What is an immutable ledger in blockchain and what are its benefits?

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Blockchain technology has drastically changed how we store and transfer digital data, and one of its fundamental features is immutability. Immutability means information, once recorded, cannot be modified or erased due to cryptographic hashes. 

In this blog, we will delve into the concept of immutability and how it is achieved in blockchain technology. We’ll also discuss its advantages, disadvantages, and implications.

Types of digital assets and their main features

Immutability refers to the inability of information stored on the blockchain network to be changed once recorded. It is a crucial feature of Bitcoin and blockchain technology. For blockchains to be immutable, they follow a complex blockchain hashing process and cryptography. Since blockchains are immutable, they ensure transparency and security, making them an excellent platform for transactions. The records on the blockchain cannot be tampered with, helping prevent fraud due to the manipulation or falsification of data stored. Immutability reduces the time and expense of audits as verifying data gets easier and more efficient. Although immutability has several advantages, there are also shortcomings which we will discuss going ahead in the blog.

What makes blockchain immutable?

Blockchain’s immutability arises from cryptographic algorithms that are used to secure information and data stored. All the data is stored in a block and contains a specific cryptographic hash representing its data. Crypto hashing is a process in which the plaintext input creates a unique hash value as an output. The length of hashes remains constant irrespective of input properties.

For example, while using the Secure Hashing Algorithm 256 (SHA-256), the input is first converted to binary before undergoing encryption. If we input the word ‘Hello’ into SHA-256, the output generated will consist of 64 characters, which is the same length as the outputs for ‘Hello world’ and ‘Hello John.’

These blocks cannot be modified, as reversing the hashing algorithm is complex. The hash value acts as electronic identification or digital signature during data transactions across a network and is valuable for ensuring data accuracy.

What are the benefits of immutability?

  • Data security

Immutability protects the integrity of data in the blockchain. Data cannot be edited, deleted, or transferred after being recorded, ensuring the security and accuracy of information. Individuals and businesses often consider blockchains an option for storing sensitive data.

  • Auditing efficiency

Immutability provides benefits like efficient auditing. When data is immutable, any alterations made to a transaction are recorded permanently, making it easier to track and audit transactions. Therefore, it reduces the possibility of fraudulent activities and increases transparency.

  • New opportunities

Immutability creates new opportunities for businesses to innovate. For instance, companies can use smart contracts, which they can write directly into lines of code, to conduct transactions between buyers and sellers or to manage supply chains and real estate transactions.

  • Dispute prevention

Immutability helps prevent disputes as all the transactions are recorded permanently. The data integrity and source can be checked using blockchain technology. This feature is particularly beneficial in insurance claims and real estate transactions.

What are the challenges of immutability?

While the immutability of blockchain is known to ensure data security, there can be certain cases when the sensitive data stored can be prone to attacks. The biggest challenge posed by immutability is the inability to correct mistakes in the data once it has been added to the blockchain. This can cause harm when there is a legal requirement to scrap certain information. Here are two challenges that immutability in blockchain face:

  • 51 percent attack

The 51 percent attack can alter the immutability of the blockchain. In this kind of attack, a single entity or organisation can take control of the blockchain’s hashing power, causing disruption. The attacker must control over 50% of the network‘s hash rate to gain control. Hence, the attack is called a 51% attack. With such power, the attacker can block new transactions or even reverse transactions, which leads to a double spending attack.

  • Quantum computing

Quantum computing is a big challenge to cryptography in the blockchain industry. It can reverse-engineer the public key of a blockchain network and discover private keys to hack the system. Quantum computing can overpower blockchain cryptography, leading to cryptocurrency thefts. A Deloitte study confirmed that 25% of bitcoin could be vulnerable to cyber-attacks as of 2020, costing approximately $40 billion at the time.

Conclusion

Immutability is a key feature of blockchain technology that differentiates it from traditional databases – where information can be manipulated or erased easily. The immutable nature of blockchain records ensures that the security, transparency, and efficiency of transactions is always maintained. These benefits have broadened the use cases of blockchain technology across industries like finance, healthcare, and supply chain management. While blockchain technology is not always 100% immutable and could be prone to attacks, ensuring proper systems are in place to counter malicious activity can help prevent such disruptions. It is therefore essential for businesses and organisations to embrace blockchain technology’s full potential while also managing immutability’s shortfalls.

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