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More and more frequently, we hear about blockchain - and bitcoin -, but perhaps not everyone knows its meaning and way of operation. What, then, is this technology designed to create a new Internet and how can it help to increase the safety levels of certain systems and processes?
What is blockchain and how does it work?
Maybe, it is better to start immediately with the explanation that Valeria Portale, director of the Blockchain & Distributed Ledger Observatory of the Politecnico di Milano
, gives us:
“The blockchain system is based on a distributed database that is both accessible to all and immutable. In practice, it guarantees that the information linked to that element has not been modified and is therefore secure”.
Even if the blockchain has become famous because of the bitcoins, it is essentially a database distributed among millions of users in the world, where a series of transactions are recorded (called blocks)
: each node (a computer connected to the network) receives a copy of the registry automatically. In this way, it is possible to keep track of the transactions between two parties in a verifiable, permanent and secure way - since no recorded data can be altered.
The 4 key concepts of the blockchain
Some say that the blockchain is the first, great invention of this century and that in the coming years we will not be able to do without it. Its revolutionary significance is essentially based on four key concepts that make this technology a powerful mix of opportunities destined to change our lives.
Safety: thanks to the fact that it is a shared, decentralized, distributed and encrypted database with precise security rules, all users can verify what happens at any time;
Immutability: the blockchain is able to guarantee the absolute immutability and incorruptibility of all information, in fact, participants are only allowed to add information, but they cannot alter or modify those that have already been stored and validated by the Network. This could only happen with the consensus of the Network majority;
Consensus: being an archive open to all participants, it can only be changed with the consensus of all users;
Transparency: the blockchain is an open and transparent technology because the participants can see all the operations at any time.
These concepts, together with others such as trust, community, cryptography and sharing are the core of a complex innovation that has been used above all for cryptocurrencies, but it can be applied in many other sectors, in particular those related to security.
Although its origins are linked to the world of finance, actually its applications embrace different areas. Currently, the sector that is most changing thanks to this technology is that of security and cybersecurity.
Due to its characteristics, the systems based on blockchain technology are particularly suitable to make safer and transparent:
- exchanges of information and data, including their management;
- payments and financial transactions;
- digital identity protection systems;
- access to home banking services, or other online services provided by the Public Administration.
In this regard, the engineers of the giant Microsoft for some time are working on a technology that can use the public blockchain, to make unhackable our digital identity
, through encryption, while many startups are already experimenting with this revolutionary authentication method to allow users to access their accounts without having to use passwords - more easily subject to hacking - and to raise the protection levels of their online identity.