Global professional services and consulting giant Accenture has developed a prototype that will enable a central administrator to edit – even expunge – a record on a private blockchain.
In an announcement today, Accenture said it has created “a prototype of a new capability” that will allow one or more designated administrators to edit, rewrite and remove blocks from a permissioned blockchain, without breaking the chain. Patent applications for the prototype’s invention have been filed in the United States and the European Union, by the firm and co-developer Giuseppe Ateniese, a professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey.
The company adds that its prototype will help during “extraordinary circumstances to resolve human errors, accommodate legal and regulatory requirements, and address mischief and other issues, while preserving key cryptographic features.”
Accenture is priming the prototype for industries such as banking, insurance and capital markets.
Richard Lumb, group chief executive of Financial Services at Accenture, argues the need for such a prototype, noting absolutely immutability – a fundamental trait of permissionless ledgers like the Bitcoin and Ethereum blockchains – will be a virtue and a vice when exploring blockchain applications.
In statements, Lumb opines:
For decentralized cryptocurrency systems, such permanent accounting has been crucial in building trust and faith among participants. But for financial services institutions faced with a myriad of risk and regulatory requirements, absolute immutability is a potential roadblock.
Our invention strikes a balance for enterprise use that preserves the fundamental value of the technology while enabling enterprise adoption.
Speaking to the Financial Times (paywall) Lumb said the prototype would have proven a quick solution for the infamous DAO hack.
He sees the prototype as a necessary feature for the likes of regulators who would be able to correct errors on the blockchain prior to its foray into securities markets. According to him, “fat finger” trading errors can be corrected quickly, with the implementation of the prototype.
He told the publication:
This prototype allows you expunge a record completely and we think that will be needed by corporates and regulators.
Lumb recently wrote about the immutability of blockchain technology, by referring to the feature as bitcoin's "downside", in the New York Times.
The means to negating blockchain immutability is achieved due to a tweaked version of the ‘chameleon hash’ – a function which adds a cryptographic algorithm to connect two separate blocks. In its modified state, a central administrator with the required private keys can unlock access to the units in the blockchain, leaving it open to an edit.
An added capability of the prototype will also leave an immutable “scar” as an indicator to reveal any edited block.0
Giuseppe Ateniese, co-developer of the prototype and professor of computer science at the Stevens Institute of Technology heralded the founders of bitcoin for the innovation of blockchain, while adding that the prototype is compatible with current decentralized blockchain frameworks.
The clever work of the bitcoin creators and leaps of progress in applied cryptographic research are opening the door to bold new uses of blockchain
By modifying the traditional ‘chameleon hash’ function we can preserve the strength of the original blockchain while making it even more useful.
Accenture's prototype has found support in Blythe Masters, CEO of New York-based blockchain startup Digital Asset Holdings. Pointing to Accenture's development as one among "several options in the toolbox," she told FT:
But we think it is innovative and can strike the right balance between preserving blockchain’s key features and adapting it for real-world requirements within some permissioned systems.
The prototype is set to be unveiled tomorrow.
Featured image from iStock/Christopher Ames.