What Is Blockchain Immutability? – A Secure Tamper Proof Database

Krisha breaks down the concept of blockchain immutability. In addition, she also explains the importance of a blockchain being tamper-proof to claim 'Immutability' , and 'why' being immutable is important to many.

It was the devastating effects of the 2008 financial crisis that gave way to the rise of blockchain technology, in particular, the bitcoin blockchain.

The bitcoin blockchain is revolutionary because it enables the world to transact without the need of a middleman. This elimination of the centuries old middleman was partly due to one inherent property of the bitcoin blockchain - Immutability

Lets breakdown the term: Immutable

  • Immutable in the dictionary is - “Unchanging over time or unable to be changed

  • Immutable in blockchain is - "The inability of a block to be deleted or modified once it is in the blockchain" - An immutable ledger

​​​​You’re probably wondering: 
" Why is blockchain immutability so important in knocking off the middleman anyways? "

It is the property of  immutability  in the Bitcoin blockchain that gives users the assurance that their wealth and information cannot be tampered with. Such an “assurance” is normally given to us by middlemen - Banks, Schools etc. And we often take them up on that assurance, and bestow our trust upon them.

Unlike middlemen, you don’t have to trust the bitcoin blockchain to be sure your wealth and information will be protected - It is a trustless system. And an Immutable blockchain allows for that. In fact, it is one of the key pillar stones of the Bitcoin blockchain.

Immutable Blockchain: Tamper Proof vs Tamper Evident

Blockchain Immutability is often misunderstood – even among industry enthusiasts. To truly understand the essence of blockchain immutability, we need to clear out the confusion between Tamper Evident & Tamper Proof.

  • Tamper Evident - An object cannot be tampered with, without it going unnoticed

  • Tamper Proof - An object cannot be tampered with

To be truly Immutable, you need to be Tamper PROOF. Being Tamper Evident is not enough. Several Blockchains falsely claim immutability when they are merely Tamper Evident.

If you were tasked to come up with a list of things that cannot be changed, and is indeed Tamper Proof, you probably wouldn’t get very far (Go ahead! Give it a shot). Almost everything is susceptible to change, and things that are susceptible to change cannot be Tamper Proof.

Blockchain Immutability Is Relative

To put into perspective, lets go over a few rudimentary things we deal with on an everyday basis:

Try squeezing out all the toothpaste from a tube, and putting it back in. It’d be difficult, tedious, and evident that it has been tampered with - It would be Tamper Evident

Emails that have been sent out cannot be “un-sent”. Although, through an individual perspective, emails can be quite “immutable”. However, you can always persuade the recipient of the email, or the person running the mail server to delete it. Once again, difficult, and not without risk of detection - This too, is Tamper Evident

Notice how even the most immutable things on an individual perspective can be changed someway or the other. The only difference is that somethings are harder to change than others - Immutability is relative.

Everything can be changed. To say something can never be changed, is us discounting the progress of technology.

How Is A Blockchain Immutable? - The Maximum Degree Of Difficulty

At this point you’re probably wondering, “Alright, if everything CAN be changed, how exactly is the bitcoin blockchain immutable?

Since almost everything can be changed, we define "Immutability" in practical terms:
" The maximum degree of difficulty to change something "

  • Essentially, How difficult is it to edit the bitcoin blockchain? 

  • Hard?
  • Super Hard?
  • The hardest thing to change in the world?

The Bitcoin Blockchain lies at that maximum degree of difficulty - It is, currently, one of the most difficult things to change in the world. Making it the highest standard of security achieved thus far.

Most people, when asked, cite “the blockchain” as the reason behind Bitcoin's Immutable nature. However, it isn’t the "blockchain" that makes bitcoin immutable, but its Proof of Work consensus method. 

The Proof Of Work that backs the Bitcoin Network is what makes it’s blockchain “the hardest thing to change in the world”. The "Work", aka electricity/hashpower, earned bitcoin its badge of Maximum Immutability. (So to speak - will discuss this more in a separate post).

  • For now, it’s important to note that Blockchains are inherently Tamper Evident due to the underlying data structure, but not all blockchains are Tamper Proof.​​ Only a tamper-proof blockchain can be immutable.

Bitcoin Blockchain - The Immutable, Tamper Proof Ledger

Immutability is relative depending on how difficult it is to change something. The scale of immutability can be measured from  "0" -- to -- “The most difficult thing to change in the world”.

As it stands, the most difficult thing to change in the world is the Bitcoin blockchain. It is the highest standard of security that has been achieved thus far. Remember, the Proof of Work is what makes the bitcoin blockchain tamper proof - it is what makes the blockchain immutable.

If another, superior technology, were to break the scale of immutability - the scale would reset, and a new standard of immutability will be defined.

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About the author

Krisha Aranha

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