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Secure way of proving IP ownership
Proving that you did what you say you did

So I was thinking of a new project that might be fun, useful, and possibly even turn a little profit, but I was talked out of it by a friend due to the true complexity of the prospect past the programming part. The concept isn’t exactly new by a long shot, but my idea for the implementation is, at least I would like to think, novel.

For a very long time, it has been important to be able to prove, without a doubt, that you have the oldest copy of some IP to prove you are the original creator. The usual approach to this is storing copies of the IP at a secure location with the storage time recorded. This is, I am told, very often used in the film industry, as well as many others.

The main downside to this for the subscriber, IMO, is having their IP, which may be confidential, stored by a third party, and entrusting their secrets to an outsider’s security. Of course, if these services are done properly and are ISO certified for non-breachable secure storage, this shouldn’t be a problem as they are probably more secure than anything the user has themselves. One would like to think, though, that entrusting your IP to no one but yourself is the most secure method.

The out-of-house storage method may also require that there be records accessible by others telling that you stored your IP elsewhere, and that it exists, which you may not want known either. This is not always a problem though because some places allow completely anonymous storage.

A large downside for the provider is having to supply and maintain the medium for the secure storage, whether it be vaults for physical property, or hard drives for virtual property.

My solution to this problem, for virtual property anyways, is to not have the provider permanently store the user’s data at all, but provide a means by which the provider can authenticate a set of the user’s data as being unchanged since a certain date. This would be accomplished by hashing the user’s data against a random salt. The salt would be determined by the date and would only be known by the provider.

This would work as follows:
  • Every day, the server would create a completely random salt string of a fixed length, probably 128 bits. This random salt would be the only thing the server would need to remember and keep secret. This process could also be done beforehand for many days or years.
  • As the user uploaded the data through a secure connection, the server would process it in chunks, probably 1MB at a time, through the hash function.
  • The hash function, probably a standard one like MD5, would be slightly modified to multiply the current hash on each block iteration against the daily random salt. The salt would also be updated per upload by a known variable, like multiplying the salt against the upload size, which would be known beforehand, or the exact time of upload.
  • A signature from a public-key certificate of a combined string of the time of upload and the hash would be calculated.
  • The user would be returned a confirmation string, which they would need to keep, that contained the time of upload the signature.

Whenever the user wanted to verify their data, they would just have to resend their data and the confirmation string, and the server would return if it is valid or not.

I was thinking the service would be free for maybe 10MB a day. Different account tiers with appropriate fees would be available that would give the user 1 month of access and an amount of upload bandwidth credits, with would roll over each month. Unlimited verifications would also be allowed to account holders, though these uploads would still be applied towards the user’s credits. Verifications without an account would be a nominal charge.

The only thing keeping me from pursuing this idea is that for it to be truly worth it to the end user’s, the processing site and salt tables would have to be secured and ISO certified as such, which would be a lot more costly and trouble than the initial return would provide, I believe, and I don’t have the money to invest in it right now.

I do need to find one of these normal storage services soon for myself soon though. I’ll post again about this when I do.

[edit on 6/15/08 @ 5:04pm]
Well, this isn’t exactly the same thing, but a lot like it.

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