The complexities of Blockchain technology have raised the barriers to widespread implementation in organisational settings. Yet, blockchain is here to stay due to its intrinsic decentralised nature, allowing visionary companies to tread unchartered territories in data safety and security.
The Big Data generation is upon us. Each day, massive amounts of data are produced by every single organisation around the world. This large collection of data typically includes photos, presentations, electronic mails, online data transactions and many other sources that are stored in a single location or in cloud database servers. But data is just data if not properly analysed. Through data analytics, valuable insights can be garnered.
High-value industries such as education, banking, finance, healthcare and retail are already transforming these enormous amounts of data into insightful business information worth millions in revenue. However, storing and analysing such massive amounts of valuable data is not only challenging, it is also risky. Furthermore, the data that goes into any sort of analysis needs to be trustworthy and secure, or else the resulting analytics will be flawed. There needs to be checks and safeguards in place to ensure the data is not altered.
Furthermore, technological advancement is a double-edged sword. While it helps industries grow, it also paves the way for cybercriminals to augment their data-spying and stealing techniques. High-quality security is therefore essential to keep databases safe. This is where blockchain technology shines.
Blockchain technology relies on three major security principles: Provenance, Encryption and the Distributed Ledger.
Immutability of Data Provenance
Let’s break down blockchain’s breakthrough technology for data immutability.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
Immutability: not susceptible to change
Provenance: Origin, source; the history of ownership of a valued object or work of art or literature
Put together, it means the history of data is not susceptible to change. That is because blockchain ledger records cannot be changed. Entries can be added, but never deducted, helping to keep data secure and useable for the long run.
Blockchain is structured in such a way that data inputs are like brick blocks in a wall. Starting from the foundation, each data input can be viewed as a single brick. Each additional data input is another brick. Before long, you will have a wall of data. Just like a construction project, each brick within the wall adds to the strength of that structure, making it is near impossible to remove a brick from this wall without it being obvious, damaged and unsightly. Similarly, with blockchain, historical data is permanently recorded and can never be erased.
As with most databases, blockchain not only records the relevant data and its owner. It can also capture information about the time, place and location of each data. By recording data provenance, blockchain helps to maintain the accuracy and integrity of all data inputted. In other words, it safeguards the source of the authors and circumvents the constant need to investigate the trustworthiness of the sources. Obvious examples of the need for data integrity can be seen in the development of Machine Learning and A.I. products, which uses existing historical data to build on future trends and predictions.
Authentication and Private Keys
To fully understand the high levels of data security blockchains offer, understanding the mechanics of blockchain ledgers becomes necessary. Blockchain ledgers can operated by two keys – public and private.
Public and private keys play a critical role in the security of any blockchain ledger. The public key can be considered the raw information contained on a blockchain network. It is basically a mathematical equation with certain key pieces of information hidden – much like algebra, where values are masked by the values ‘x’ and ‘y’. Any diligent grade 9 student could work out an algebra equation; they can structure it in a way that tells them a close approximation, but they will never know the absolute answer unless they know what ‘x’ and ‘y’ is. That is where the private encryption key comes into play. Private encryption keys reveal the answer to these valuable pieces of information (value of ‘x’ and ‘y’), and it is kept secret by those who have authenticated access to the distributed ledger (usually the owners of the data) for this very reason.
The private encryption key helps to keep sensitive data secret when it needs to be. Hybrid blockchains allow open collaboration between organisations working on open raw data, while also allowing for sensitive private findings to be encrypted and hidden from external third parties.
Undeletable Data and the Distributed Ledger
Blockchain or the distributed ledger technology has been hailed as one of the best ways to keep protected data in the future. It is referred to as a distributed ledger because the information contained within a blockchain network is distributed across several nodes. That means it lacks a central point of vulnerability that computer hackers can exploit.
Each ‘block’ within a blockchain ledger contains the same information as every block that was entered before it. Even if a hacker manages to change the information contained within one single block, every other block would contain the original information. That means that hacker would need to change the information contained in every single block before they can alter the records. While hackers can theoretically alter the data contained within an entire blockchain, they would require obscene amounts of computing power to do so. They would need to rewrite every other block within that blockchain, something quite unfeasible on a large ledger.
Something to keep in mind
While no database is 100% safe in this day and age, the blockchain technology is proving to be a secure alternative for data distribution despite being currently limited by computing power and connectivity between nodes.
As technological evolution presses on, the technology will mature. The impending reality will not only present immense potential for secure data sharing, but will also reduce the need for centralised data storage.
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