MIT Sloan Management Review Article on Blockchain Isn't as Unbreakable as You Think

  • 10m
  • Stuart Madnick
  • MIT Sloan Management Review
  • 2019

Before exploring ways to use blockchain in business, managers should know where its vulnerabilities lie.

Sometimes it seems as if everyone has bought into the hype: Industries as far-flung as real estate and diamond sales1 have embraced blockchain without entirely knowing what it is or how its most vaunted features might fail or have unintended consequences. Blockchain assures users that once information has been stored, it can never be deleted or falsified. This means that when people in finance, say, pore over the history of a transaction, they feel content in the knowledge that illegalities have nowhere to hide. It means that people in the supply chain of a product trust that they can check its provenance without fear that misinformation has been slipped in along the way. In essence, blockchain promises not just complete data security but also something more intangible: that we will never be conned. Is it really so important that we understand what’s under the hood?

The truth is that blockchain is not as secure as it is believed to be, and its features can rebound in unfortunate ways. In research I conducted with Jae Lee, described in detail in his graduate thesis2 and a forthcoming paper for the Cybersecurity at MIT Sloan (CAMS) initiative, we cataloged 72 breaches reported between 2011 and 2018. These breaches cost users a grand total of more than $2 billion. Many of these breaches were possible because blockchain is actually vulnerable in some of the same ways that conventional, centralized record-keeping systems are. The rest are even more troubling, because bad actors were able to exploit the very features that make blockchain revolutionary: transparency, distributed control, anonymity, and immutability. In this article, we will look closely at both categories of vulnerabilities so that organizations can weigh the risks and decide whether to make use of blockchain.

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  • MIT Sloan Management Review Article on Blockchain Isn't as Unbreakable as You Think