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Blockchain and Smart Contracts | @CloudExpo #FinTech #Bitcoin #Blockchain
Should developers start thinking like lawyers?
By: Ed Featherston
Mar. 1, 2017 12:15 PM
Blockchain is certainly the rage. No matter the industry, you can't seem to have a technology discussion before the topic is raised. According to Gartner's latest hype cycle for emerging technologies, blockchain is approaching the peak. It is considered by Gartner as one of the ‘Key platform-enabling technologies to track.' Approximately $1.4B has been invested in blockchain just this year, according to PwC executive Seamus Cushley. While there is a lot of ‘hype vs reality' discussions going on, there is no arguing that blockchain is being taken very seriously across industries and cannot be ignored.
In its simplest terms, blockchain is a distributed ledger. However, the reality is much more complex than that. Some of my earlier blogs on blockchain examine some of those complexities (‘Blockchain - It's So Much More than Bitcoin', ‘Blockchain - You want me to trust a trustless system?'). One of those complexities is the concept of Smart Contracts in the blockchain eco-system.
What Is a Smart Contract?
While the concept has been around for a while, blockchain now provides an ecosystem and framework to be able to address those objectives, and greatly enhances the capabilities and possible use case scenarios for blockchain.
Let's take a simple scenario discussed frequently in this context: purchasing a digital copy of a song.
Let's Buy a Song
Now imagine executing the sale in a blockchain ecosystem. Blockchain and micro payments are a common scenario. In that ecosystem is a smart contract. It defines the percentages of a sale each individual is to receive and where to send the amount. When a sale occurs, the contract is invoked, and each individual immediately receives their portion of the sale through the blockchain. Additionally, each individual has an indelible ledger of all the sales transactions to review and validate.
Blockchain Does Not Protect Against Bad Coding
It reminded me of something I talk to our junior developers about and include in a training program for new associates. I tell them: when developing an API you will be exposing to others for consumption, it is imperative to practice what I call ‘defensive programming.' You must look at your API and how it could potentially be misused, intentionally or unintentionally. We all know the happy path scenarios in our code, and how we intend it to be used. That's the easy part. The hard part is looking at our code dispassionately for the un-happy paths, and protecting from those scenarios.
Smart contracts in a blockchain environment ultimately are still just code and subject to the same challenge. The high profile issues with the DAO hack this past summer is a great example. The hackers leveraged a smart contract in the DAO Ethereum blockchain and took advantage of a flaw in the code that allowed them to transfer $50M in assets to them. They didn't, as some first thought, ‘hack the blockchain.' They examined the smart contract, saw a flaw, and executed on it, using the contract in a way the developer had not anticipated.
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