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Private data exchange


Private data exchange is the way most enterprise business-to-business communication happens today. One party privately sends data to another, over a pipe that has been agreed as sufficiently secure between the two parties. That might be a REST API, SOAP Web Service, FTP / EDI, Message Queue (MQ), or other B2B Gateway technology.

Multi-party Systems

The ability to perform these same private data exchanges within a multi-party system is critical. In fact it’s common for the majority of business data continue to transfer over such interfaces.

So real-time application to application private messaging, and private transfer of large blobs/documents, are first class constructs in the FireFly API.

Qualities of service

FireFly recognizes that a multi-party system will need to establish a secure messaging backbone, with the right qualities of service for their requirements. So the implementation is pluggable, and the plugin interface embraces the following quality of service characteristics that differ between different implementations.

  • Transport Encryption
    • Technologies like TLS encrypt data while it is in flight, so that it cannot be sniffed by a third party that has access to the underlying network.
  • Authentication
    • There are many technologies including Mutual TLS, and Java Web Tokens (JWT), that can be used to ensure a private data exchange is happening with the correct party in the system.
    • Most modern approaches use public/private key encryption to establish the identity during the setup phase of a connection. This means a distribution mechanism is required for public keys, which might be enhanced with a trust hierarchy (like PKI).
  • Request/Response (Sync) vs. Message Queuing (Async)
    • Synchronous transports like HTTPS require both parties to be available at the time data is sent, and the transmission must be retried at the application (plugin) layer if it fails or times out.
    • Asynchronous transports like AMQP, MQTT or Kafka introduce one or more broker runtimes between the parties, that reliably buffer the communications if the target application falls behind or is temporarily unavailable.
  • Hub & spoke vs. Peer to peer
    • Connectivity might be direct from one party to another within the network, tackling the IT security complexity of firewalls between sensitive networks. Or network shared infrastructure / as-a-service provider might be used to provide a reliable backbone for data exchange between the members.
  • End-to-end Payload Encryption
    • Particularly in cases where the networking hops are complex, or involve shared shared/third-party infrastructure, end-to-end encryption can be used to additionally protect the data while in flight. This technology means data remains encrypted from the source to the target, regardless of the number of transport hops taken in-between.
  • Large blob / Managed file transfer
    • The optimal approach to transferring real-time small messages (KBs in size) is different to the approach to transferring large blobs (MBs/GBs in size). For large blobs chunking, compression, and checkpoint restart are common for efficient and reliable transfer.

FireFly OSS implementation

A reference implementation of a private data exchange is provided as part of the FireFly project. This implementation uses peer-to-peer transfer over a synchronous HTTPS transport, backed by Mutual TLS authentication. X509 certificate exchange is orchestrated by FireFly, such that self-signed certificates can be used (or multiple PKI trust roots) and bound to the blockchain-backed identities of the organizations in FireFly.

See hyperledger/firefly-dataexchange-https