel free to laugh at my appearance on the transcript. I do too 😉
IIT Kharagpur stated the following in their transcripts policy.
“Institute does not take responsibility of sending the duplicate copy of grade cards (transcripts) directly to other institutions/organizations, in connection with the applicants’ admission/employment etc.”
My reply to the above email and the response from UPenn are shown in the following screenshot.
In Summary, UPenn was concerned that my transcript was laminated and opened. Surprised by their response (“Your application will not go any further with the opened transcript”), I have spent couple of hours searching online and discovered that there is a lot of scam involving fake degrees and fake transcripts. There are “professionals” in India and China creating the “highest quality fakes”. These fake transcripts are often laminated. So, UPenn decided not to process any applications with opened and laminated credentials. All my credentials are valid and correct, but my application was not processed because IIT Kharagpur has no way to securely send valid transcripts and UPenn has no way to efficiently validate applicants’ transcripts.
I have applied to 14 universities and some of them rejected me because ‘they found a better candidate’ or ‘the research group was not looking for new PhD students’ etc etc. But my UPenn application not going further because of an inefficient and broken system is frustrating, to say the least.
After a week, I have recovered from this frustration and went back to my daily routine of reading research papers on Theoretical Computer Science. I said to myself “I will get into one of the remaining 13 universities and I have to focus on my research and resolve the P vs NP problem” 😉 I eventually got admission into GeogiaTech and a handful of other universities. I joined GeorgiaTech and did my research at the intersection of complexity theory, game theory, combinatorics, and structural graph theory.
A second incident: During summer 2010 (at the end of my fourth year as a PhD student at GeorgiaTech), I was offered an internship at Yahoo labs and the Yahoo HR team wanted to verify all my credentials (my IIT B-Tech degree, USC Master’s degree, work experience). Yahoo uses a third-party service to rigorously verify all credentials of potential employees / interns. Yahoo fired their own CEO when they found out that he lied on his resume. This process is very rigorous, but very time-consuming. The verification of all my credentials took more than couple of months. Meanwhile, I was waiting with my fingers-crossed (figuratively speaking) and hoping these verifications happen soon, so that I can start my internship and earn some serious summer money for two months and see a bank balance of more than $1,000 dollars for the first time during my grad school 😉
Later that year, when I discovered Bitcoin white paper and the underlying Blockchain, my first thought was to use the technology to build a ‘document integrity platform’ to issue tamper-proof credentials(degrees, transcripts, employment certificates, Visas, Identity documents, driver’s license etc), which can be verified instantaneously and securely on the blockchain without compromising the privacy.
Early 2011, I got busy writing my PhD thesis and joined the CS department Princeton University in September 2011. I have spent the first couple of years teaching at Princeton, mining Bitcoin, keeping track of Blockchain news and hoping that somebody will develop a ‘document integrity platform’. To my relief, some entrepreneurs tried to develop a ‘credential verification solutions’. To my frustration, none of those solutions are perfect. So I started preparing myself to become a full-time entrepreneur (with several exciting startup ideas) and left Princeton in summer 2015. I hired a truck driver (driving towards west coast) and told him that I will meet him around Sunnyvale/Santa Clara/ San Jose area in couple of weeks. I drove my car for a week to reach the Silicon Valley.
Today, I am very glad that we have a complete data integrity solution (for universities, employers and enterprises) and I am very excited that we are preventing fraud and corruption in several areas using our TrueCerts platform.
Every week I read several stories about fraud and corruption online (Eg: the recent college admissions scandal). I approach the involved parties and explain how such instances can be rigorously prevented using technology.
I feel very fortunate to have discovered an exciting vision towards a fraud-free and efficient future. This discovery happened through the above mentioned unfortunate events and many more real-life experiences. Sometimes the most frustrating problems in your life are the biggest opportunities to develop a rigorous solution.
I have compiled a list of my favorite Bitcoin and Blockchain books, videos and other learning resources. Have fun learning.
We are very excited to announce that we launched EulerCoin CPU mining pool today for all users. EulerCoin is the underlying coin in the TrueCerts Blockchain. TrueCerts is a Blockchain powered digital certificates platform for universities, schools and life-long learning companies to issue tamper-proof academic credentials and digital certificates securely and efficiently on the blockchain. The learners own their credentials, which can be verified instantaneously on the blockchain without any intermediary.
More details about our TrueCerts platform are coming soon. Meanwhile, feel free to join our CPU mining pool by following these instructions:
- Create your own eulercoin address using the address generator.
- Download miner and join our pool.
- Follow the mining statistics on eulercoin pool.
- Use our wallet to transfer your coins!
Our blockchain explorer is at https://blockchain.eulercoin.org. Keep your keys safe.
May the Hash be with you.
For all future updates follow TrueCerts blog on medium.
I am very excited to announce that our newest product TrueShelf.org is now available to everybody. TrueShelf.org is a BlockChain powered social learning platform. Users on the platform get rewarded with EulerCoin (the platform’s cryptocurrency) for creating and curating quality education content. The platform creates new tokens at a rate determined by mathematical rules that align the incentives between content creators, researchers, educators, teachers and students.
Go ahead and signup, post an article explaining some concept in mathematics or computer science / open problem / multiple-choice question / exercise. Content creators earn EulerCoin proportional to the number of likes (aka upvotes) of their content. More details of the token allocation and its game-theoretic analysis are coming soon in our white paper.
Here are some examples of user generated content from our beta version:
- Longest increasing digital subsequence and Maintaining fitstrings by Prof. Jeff Erickson
- Simple path containing three given nodes and Diameter and low-degree vertex by Prof. Chandra Chekuri
- The cube of a connected graph is hamiltonian and Unmatchable edges of bipartite graphs by Diego
- Read Once Promised Majority and Non-double words form a context-free language by domotorp
- Determining a polynomial by neeldhara
- Second Minimum spanning tree by rizwanhudda
- Direct reduction from Graph Homomorphism to SAT by John Doe
TrueShelf.org’s mission is to unleash the unlimited potential of such quality content creators, researchers, educators, teachers and students from all over world and make learning more engaging, efficient and effective.
At TrueShelf Inc, we now have two platforms:
- TrueShelf.com : AI powered adaptive learning platform with education products in Mathematics, Vocabulary and Algorithms.
- TrueShelf.org : Blockchain powered social learning platform.
If you want to know what motivated me to create TrueShelf (an AI powered adaptive learning platform) and the future of learning, please read my interview on Edsurge.