Suspicion of fraud leads an increasing number of companies to set up verification procedures, creating a backlog of work for education institutions. Blockchain technology makes it possible to issue trusted digital documents that can be verified by employers independently.
Over the course of Summer 2018, a discussion was engaged with Professor Dr. Schär, Managing Director of the Center for Innovative Finance at the University of Basel in Switzerland, who presented a basic solution design showing how university diplomas could be certified on the Ethereum blockchain. A project was initiated to prototype his idea within a one-week timeframe using the Proxeus framework.
The project comprised the deployment of a new Proxeus instance, the collection of requirements, the design of a diploma template, the configuration of the diploma creation workflow as well as some fine-tuning and front-end improvements. The team started by creating the template, which allowed to review and validate the required data entry fields based on the university feedback. The diploma looked similar to the following example:
The next step was to create a series of input forms allowing the university staff to enter the relevant student’s information (personal identification data and grade).
Once the templates and forms were done, bringing everything in the right order was just a quick drag & drop exercise. The template to be filled comes first, then the data entry forms that guide the user through the process.
Finally, a verification interface was built into the Core allowing non-technical users of Proxeus to easily verify the authenticity of documents created using the platform.
Following a successful first test, Prof. Dr. Schär proposed to go beyond the initial project scope and issue real certificates for his students on the Ethereum mainnet. The university staff was provided with a ready-to-use workflow allowing them to issue course certificates and a few weeks later, all 126 students completing the “Bitcoin, Blockchain and Crypto Assets” course of the University of Basel received certificates registered on the Ethereum mainnet blockchain. This marked the first time that a university in Switzerland secured the authenticity and integrity of an academic certificate on a blockchain, and an important milestone for Proxeus.
The students and everyone with whom they decide to share the certificates can verify the authenticity of the document instantly, 24/7, on a Proxeus verification interface embedded into the university website.
The new verification tool was a direct result of this project and was later used in almost every project. It was also made available for embedding into websites. Check out the step-by-step guide at the end of this article to find out how.
Prof. Dr. Fabian Schär commented on the project in a university press release:
“This blockchain solution developed in cooperation with Proxeus greatly improves the process of verifying documents and represents an important step towards forgery-proof academic certificates,” said Prof. Dr. Fabian Schär, Managing Director of the Center for Innovative Finance. “Two tools have been created – one that the university staff can use to create the certificate and register it to the blockchain with its unique hash, and a second, public tool which allows anyone to verify that the electronic document has been issued by the university.”
“Fraudulent documents are a problem in academia just as it is in any field,” he said. “By securing credentials on the Blockchain, we provide an extra layer of security for graduates and potential employers. These credentials can’t be faked, and can be easily verified online. It will introduce a new paradigm of security and offer value to all parties - employers don’t lose time checking credentials, graduates have an edge, and the institutions themselves reduce their reputational risk and a significant administrative burden.”
Most university’s requirements received as part of the project could be covered by Proxeus out of the box. Important learnings were made as to how blockchain data can be made accessible to everyone and a visual drag and drop interface was included into the Proxeus Core software. Observations were also made regarding the API integration possibilities with external systems (such as the university ERP) in order to allow for projects to scale. A powerful I/O layer was designed and tested in various further projects in the course of 2019.
Today, the tamper-proof diploma use case can be replicated in under an hour with Proxeus out of the box and it demonstrates what Proxeus intends to facilitate: making the creation of blockchain applications possible in a few clicks and bringing the same level of simplicity as WordPress does for websites.
Proxeus is a workflow engine enabling users to digitize their processes and make document templates available to third-parties decentrally. Its capabilities are therefore focused on the production of new certificates, not on the processing of pre-existing documents, which would require a different solution design. A custom module (out of scope for this project) could be developed to import data directly from a university ERP. One of the key requirements of the university was that the documents would be secured additionally using a so-called "salt". A salt is a unique code increasing the cryptographic difficulty of guessing the contents of a document, as someone in possession of an almost identical document (e.g. only the name and grade change) could theoretically modify those parts and try to reverse-engineer how a hash was made. This feature was too specific to be integrated into the generic Proxeus solution, but can be added manually into the document as invisible (white) text as we have demonstrated.
A very similar version of the workflow developed in this project is available on the demo platform on Proxeus.com.
You enjoyed reading the documentation and would like to build a similar workflow? A detailed guide is available here. All you need is an instance of Proxeus (for example our demo platform) and basic users skills.
If you are just looking to understand the principles behind the solution, here is a recap of the steps to build it - using only Proxeus and no programming at all.
9. Integrate a verification tool into your organization’s website to simplify the verification process. The verification tool of your Proxeus platform can be found directly via the /validation path; for example https://demo.proxeus.com/validation. It can also be embedded using a standard iFrame HTML code.
Your iFrame HTML code to embed it into your website would then look like this: