Blockchain technology has been around for nearly a decade now, and what started as a tamperproof system for logging cryptocurrency transactions is becoming valuable in other ways as well.
Uses have been found in finance, intellectual property management, government, secure online communication, and even decentralized cloud storage. Blockchains store every single point of contact that a piece of data has, and it can't be modified—until now.
A new day for blockchain?
Accenture, working with computer science professor Dr. Giuseppe Ateniese, has made a major advancement in blockchain technology: It has figured out how to edit blocks. Cryptocurrency advocates don't need to worry: this only works in permissioned blockchain systems.
SEE: Blockchain: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)
Permissionless blockchains, like those used by Bitcoin, can't be edited by anyone. That kind of permanence is essential to cryptocurrencies working, but for private businesses or governments that are starting to use blockchains a read-only system can be a major hinderance.
"... for financial services institutions faced with a myriad of risk and regulatory requirements, absolute immutability is a potential roadblock," Accenture's Richard Lumb says. This new technology is designed to make up for human errors and other mistakes and can only be used in very specific circumstances.
How editable blockchain works
Accenture's new system, which has already been filed for patent in the US and EU, gives edit rights to only a few users on the system. It functions through the use of a modified chameleon hash that allows block modification without affecting the links in the chain itself.
Editors will be able to remove blocks completely, make basic changes, or add information that may have been left out. That doesn't mean someone can make changes without being noticed: Every modification leaves a permanent mark in the blockchain.
Coming to a server near you?
Dr. Ateniese has high hopes for editable blockchains. "... we can preserve the strength of the original blockchain while making it even more useful. Unlike a traditional database, our solution is compatible with current blockchain frameworks and works in a decentralized and accountable environment."
SEE: Why your next storage solution may depend on blockchain (TechRepublic)
In the future editable blockchain could be used to make data retention policies easier to implement, help maintain privacy with less effort, and even make the right to be forgotten within the realm of possibility.
While it will likely take time to fully develop and implement editable blockchains in existing businesses it is still a distinctly possible part of the future of business technology. Security is a fundamental—perhaps the most fundamental—part of today's digital world, and the more we can control it the better.
The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers
- Permissioned blockchains could be easy to edit under Accenture's new system, paving the way for more blockchain applications.
- Accenture used a modification of the chameleon hash function to allow changes to blocks without disrupting the chain.
- Editable blockchains won't affect cryptocurrency at all: those blockchains are completely permissionless and uneditable.
- Blockchain could bring electronic voting to Australia by 2017 (TechRepublic)
- Sydney Stock Exchange to implement 'instant' blockchain-based settlements (ZDNet)
- Five big myths about the Bitcoin blockchain (TechRepublic)
- How blockchain technology can transform our world (ZDNet)
- Inside the tech that could "change the face of modern finance" (CBS News)
Brandon Vigliarolo has nothing to disclose. He does not hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Brandon writes about apps and software for TechRepublic. He's an award-winning feature writer who previously worked as an IT professional and served as an MP in the US Army.