When it comes to most technologies, we know about the basic functions they perform. But, a sizeable portion of users scarcely express any interest in understanding the technology at play. For example – when we talk about sending an email, we all know that the data we send is received by the recipient unless the transfer fails, which leaves us with the obvious option of clicking the “Retry” button. But how many of us know about the various protocols and the technicalities involved?
Similar is the case with Blockchain. We all know that the data is immutable, transparent and the entire system is very tough to hack. But how many of us know the reason why Blockchain is so secure? Now let’s try and understand some of the features that make Blockchain an extremely secure option of storing your data.
In today’s world, as the number of cyber-attacks is constantly on the rise, security is paramount as most of our data is digitally stored. The most noteworthy feature that makes Blockchain secure is that it is based on a completely trust-less system. The permissions to read and write the data on the Blockchain are equally distributed among all the users connected to the network and no user is given any special privileges when it comes to making any decision.
Before Blockchain, the sharing of information in real-time without the requirement of trust was not possible. The advent of Blockchain successfully solved the ‘Byzantine General’s problem’, a name given to a problem concerning the major drawbacks of a distributed consensus system. In the Byzantine General’s problem, it is assumed that a General commanding multiple units (five, in our case), is about to launch an attack on a city. If all the General’s units launch an attack at the same time, they will win. If any unit defects or retreats, the attack fails.
The messenger sent by the General needs to deliver the message to all the units. Now a traitorous Commander, third to receive the message, that we’d call ‘X’ might change the command sent by the General without the knowledge of the messenger. The two Commanders receiving the message after ‘X’ believe that the message is in the words of the General. But in fact, it is the edited message sent by ‘X’. This would lead to a failed attack due to poor co-ordination between the various units.
Blockchain successfully solved this problem by introducing a concept called the ‘Proof of Work’, which made it essential for each message sender to attach a history of all previous messages and ‘spend some time’ on the same, which is fixed at 10 minutes.
The purpose of ‘spending some time’ is to ensure that the sender has put in some effort in writing the message and to make it easy to identify malicious or incorrect data. A very basic example in the case of the Byzantine General’s Problem would be where each Commander is required to write the numbers 1-500 before confirming and sending the message to the next Commander. It would certainly take some time to write the numbers but the verification of the same would be quick and easy.
Now, since the time each Commander can spend on the message is fixed at ten minutes, ‘X’ would have to change his message and the messages the two Commanders who attested to the message before him because the ‘Proof of Work’ concept requires a history of all previous messages to be uploaded too. Now, to successfully change the message, ‘X’ would have to do twenty minutes of work plus his own ten minutes, amounting to a total of thirty minutes’ worth of work in the ten minutes allotted to him. This way, altering the attested data is practically impossible as even if ‘X’ does upload an incorrect message, the rest of the Commanders can ignore the incorrect message and follow the one attested by most Commanders.
The decentralized structure of Blockchain also adds to the security it offers. No single user or organization is given supreme control of the database. Having a decentralized design, it does not have a single point of failure. Even the loss of power or the total failure of a few devices connected to the Blockchain network won’t have any effect on the data stored since the entire Blockchain database or some parts of it are stored across all the devices connected to the Blockchain network.
Since Blockchain is decentralized, it cannot be controlled by the Government. Government intervention usually results in some domains and websites being shut down as the Government believes such websites are not working in accordance with the established rules and regulations. The most famous example in recent times being the search engine Torrentz.eu. At present, torrent sites are the closest thing to a decentralized system on this scale.
Also, the data stored on the Blockchain is cryptographically secure and the public-private key cryptography used ensures that the data is received only by those it is intended for. The cryptographic techniques also help the users maintain privacy by allowing them to remain pseudo-anonymous while sending and receiving data across the network. Due to its decentralized architecture and the cryptographic coding used in its design, the Blockchain network is mathematically very tough to hack into as the cost of hacking such a system skyrockets where the data stored on each node is properly synchronized with the entire database.
All the above features make Blockchain a practical option for a user who wishes to store his data digitally without the risk of losing it. The data stored on a Blockchain will always be there and it cannot be edited or tampered with in any manner. New or updated data can only be appended onto the Blockchain later.
Realizing the plethora of advanced features of security offered by Blockchain, many companies have started investing heavily in the research and development of Blockchain based applications. Blockchain is slowly being integrated into our daily lives as companies are exploring both fintech and non-fintech applications of this wonderful technology which might completely change the way we look at digital data storage.
About the author: Nikunj Jain is CSO and Co-Founder, Darwin Labs, an Indian startup developing solutions in technologies including Blockchain, Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence.
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