Since over 4 millennia ago, the recording of events and maintaining chronology has played a key part in the evolution of systems and society. Chronological records allow for informed, constructive, and orderly understanding. Today in the digital realm we use timestamps to maintain chronological order. In this blog, we discuss the importance of timestamping in record keeping, what timestamps are, use cases for timestamping, and benefits of using blockchain-based timestamping over traditional methods.
Timestamping is the process for recording and pinpointing when an event (e.g. creation, modification, possession, execution, etc.) took place. This way parties can authenticate an event as having taken place at any time in the future. As such, timestamping has become a component function of the fraud-deterrent process of notarization, which is used to assure the authenticity of documents, records, and other assets.
The seemingly simple process of timestamping has huge implications across professional domains. It sits at a foundational level of a plethora of systems and has wide utility for record synchronization and sequencing, especially in multi-event (and multi-party) exchanges/interactions, e.g. team workflows. The process is also core to setting up controls, auditing, and forensic analysis among other utilizations.
Timestamps are artifacts that are created in the process of recording an event. They vary in detail but at their core, they generally include the date and time of day. Sometimes timestamps will even record down to fractions of a second. In the digital realm, precision at this level allows networked computers and applications to communicate extremely efficiently and effectively.
The International Standards Organization (ISO) established the standard for covering the exchange of date- and time-related data in its ISO 8601 format. Some examples and variations of the ISO 8601 format are shown below:
As mentioned, timestamping has incredibly wide utility, especially when used in conjunction with identity authentication protocols. Some industry examples of their combined value include:
Blockchain offers a new technological option for the notarization industry. By extension timestamping has a new way it can be utilized and deliver value. Since blockchain technology is based on decentralized data storage, it allows for trustless authentication of timestamped data.
Furthermore, if the blockchain timestamped stored data is also conjoined with an identity, it proves that the content was in the possession of a particular person or entity at a particular point in time. This is of importance when proving transfers of custody or ownership or when determining who may have made changes to the document or file that was timestamped. For individuals trying to prove original authorship of a creative work, this is also of particularly strong value.
Since they rely on an entire network of autonomously run nodes and don’t rely on a single authority, blockchain-based timestamps are more robust than what single entities can offer. A blockchain stored timestamp cannot be modified unless the entire blockchain network is compromised. Such a feat is exponentially difficult to do as an attacker would have to simultaneously attack a majority of the nodes that are run by the autonomous entities that maintain the blockchain network. Due to its architecture, a blockchain delivers non-reputable, irrefutable, and immutable evidence of when a document was timestamped. This makes a timestamped stored data on the blockchain more trustworthy than what a traditional brick-and-mortar-based notary could offer.
CodeNotary is a blockchain-based notarization application that utilizes the Zero Trust Consortium’s private blockchain to append its notarizations to. Though it is a private blockchain that only members can write to, what is written to it, including a notarized document’s timestamp and other document metadata (but never the document itself) can be easily verified as it is available 24/7/365 for anyone to inspect. Timestamps, which are ISO 8601 compliant, and document metadata are never affixed to the notarized digital asset. Rather they are bound to the digital asset’s digital fingerprint and stored immutably on the blockchain. This way at any time in the future a user can reference the document’s metadata (not its contents) by pointing to the corresponding blockchain entry that is publicly available and immutably prove its integrity by authenticating: