The World’s Oldest Blockchain Has Been Hiding in Plain Sight Since 1995

The invention of blockchain in 2008 is widely regarded as a ground-breaking advance in computing, but few are aware that blockchain roots can be traced as far back as 1991.

Who Invented Blockchain Technology?

(Source: Motherboard)

While there’s still no single date that can be regarded as the birth of blockchain, it is generally considered that the groundbreaking technology started with the release of Satoshi Nakamoto’s Bitcoin paper in 2008. The subsequent release of the Bitcoin software in 2009 sparked a revolution in peer-to-peer computing and is on its way to change the world as we know it.

However, despite the fact that Bitcoin is credited with popularizing blockchains, the coin was actually built on technology that already existed.

Today, “blockchain” is treated as shorthand for the technology that underlies most cryptocurrencies and digital token systems, such as Bitcoin or Ethereum, but the technology itself has numerous other uses.

Blockchain, as a chronological chain of hashed data, was first invented in 1991 by cryptographers Stuart Haber and Scott Stronetta.

Instead of using it as an immutable record of financial transactions, Haber and Stornetta created the technology as a way to timestamp digital documents to verify their authenticity.

In a paper published in The Journal of Cryptology, the two authors argued that the ability to certify when a document was created or last modified would be crucial for resolving issues such as intellectual property rights.

How Did the First Blockchain Work?

In their quest to certify changes within digital documents, Haber and Stornetta had to define the main problem, which was – how to time-stamp the data and not the medium.

In order to bypass sending the digital document to a timestamping service, the authors created a cryptographic hashing algorithm, which produces a unique ID for the document. To prevent tampering, Haber and Stornetta made sure that If even a single bit is changed in the document, the ID will be totally different when running through the hashing algorithm again.

Haber and Stornetta then went on to create Surety, their own timestamping service, to put their scheme into action. Surety’s main product, the “AbsoluteProof”, acted as a cryptographically secure seal, creating a hash of the original document.

To solve the problem of trustlessness, Surety created a unique hash value of all the new seals added to its database each week and published this hash value in the New York Times.

A small ad in the Times classified section under the heading “Notices & Lost and Found” containing the hash has appeared once a week since 1995.

Impossible to Compromise

Publishing the immutable record of all the Surety seals produced in The New York Times was a revolutionary feat, one that was impossible to compromise.

According to the company, “this makes it impossible for anyone—including Surety—to backdate timestamps or validate electronic records that were not exact copies of the original.”

Ethereum’s cofounder Vitalik Buterin even joked on Twitter that compromising Surety’s blockchain would be very difficult, saying that “the more realistic attack vector would be to make fake newspapers with a different chain of hashes and circulate them more widely.”

However, the New York Times average daily print circulation of around 570,000 copies would definitely discourage any tampering.

Featured image by Agnieszka 

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