Tuesday, August 7, 2018

What is Blockchain and The Use of Blockchain Technology in Cybersecurity

Think you're secure just by virtue of the fact that you're using "blockchain technology"?  Think again!

However, before you dive into the article at the end of my post, I think it's important to reiterate what "blockchain" is and what it isn't.  Because I'm always hearing the words "decentralized" and "immutable" when someone explains or tries to define blockchain.  It also seems as though everyone looks at blockchain technology as the solution to all problems.

The short response to both of the preceding sentences is - it's not.  At least not always.

Here's my rudimentary brain's understanding:

Simply put, a blockchain is a digital ledger that can be programmed to record almost anything (of value).  So where do the words, "decentralized" and "immutable" (unchangeable), come into play?  These two concepts are really intertwined or at least they should be to actually work. 

You see, "decentralized" means there is no owner or controlling entity in place to dictate validation or recording of transactions or records - it's distributed amongst many computers, known as nodes or, more popularly, miners, that solve extremely difficult math problems (known as cryptography) all over the world and owned by various individuals and entities. 

The immutable part comes into play with the structure of the blockchain.  Each block contains information from the previous block.  In order to change a block, you would have to (1) change the rules of the particular blockchain in question and (2) change all the blocks after the block you want to change.  In order to change the rules, you need control or, in the case of Bitcoin's blockchain, 51% (lovingly referred to as a 51% attack).  Therefore, while change is NOT impossible, it's extremely improbable. 

As you can see, the immutability is directly tied to a blockchain being decentralized.  If the blockchain is not controlled by one person or entity, change is improbable.  Which brings me to my last question, which is NOT rhetorical - I'd actually like an answer or two.  If a company (let's pick on JP Morgan) decides to develop its own internal "blockchain" which it controls and for which it solely validates and records all transactions - is it really a blockchain?  Or is it just another database being called a blockchain? 

Also, please feel free to correct any statements I'm making that are wrong.  As always, these are my personal opinions and observations, not to be relied on by anyone.  :)

Thanks for being patient.  Now, here's that article I promised:

Blockchain only as strong as its weakest link

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