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What is a Blockchain? Securely Tracking Tangible and Intangible Assets in a Decentralized World

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

By Jaya Bijoor

A blockchain is a shared, immutable, can’t be changed, database of transactions that is updated and shared across many computers in a network.

Blockchain records transactions and tracks asset exchanges.

An asset that a blockchain can track can be

  • Tangible (a house, art, car, land)

  • Intangible (intellectual property, patents, copyrights, branding)

Every time a new set of transactions is added, it’s called a “block” and these transactions are linked together in a chain–this is where the word “blockchain” comes from.

While any conventional database can store this type of information, blockchain technology is unique in that it’s totally decentralized. Rather than being maintained in one location, by a centralized administrator—think of a bank—many identical copies of a blockchain database are held on multiple computers spread out across a network. These individual computers are referred to as nodes.

A majority of nodes must verify and confirm the legitimacy of the new data before a new block can be added to the ledger. This is why blockchain is considered highly secure. Once there is consensus to add a block, the block is added to the chain and the underlying transactions are recorded in the distributed ledger. Transactions are typically secured using cryptography, meaning the nodes need to solve complex mathematical equations to process a transaction.

Public Blockchains vs Private Blockchains

  • Public blockchains such as Ethereum allow anyone to add but not remove data. If a developer wants to alter any of the information or cheat the system, they would need to do so on most computers on the network. This makes decentralized blockchains such as Ethereum highly secure. In a public blockchain, anyone can participate meaning they can read, write or audit the data on the blockchain. This makes it difficult to alter transactions logged in a public blockchain as no single source controls the nodes.

  • However, a private blockchain is controlled by an organization or entity. Only this authority can decide who is invited to the system plus it has the control to revert and alter the blockchain. This private blockchain process is more similar to an in-house data storage system except the blockchain is distributed multiple nodes to maintain security.



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