A smart contract is a computer code that can be built into blockchain to facilitate, verify, or negotiate a contract agreement. Smart contracts operate under a set of conditions that users agree to. When those conditions are met, the terms of the agreement are automatically carried out. Say, for example, I’m renting you my apartment using a smart contract. I agree to give you the door code to the apartment as soon as you pay me your security deposit. Both of us would send our portion of the deal to the smart contract, which would hold onto and automatically exchange my door code for your security deposit on the date of the rental. If I don’t supply the door code by the rental date, the smart contract refunds your security deposit. This eliminates the fees that typically accompany using a notary or third-party mediator.
An online bitcoin wallet is a wallet hosted in the cloud. You access the wallet through a website, from any computer, where you can deposit and withdraw funds from your bitcoin wallet. The advantage is that you do not need to install any software on your computer or download the entire blockchain, which is currently more than 30 gigabyte. You can also access your wallet from any computer in the world. The disadvantage is that you are dependent on a third party service to store your bitcoins, which can be unstable, offline or even shut down.
Elections and polls could be greatly improved with smart contracts. There are various apps already in existence, such as Blockchain Voting Machine, Follow My Vote and TIVI. All of them are promising to eliminate fraud, while providing complete transparency to the results and keeping the votes anonymous. However, there is still a long road ahead before decentralized voting is implemented widely.
Truth be told, blockchain has been around for almost a decade thanks to bitcoin, but it's only now beginning to garner a lot of attention. Most businesses that are testing blockchain technology are doing so in a very limited capacity (i.e., demos or small-scale projects). No one is entirely certain if blockchain can handle being scaled as so many of its developers have suggested.
Newer cryptocurrencies and blockchain networks are susceptible to 51% attacks. These attacks are extremely difficult to execute due to the computational power required to gain majority control of a blockchain network, but NYU computer science researcher Joseph Bonneau said that might change. Bonneau released a report last year estimating that 51% attacks were likely to increase, as hackers can now simply rent computational power, rather than buying all of the equipment.
An official investigation into bitcoin traders was reported in May 2018. The U.S. Justice Department launched an investigation into possible price manipulation, including the techniques of spoofing and wash trades. Traders in the U.S., the U.K, South Korea, and possibly other countries are being investigated. Brett Redfearn, head of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's Division of Trading and Markets, had identified several manipulation techniques of concern in March 2018.
Although Bitcoin is homogenous (the same everywhere in the world), its price varies across countries and even exchanges within the same country, giving a rise to arbitrage opportunities. At one point in 2017, the Bitcoin price in South Korea was trading at a 35% premium and in India, a 20% to 25% premium. The demand and supply conditions result in some aberrations in its price.
One of the Bitcoin blockchain's most innovative aspects is how it incentivizes nodes to participate in the intensive consensus-building process by randomly rewarding one node with a fixed bounty (currently 12.5 BTC) every time a new block is settled and committed to the chain. This accumulation of Bitcoin in exchange for participation is called "mining" and is how new currency is added to the total system afloat.
The blockchain sector is something regulators and lawmakers are beginning to look at more closely as well. Earlier this year, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, in uncharacteristically snarky fashion, even created its own cryptocurrency called HowieCoin to show how easily ICOs can hide as frauds. In June, the SEC appointed Valerie Szczepanik as its first “crypto czar,” while members of Congress in July held multiple committee hearings to learn more about how the blockchain can be used in industries such as agriculture.
Block Chain based distributed ledger systems are definitely the next paradigm, driven mainly by the need to control ‘cyber crime’ and improve web ‘user experience’. However, the biggest problem in implementing a block chain systems is to devise the control mechanism for supervision. This could be achieved by a two-tier block chain system. Is anybody thinking on these lines?
Perhaps one of the best real-world examples of blockchain in action is the partnership between Ripple (CCY: XRP-USD) and banking giants American Express (NYSE:AXP) and Banco Santander (NYSE:SAN). It was announced in mid-November that American Express users would be able to send non-card payments to U.K. Santander accounts over AmEx's FX International Payment network and have those transactions processed over Ripple's blockchain. The allure of this partnership is Ripple's instantly settling cross-border payments, as well as the expectation of small transaction fees.
Transactions on the blockchain network are approved by a network of thousands or millions of computers. This removes almost all human involvement in the verification process, resulting in less human error and a more accurate record of information. Even if a computer on the network were to make a computational mistake, the error would only be made to one copy of the blockchain. In order for that error to spread to the rest of the blockchain, it would need to be made by at least 51% of the network’s computers — a near impossibility.
After a block has been added to the end of the blockchain, it is very difficult to go back and alter the contents of the block. That’s because each block contains its own hash, along with the hash of the block before it. Hash codes are created by a math function that turns digital information into a string of numbers and letters. If that information is edited in any way, the hash code changes as well.
Lawbreakers have to hide and camouflage the money gained from their exploits. Currently this is done with fake bank accounts, gambling, and offshore companies, among other stratagems. There are a lot of concerns regarding the transparency of cryptocurrency transactions. But, all of the necessary regulatory elements, such as identifying parties and information, records of transactions and even enforcement can exist in the cryptocurrency system.
At present, social media organizations are able to freely use the personal data of their clients. This helps them make billions of dollars. Using Blockchain smart contracts, users of social media will be enabled to sell their personal data, if they so desire. Such ideas are being investigated at MIT. The aim of the OPENPDS/SA project is to provide the data-owner to tune the degree of privacy preservation using the Blockchain technology.
In the blockchain, bitcoins are registered to bitcoin addresses. Creating a bitcoin address requires nothing more than picking a random valid private key and computing the corresponding bitcoin address. This computation can be done in a split second. But the reverse, computing the private key of a given bitcoin address, is mathematically unfeasible. Users can tell others or make public a bitcoin address without compromising its corresponding private key. Moreover, the number of valid private keys is so vast that it is extremely unlikely someone will compute a key-pair that is already in use and has funds. The vast number of valid private keys makes it unfeasible that brute force could be used to compromise a private key. To be able to spend their bitcoins, the owner must know the corresponding private key and digitally sign the transaction. The network verifies the signature using the public key.:ch. 5