Can Governments Eliminate Forged Documents? This Startup Thinks So.
In February 2019, a team of three from Bengaluru participated in a startup challenge week organised by the Maharashtra government. The hackathon was intended to find solutions across verticals such as governance, mobility and healthcare.
The team—Neil Martis, 24; Shesha Vishnu Prasad, 23; and Francis Serrao, 44—came in with raw ideas about using the blockchain technology to help state government agencies. "It's not like we expected to win. The contest saw applications from over 1,000 participants," Martis told BloombergQuint over the phone.
The team presented a concept they called LegitDoc. The product pitch was that it could help provide tamper-proof digital certificates on the Ethereum network for government entities, which could address counterfeiting of documents.
The trio became the only blockchain-based startup to win the contest.
After the initial wins though, came a long period of wait for a real-world implementation of LegitDoc. Finally, in July 2021, their company CrossForge and vocational education body Maharashtra State Board of Skill Development, launched LegitDoc for broader public use. Through LegitDoc, students now get digital certificates that can't be tampered with and can be verified on blockchain in real time.
"We felt a strong need to automate our certificate issuance and verification process," said Anil Jadhao, chairman of Maharashtra State Board of Skill Development.
However, instead of migrating to traditional digital solutions, we made a decision to leapfrog to blockchain digital documents, leading to the largest blockchain implementation in the world for educational certificates.Anil Jadhao. Chairman, MSBSD
How It Works
LegitDoc certificates are floated in two stages—issuance and verification.
After evaluating answer sheets, scores are stored in a local database and individual PDF files of the draft certificate are generated. Instead of printing, they're processed via LegitDoc's issuance software and permanently stamped with a hash or a unique digital identifier.
The hash is based on the file's content, hence if there is any data manipulation within the file, the hash also changes in real time.
Once the hash is generated, the file is permanently stored on the blockchain. A transaction confirmation is generated with a tamper-proof digital certificate. This is in the form of a ZIP file that is directly sent to students.
On a blockchain, there is no centralised database, hence there's no single administrator and all users have equal authority. Each user or node maintains an identical copy of the synchronised data, making it decentralised. Hence, updated data, as well as the past information, are always accessible, creating an indestructible record of each instance.
No party can manipulate or change the data without all the nodes knowing about it. This creates a robust audit mechanism.
A student can easily share the digital certificate via email or WhatsApp.
Recruiters, meanwhile, can cross-verify the certificate's authenticity by uploading it on MSBSD's website. Once the certificate is uploaded, its hash value is computed, compared with the hash present on the blockchain ledger, to successfully authenticate it.
From paper to reality, challenges were to be expected.
One such challenge was the dated FoxPro database system, which stopped getting updates in 2007. This process was so old that operating systems newer than Windows Vista could not run the database, Martis said.
"So we worked around a way to bridge the technological gap and indirectly modernise the infrastructure," Martis told BloombergQuint. Despite the challenges, the team managed to roll out the system in August, he said.
Blockchain For Document Authentication
MSBSD and LegitDoc have already issued 7,00,000 certificates and are aiming a total of one million (10 lakh), according to Martis. The new processing system has reduced verification time from a month to just a few seconds.
Certificates no longer have to be printed and shipped, reducing workforce. Most importantly, the risk of fraudulent documents is eliminated.
Public blockchains are bullet-proof, public record-keeping systems. Unlike centralised databases, they don't have a centralised point of failure. If an attacker wants to take down a blockchain, they'll have to hit all the nodes simultaneously. Such an attack is economically unfeasible today.Neil Martis, Co-founder & CEO, CrossForge Solutions
Vivek Belgavi, partner-fintech, alliances and ecosystems at PwC, said the benefits of blockchain in education will be realised when a set of educational institutions get connected in a decentralised fashion. These institutions will need to get orchestrated by a nodal body, such as the education department, he said.
The benefits will be further recognised by a techno-legal framework to allow employers and others to use the same. "It is still to be proven if these technologies will work at population scale," Belgavi said.
CrossForge is now in talks with four other state boards, a local body, and a Navratna public sector company to implement a similar document issuance and verification protocol. The Maharashtra government, separately, is working with another company called Print2Block to maintain Covid-19 testing data on a blockchain.
The concept is bigger than any one specific use case, explained Sandeep Nailwal, COO and co-founder of Polygon, a crypto infrastructure provider working on making Ethereum transactions faster and cheaper.
"Unlike earlier authentication systems that required the presence or blessings of a trusted central authority, the blockchain paradigm inverts authentication on its head, by completely removing the need for trust," Nailwal said.
But practicality of these projects remains uncertain.
Mumbai-based blockchain startup Regko tried working with the Telangana government to decentralise land records in 2017, but the project gradually lost steam. Similarly, Rajasthan announced plans to create a blockchain-enabled health record, but implementation remains uncertain.
Sharat Chandra, blockchain and technology analyst, said some use cases are easier than others.
For instance, document management using blockchain is fairly easy to implement as compared to health and land records. This is because health and land records come with their share of legacy infrastructure and digitisation challenges, he said.