Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few years, you have probably heard about blockchain. The latest in digital data storage, blockchain technology has revolutionised a number of industries. But it comes with a whole host of issues, particularly as our increasingly digital world looks to develop further…
What is blockchain?
Let’s start at the beginning.
For those who aren’t 100% sure what it actually is (which is most of us, if we’re honest with ourselves!) blockchain is a type of data storage system that allows us to store data in ‘blocks’.
Information (such as payment history or flight details) is added into a block in chronological order until the block is full. Then another block is started, which is attached to the previous block (also in chronological order) to form a ‘chain’. Simple, right?
The benefit of this system of data storage is that it is incredibly easy for a user to find the data they are looking for, by identifying the date and time it was recorded, and thus finding the block it would be located in. This is because each block is time stamped to the exact millisecond it was closed and added to the chain.
How is blockchain so safe?
Blockchain technology prevents data from being lost or changed, because it is incredibly difficult to go back in and edit old data from one computer (or ‘node’) without it being noticed by all of the other ‘nodes’ with access to that blockchain. If this was to happen, the other nodes would flag the change and (as long as at least 51% of the nodes had recorded the same original data) the data would be reverted to its original state.
This means a potential hacker would have to access more than half of the ‘nodes’ in control of that blockchain and make the exact same change and the exact same time to make their hack work. As the majority of blockchains are decentralised (i.e. the nodes are all stored in completely different geographical locations and manned by completely different people/groups of people), this is very difficult. And, even for hackers with the gousto to try this kind of trick, the cost of accessing all of these nodes at the same time would not be worth the benefit of the hack. In short, blockchain is pretty fool-proof!
Why is blockchain so valuable?
Blockchain technology has applications across a range of industries, including cyber security, banking and finance, operations, healthcare, and politics. Here are a few of the benefits of implementing the technology:
Firstly, blockchain has immense applications in banking and finance. This is because it can provide instant and borderless payments across the globe, cutting out the ‘middleman’ that so often slows down (and increases the cost) of the process. The removal of the need for a central authority (or ‘middle man’), can ensure instant access to data for any verified user, without any danger of the data falling into the wrong hands.
It can also provide a transparent and secure way of recording transactions without the need to disclose any private information. This is particularly useful in operations. For example, a supply chain manager can ensure all necessary delivery information is recorded instantly and with accurate time stamps, without releasing any personal information about the delivery drivers, vehicles, or the recipients.
As mentioned in my previous definition, blockchain technology can easily flag any attempt to access or change previously recorded data through a number of decentralized nodes. This means that a node can quickly identify a potentially malicious attack, verify it’s illegitimacy through the other nodes in the network, and shut it down immediately.
Finally, the lack of human interaction with the data held in a blockchain increases the accuracy of data recorded, as there is no room for human error. It also makes it impossible to erase data once recorded, ensuring complete transparency across the entire chain.
What are the dangers of blockchain?
Sounds like a dream, right?
Right now, our blockchain bubble feels pretty untouchable. But, while the list of benefits above means we’re pretty safe with the blockchain of today, there is a digital storm coming that could really rain on our parade. The introduction of quantum computing is rapidly approaching, and it will inevitably bring with it a plethora of problems for blockchain use. This is because quantum computers will have the power and capacity to destroy some of the cryptographic principles behind blockchain. They will also be fast enough to undermine the process of blockchain management completely, removing many (if not all) of the benefits listed above.
What can we do about it?
In order to keep our blockchain systems safe from the incoming quantum computing storm, they will need a bit of an upgrade. Thankfully, there are companies out there using the very technology behind quantum computers to develop solutions that will protect our precious blockchain from the dangers afoot.