Editing the Blockchain: Stevens Computer Scientist Giuseppe Ateniese
A new invention by Stevens professor Giuseppe Ateniese could propel one of digital currency’s core technologies, the blockchain, further forward into the public eye via adoption by banks, financial exchanges and other real-world applications.
The blockchain is a huge network of globally interconnected computers, processing and passing along transactions in an enormous running ledger, or chain. Transactions cannot be altered at any step: even a single change in the data shuts down a transaction.
But this no-changes-allowed rule, essential to security and trust, makes blockchain a highly cumbersome way to process transactions. Any errors, updates or instances of fraud must be corrected by the addition of information to the chain, which over time bloats the chain significantly and slows the flow of information.
That’s why Ateniese stepped in and, working with Accenture, devised a new way to edit the transaction chain — something previously thought impossible.
His technology works by modifying the blockchain’s “hash” function to unlock the single link between an affected block and the next block. Information can be rewritten or removed for certain reasons, and the original chain remains intact but with mistakes updated and corrections propagated forward.
Any changes made using the new technique are clearly marked in the chain as they happen — notifications that become permanent.
In addition, only permitted administrators can edit the data blocks, says Ateniese — and administrators are typically very high-level institutions and organizations such as the Supreme Court, privacy organizations or financial regulators, rather than individuals.
The invention “preserves the fundamental value of the technology, while enabling enterprise adoption,” says Richard Lumb, group chief executive for financial services at Accenture, which will continue to work with Stevens to refine and deploy the technology in financial and other industries.