Overview of Distributed Ledger Technology (Blockchain Technology)
DLT involves a distributed database maintained over a network of computers where information can be added by the network participants. Each added layer of information or data is referred to as a block. The network participants can share and retain identical cryptographically secured information and records.
DLT uses either a public or private network. A public network is open and accessible to anyone that joins, without restrictions. All data stored on a public network is visible to anyone on the network, although it is encrypted. A public network has no central authority and relies solely on the network participants to verify transactions and record data on the network. Algorithm and computational technology is used to protect the integrity of the data.
A private network is limited to individuals and entities that are granted access by a network operator. Access can be tiered with different entities being allowed differing levels of authority to transact and view data. In the financial services industry, it is likely that networks will be private.
The transactions and data on the network usually represent an underlying asset that may be digital assets, such as cryptosecurities and cryptocurrencies, or a representation of a hard asset stored offline (a token representing an interest in a gold bar, for example). Assets on a DLT network are cryptographically secured using public and private key combinations. The public key combination allows access to the network itself, and the private key is for access to the asset itself and is held by the asset holder or its agent.
A transaction may be initiated by any party on the network that holds assets on that network. When a transaction is initiated, it is verified using a predetermined process that can be either consensus-based or proof-of-work-based, although new verification processes are being explored. In layman’s terms, the verification process is based on computer computations. The settlement of the transaction is occurs when verification is completed. Currently this can occur immediately or take a few hours.
Once verified, a transaction is “cryptographically hashed” and forms a permanent record on the DLT network. Records are time-stamped and displayed sequentially to all parties with network access. Currently, historical records cannot be edited or changed, though technology is being developed to change that.