Best practices for securing content on blockchain-based systems

Blockchain is already being used to secure transactions in the cryptocurrency space and banking/financial sectors, but its security capabilities are boundless and ever-evolving. Blockchain has the potential to change how we manage data and content.

Data storage is traditionally done using databases, with the idea that the central repository of information is easier to access and analyze. A “master copy” of the content is updated by those with permission to do so, and every login or view will show that single copy. The database is maintained by administrators, who provide permission and access as necessary. However, a single, central housing of valuable data is also vulnerable to attacks, fraud, theft and human error.

Blockchain, for the sake of security, will complete additional actions as compared to using a traditional database. This means that it will, block by block, verify every step of a transaction or every piece of content shared, and all parties involved are tasked with that maintenance.

This protocol, while adding multiple levels of security, typically slows down the process when you compare blockchain to using a traditional database. However, smart contracts can be utilized to increase the speed of transactions via blockchain technology. Smart contracts are self-executing, requiring no middleman or central authority to carry them out, which reduces the time to completion.

Blockchain is commonly a public distributed ledger in order to give transparency and editing and authorization power to all parties. However, for an added level of security, it is also possible to utilize a permission-based blockchain.

This kind of blockchain requires permission to view or make changes to the information, and limits who can make transactions or write new blocks into the chain. Or the developer can choose to make viewing public, but editing permission-based. If you trust all the parties involved in the chain, then all you need to maintain is confidentiality, so you can require permission to read but not to write. Each element can require different authorizations according to the developers’ preferences and needs.

The difference between a permission blockchain and simply a shared ledger is in the requirement of “proof of work,” the usually expensive and complex computation and encryption process involved in facilitating blockchain transactions. Also referred to as “mining,” this investment of time and money in a blockchain is meant to ensure that all parties involved have a stake in the stability of the chain and can therefore be trusted to maintain it accurately.

Crypto- and blockchain experts debate about the privatization of a technology based on being public and transparent, however, each type of blockchain can serve different needs. If you’re protecting financial information across a large network of investors who don’t know each other, it makes sense to secure the content with a permissioned blockchain. Simple transactions between trusted parties can be authorized by a public blockchain like Ethereum, with no need for permissions.

At this stage of its development, blockchain offers different levels of security which can be adapted according to the particulars of the parties involved and the needs of the transaction. The key is to seek out established technologies and verify their security measures, as all blockchains are not created equal and there is little regulation and oversight. Even so, blockchain technology can still offer levels of security that databases simply can’t match.