What does the term ‘Blockchain Immutability’ mean?

Immutability refers to the innate capacity of a blockchain ledger to remain unalterable, permanent, and tamper-proof at all times.

A number of articles surrounding blockchain technology regularly make use of the term ‘immutability’ but what does the concept actually entail? In its most basic sense, immutability refers to the ability of a blockchain platform to maintain a record of transactions that are permanent, indelible, and unalterable in any shape or form. This, in essence, is what makes blockchain technology so attractive to individuals operating within a host of different industrial sectors, ranging from healthcare to telecommunications to supply chain management.

From a monetary standpoint, blockchains can completely revamp today’s auditing processes into a quick, efficient, and cost-effective procedure, thus potentially ushering in a new era of trust and integrity across the global business landscape. This is especially useful when one understands that a vast number of companies pay billions of dollars each year to third-party agencies to facilitate their internal audits.

A technical look at the concept 

As pointed out earlier, immutability refers to the ability of a blockchain-based ledger to remain unchanged at all times without exception. In this regard, each block that is part of such a decentralized ledger contains transactional data that is stored in the form of a cryptographic alphanumeric string.

Every block contains a separate hash (i.e. a unique digital signature) as well as the cryptographic info of all the blocks that came before it. As a result of this coupling, it is possible to obtain a high level of security since if any alteration is attempted in relation to even one block, then the point of intrusion can be easily identified — especially since the exact same data is contained in all of the blocks within the blockchain. 

In addition to this, another facet of immutability to grasp fully is its relationship with the idea of ‘community consensus’. To elaborate on this point, we can see that whenever data has to be stored on a blockchain, it can only be done so after the ecosystem’s nodes are able to reach a majority consensus amongst themselves.

Advantages of maintaining an immutable system

Straight off the bat, the biggest advantage of a blockchain system is that it does not allow for its native data to be modified or deleted easily. To tamper with data contained in such a system, users will have to not only have to make changes to the information contained in each block individually but also have to force a majority of the nodes operating within the ecosystem to go rogue simultaneously.

Also, in the rare instance that an illegal change actually happens, it is extremely easy for experts to trace back the nefarious deed to the individual responsible for facilitating it. This is because a detailed log of every modification is duly noted within the ledger, thus enabling analysts to quickly identify the chain of alterations with the touch of a button.

Lastly, thanks to the immutability of blockchains, they can be employed in relation to many of today’s existing supply chain systems, allowing for the traceability of all the items that are present within the chain seamlessly. Similarly, as pointed out earlier, immutable ledgers also allow for thorough accounting, thereby making the process of auditing extremely efficient and cost-effective.

Challenges to immutability

Though, by and large, blockchain platforms are immutable, there are certain challenges that can potentially make this mechanism a bit compromised at times. In this regard, “51 percent attacks” pose such a threat. Simply put, these attacks can be initiated when a hacker is able to gain computing dominance over all of the other nodes present in the network. If such an attack is successfully initiated, hackers can potentially reverse high-value transactions, netting handsome profits in the process.

Lastly, a highly specific challenge that arises in relation to blockchain immutability is that of hacking via ‘quantum computing’. On the topic, researchers working for IBM have suggested that once quantum computing devices become increasingly available in the market, it will enable hackers to reverse-engineer the public key of a blockchain network, thereby making infiltrations possible.

Key Takeaways

  • Immutability refers to the innate capacity of a blockchain ledger to remain unalterable, permanent, and tamper-proof at all times.
  • Data contained in a blockchain is stored using certain cryptographic techniques, thus allowing for a high level of data security and integrity.
  • The immutability of a blockchain, in certain rare cases, can be compromised as a result of ‘51 percent attacks’ and ‘quantum computing hacks’.
  • Immutability makes the process of data verification and auditing extremely streamlined, thus allowing companies to save on a lot of money.

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