Blockchain - A decentralized digital ledger

Blockchain is a decentralized digital ledger that records transactions across a network of computers.

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Leroy Ratnayake

Vice President, Customer Success
South Africa
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Blockchain is a decentralized digital ledger that records transactions across a network of computers. It uses cryptography to secure and validate transactions, allowing for a secure and transparent sharing of information among all participants in the network.

Blockchain technology is a decentralized and distributed database that is shared among a network of users, ensuring that all participants have access to the latest information simultaneously.

Blockchain technology has been a major topic of discussion in the past decade, yet many people may not have a full understanding of what it is or how it functions. Despite its complex reputation, the fundamental concept of blockchain is relatively straightforward. Its potential to revolutionize various industries is undeniable.

Blockchain technology allows for the secure sharing of information by utilizing a distributed database or ledger. Transactions are recorded in a ledger called a blockchain, which is updated by the nodes, or participants, of a public or private computer network. This is known as distributed ledger technology (DLT). Nodes are incentivized with digital tokens or currency to make updates to the blockchain, ensuring its security and integrity. As one of today's top tech trends, blockchain is increasingly being adopted in various industries for its ability to securely store and share data.

The second attribute of blockchain is its ability to provide a permanent and immutable record of data and transactions. This means that once something is recorded on the blockchain, it cannot be altered or deleted. This makes it a highly secure and trustworthy method for recording and exchanging valuable information.

Finally, a blockchain is transparent, meaning that all data and transactions recorded on the blockchain can be viewed by anyone on the network. This allows for increased transparency and accountability, making it a useful tool for a wide range of industries and applications. Overall, blockchain technology makes it possible to securely and transparently exchange anything that has value, whether that is a physical item or something less tangible.

In conclusion, a blockchain is a database that is distributed among a public or private network. The Bitcoin blockchain is one of the most popular public blockchain networks, where anyone can open a wallet or join as a node. On the other hand, private blockchains are more suited for industries such as banking and fintech, where there is a need for strict control over access and data. There are also other variations of blockchains, such as consortium and hybrid blockchains, which blend features of both public and private blockchains.

How does blockchain work?

When information is accessed or modified on a blockchain, it is recorded in a block along with other transactions. These records are protected by unique, unchanging hashes, such as those created using the SHA-256 algorithm. Unlike traditional systems where data may be overwritten, new blocks are added to the existing chain, allowing for easy tracking of any changes. This ensures that the ledger is immutable and any unauthorized modifications are easily identifiable and rejected by the network. The result is a permanent, sequential and transparent record of all transactions, creating a clear audit history and providing insight into previous versions of the blockchain.

When new information is added to the network, the vast majority of nodes must verify and confirm the validity of the new information according to established guidelines or financial incentives, which are referred to as consensus mechanisms. Once a consensus has been reached, a new block is generated and linked to the chain. All nodes are then updated to reflect the most recent version of the blockchain ledger.

In a public blockchain network, the first node to successfully demonstrate the authenticity of a transaction is rewarded with a financial incentive. This process is referred to as "mining."

How can businesses benefit from blockchain?

According to recent studies, the implementation of blockchain and distributed ledger technologies (DLTs) could open up new possibilities for companies. This is because these technologies have the potential to decrease risk and lower compliance expenses, making transactions more cost-effective. Additionally, they can facilitate automated and secure contract execution, as well as enhance network transparency. To further understand these benefits, let's take a closer look at each one.

Lowering risk and reducing compliance costs are key benefits of using distributed ledger technology (DLT) in banking. Traditional "know your customer" (KYC) processes can be costly, with estimates of up to $500 million per year per bank. However, implementing a DLT system could streamline the KYC verification process, resulting in cost savings, improved transparency, and a better customer experience.

In addition, digitizing records and issuing them on a universal ledger can lead to significant time and cost savings. For example, in a letter-of-credit deal, two companies used blockchain technology to trade nearly $100,000 worth of butter and cheese, reducing the process from ten days to less than four hours.

Smart contracts, which are sets of instructions coded into tokens issued on a blockchain, can also automate and secure contract fulfillment. A retailer, for example, used smart contracts to streamline its supply-chain-management efforts, making it easier to trace the provenance of food, reducing human effort, and improving the ability to track lost products.

How might blockchain evolve over time?

Over the next five years, it is projected by Cloudseed that there will be two main areas of growth and advancement in the field of blockchain technology.

The growth of blockchain as a service (BaaS) is a trend in which companies, particularly Big Tech companies, offer cloud-based services for building digital products for distributed ledger technology (DLT) and blockchain environments, eliminating the need for infrastructure setup.

The ability for different blockchain networks and external systems to seamlessly communicate and share data while preserving integrity will be enhanced through interoperability. By implementing hardware standardization and scalable consensus algorithms, cross-network applications such as the Internet of Things can be built on blockchain infrastructure.

These trends are likely to be propelled forward by a combination of factors, including increased pressure from regulators and consumers for greater supply chain transparency and economic uncertainty, which may lead consumers to seek out more independent and centrally regulated systems. Additionally, the success of blockchain pilots launched by large corporations will likely build confidence among consumers and other organizations. However, there are also potential obstacles that could hinder growth in the blockchain industry. For example, some well-known applications may have limited scalability due to energy or infrastructure requirements. Additionally, uncertainty surrounding regulatory or governance developments may discourage some consumers from using blockchain technology. Finally, the ongoing threat of cyberattacks continues to be a concern for potential blockchain users.

How secure is blockchain?

Blockchain is often referred to as a "truth machine" due to its ability to eliminate problems such as piracy and scamming that arose in Web 2.0. However, it is important to note that the technology itself is not infallible. The security of blockchain depends on the integrity of the individuals using it and the accuracy of the data they input.

In 2022, a group of hackers took advantage of this vulnerability by gaining control of more than half of the nodes on the Ronin Network, a gaming-centered blockchain platform. They used this majority to verify fraudulent transactions and stole over $600 million. This incident highlights the need for addressing challenges such as scalability and standardization in the development of blockchain technology. Despite these challenges, the potential for blockchain in both business and society remains significant.

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