October, 2017

Blockchain could be the answer to China's counterfeit diploma problem

Original article: Forbes

China is one of the world's foremost producers of fake diplomas. Numerous Chinese websites offer counterfeit degrees from eminent academic institutions, in some cases claiming the diplomas should be used for "novelty purposes" only. 

Allen Ezell, who has written a book on the fake degree phenomenon, told Forbes: “One of the largest counterfeit diploma operations we have seen was based in Shenzhen. They offered diplomas of about 1,000 U.S. schools." 

Education website sdaxue.com has played a key role in exposing the counterfeit diploma makers. Since 2013, the firm has exposed 400 fraudulent "degree mills" in China. Fake schools often have anodyne names, such as "Beijing Xinghua University” or “Beijing Institute of Finance." In a counterfeit operation sdaxue uncovered in June 2016, three fake schools in the provinces of Guangdong, Shandong and Hunan were discovered to share the same Hong Kong-registered IP, suggesting organized crime at work. 


At present, sdaxue does not rely heavily on digital technology to confirm academic credentials. For instance, if someone claims to have graduated from Harvard University in 2001, the only way to verify that is to ask Harvard directly whether the person is telling the truth. On the other hand, if someone says he is a graduate of a school suspected to be fake, it's necessary to prove that the institution doesn't exist. 


Analysts say that counterfeit diplomas could be curbed with an instant verification system. Blockchain might be the solution. Acting as a digital ledger of all transactions across a peer-to-peer network, blockchain cannot be altered. Its records or "blocks" are secured with cryptocurrency.  

David Moskowitz, chief executive officer of smart contracts and blockchain firm Attores, told Forbes that when a certificate is issued, it is assigned a unique digital signature called a "hash" value. The hash changes when a digital document is altered, making counterfeiting of a document impossible, Moskowtize says. 

"You have the ability to instantly validate or verify that the diploma is true and that it hasn’t been altered," he explains. "Clicking into a contract status allows you to not only see the hash, but also the parties that have signed, the IP, the contract address, and the timestamp," he adds. 

As usual, counterfeiters are looking for new ways to cheat the system. In some cases, distance learning schools are now pretending to be other, more eminent institutions, even pilfering content from official university websites. Instead of paying for a remote education, students may find that they're being extorted, notes the Forbes report. 

Meanwhile, China is already moving to implement blockchain solutions in other areas. E-commerce juggernaut JD.com launched the open-source blockchain platform Hyperledger Gabric in June. JD's first partner is Inner Mongolian beef producer Kerchin. By the end of October, more than ten brands (in the alcohol, tea, food and pharmaceutical sectors were participating in JD's blockchain, according to Tech In Asia.