Every once in a while, a major news story breaks that reaffirms the reason why blockchain technology exists and why (despite the current market sentiment) solutions like Bitcoin are the future. The recent hacks at Quora and Marriott are a perfect example of this.
On December 3rd, it was reported that a data breach on the most famous question and answer platform Quora had exposed 100 million users’ personal information. The founder, Adam D’Angelo, stated that they had discovered the “unauthorized access to one of our systems by a malicious third party,” on Friday.
As usually is the case, the company alerted authorities and stated that they were “working rapidly to investigate the situation further and take the appropriate steps to prevent such incidents in the future.”
Just a week earlier, it was reported that Marriott Hotels was also the victim of a hack that led to the theft of personal data of as much as 500 million customers of its Starwood hotels. This incident puts Marriott at the second place on the respectable list of biggest data hacks of all time (Yahoo is leading with 3 billion users data exposed, while Quora is on the 10th place).
Investigators are now speculating that Chinese hackers were behind Marriott’s data breach, and as for Quora, the assailants are still unidentified.
What these two incidents point out are the apparent vulnerabilities that centralized databases are exposed to. A Centralized database has a single point of failure, which means that no matter how robust the security protocols are, all it needs is one single breach for the whole structure to become compromised.
And Here Comes The Blockchain
Blockchains, on the other hand, are decentralized, meaning that the data is stored across a distributed network of computers with no single point of failure.
“What makes Blockchain hack proof is the millions of users of Blockchain. They make it difficult for anyone to corrupt the network. Each block has a timestamp, and a link to the previous block forming a chronological chain reinforced through cryptography, ensuring others can not alter the records.” Source
In order for a hacker to take over the Bitcoin’s blockchain, for example, he would have to overpower the entire network in what’s known as a ‘51% attack’.
It’s an attack where an attacker acquires more than 51% of a network’s hash rate, which lets him disrupt its normal operation. However, attacking the network is very costly.
According to FreedomNode, “To successfully launch a 51% attack, the attacker would need more than 478,400 hardware units which cost roughly $1,004,669,000. To power the attack, you’d need to pay around $1,578,000 in electricity each day (including cooling)”
The costlier it gets, the more secure the blockchain network is, because it deters most hackers from ever attempting to attack it. For this reason, the Bitcoin blockchain is highly secured and has never been hacked (as of writing this).
Companies like Quora and Marriott should consider developing private Blockchains where their data can be stored across a distributed network of permissioned computer nodes. These nodes would have specific access privileges to prevent all of the companies data from being accessible to everyone. At the same time, the decentralization will make it much harder to attack because it would require a hacker to overpower all the computer nodes at once, which would be far more costly than the data inside is worth.