Open eBL Tackles Fraud in Global Trade

An open-source electronic bill of lading software solution can provide tamper-proof records, eliminate the risk of document duplication, and enable real-time verification of document ownership.

By Vanessa Mbanefo

In global trade, the authenticity and integrity of documents are paramount. Traditional paper-based bills of lading have long been the backbone of global commerce, but they come with inherent risks, particularly concerning fraud. According to this McKinsey report, the digitization of bills of lading is an overdue multi-billion-dollar value creating opportunity, given the establishment and growing adoption of industry and data standards.

Research by the DSCI demonstrates how open-source standards for electronic bills of lading (eBLs) offer a digital solution that fundamentally changes how we handle shipping documentation. By embracing open source eBLs, businesses can significantly reduce the risk of fraud, enhancing trust and efficiency in trade transactions.

One of the fundamental advantages of eBLs is their elimination of physical paper documents, which serves as a significant deterrent to fraudsters. Traditional bills of lading are vulnerable to duplication for illicit purposes. In contrast, eBLs use a digital format where each document is uniquely encrypted and tied to its rightful owner. This protection makes it difficult for counterfeit documents to infiltrate the supply chain, bolstering security and trust among trading partners.

The Open eBL initiative seeks to bring a new level of security and transparency to document management through distributed ledger technology and enterprise level security.

Central to this initiative is software being developed by Open eBL co-founding member BlueX Trade. Upon initial validation, this software will be contributed to the Open eBL initiative, co-founded by the non-profit Digital Supply Chain Institute (DSCI). Additional development of the software solution will be advanced through collaboration among designated Open eBL member organizations, governed by the leadership and technology councils of the Open eBL initiative.

The software code for the Open eBL solution will become available for public use under an open-source licensing agreement.

The planned Open eBL architecture is designed to function as an operating system for trading document exchange, akin to how a smart phone operating system manages software and hardware resources. The architecture intends to serve as the backbone of digital trade, facilitating seamless and secure interactions between trading partners. Users can be subjected to KYB/KYC (Know Your Business/Know Your Customer) processes to prevent potential fraud and security issues. The eBL solution seeks to securely record and modify transactions, ensuring the authenticity and provenance of each document.

This verification process ensures that only legitimate and trusted parties can participate in the eBL network, effectively thwarting attempts at fraudulent alterations and providing stakeholders with peace of mind.

The eBL platform seeks to provide a decentralized network backbone that ensures reliable global message delivery. Accessible only to certified members, this network would promote security, decentralization, and secure message delivery across the entire network.

To enhance security and streamline trade processes, the eBL solution employs advanced encryption techniques. Messages are encrypted with the recipient’s public key and signed with the sender’s private key, ensuring that only intended recipients can decrypt a message and verify the sender’s identity. This method forms a chain of messages, allowing recipients to verify the consistency of each message with the previous one, thereby reducing administrative burdens and improving overall efficiency. The eBL solution only permits messages to reach their intended recipients, curtailing document fraud by facilitating real-time verification of document ownership and title transfer, thus mitigating the risk of fraudulent title claims or double spending.

While the widespread adoption of eBLs is still in its infancy, the potential to significantly reduce fraud in trade transactions is undeniable. By embracing the Open eBL initiative, businesses can usher in a new era of trust, transparency, and interoperability in global trade driven by the open-source standards.

Vanessa Mbanefo is the Managing Director of the DSCI Open eBL initiative.


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