A distributed ledger is a database that is consensually shared and synchronized across network spread across multiple sites, institutions or geographies. It allows transactions to have public "witnesses," thereby making a cyberattack more difficult. The participant at each node of the network can access the recordings shared across that network and can own an identical copy of it. Further, any changes or additions made to the ledger are reflected and copied to all participants in a matter of seconds or minutes. Underlying the distributed ledger technology is the blockchain, which is the technology that underlies bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
A distributed ledger can be described as a ledger of any transactions or contracts maintained in decentralized form across different locations and people, eliminating the need of a central
authority to keep a check against manipulation. All the information on it is securely and accurately stored using cryptography and can be accessed using keys and cryptographic signatures. Once the information is stored, it becomes an immutable database and is governed by the rules of the network. While centralized ledgers are prone to cyber-attack, distributed ledgers are inherently harder to attack because all the distributed copies need to be attacked simultaneously for an attack to be successful. Further, these records are resistant to malicious changes by a single party.
Since ancient times, ledgers have been at the heart of economic transactions – to record contracts, payments, buy-sell deals or movement of assets or property. The journey which began with recording on clay tablets or papyrus, made a big leap with the invention of paper. Over the last couple of decades, computers provided the process of record keeping and ledger maintenance great convenience and speed. Today, with innovation, the information stored on computers is moving towards much higher forms – which is cryptographically secured, fast and decentralized.
Distributed ledger technology has great potential to revolutionize the way governments, institutions, and corporate work. It can help governments in tax collection, issuance of passports, record land registries, licenses and outlay of social security benefits as well as voting procedures. The technology is making waves in industries such as finance; music and entertainment; diamond and precious assets; artwork; supply chains of various commodities; and more. While the distributed ledger technology has multiple advantages, it’s in a nascent stage and is still being explored to adopt in the best possible ways. The future of centuries old ledgers is decentralized.
Trillion develops solutions using Distribute Ledger Technology in multiple industries / cases.
This report was written by a team composed of Harish Natarajan (Lead Financial Sector Specialist, Finance & Markets), Solvej Krause (Consultant, Finance & Markets), and Helen Gradstein (Financial Sector Analyst, Finance & Markets). Margaret Miller (Lead Financial Sector Economist, Finance & Markets) provided helpful comments on an early draft of this note. Douglas Pearce (Practice Manager, Finance & Markets) provided overall guidance. This publication benefitted immensely from the participation, guidance, and insights of other experts. The team is especially grateful to the peer reviewers for their contributions. The World Bank peer reviewers for this note were Stela Mocan (Lead IT Officer, ITS), Simon Bell (Global Lead for SME Finance, Finance & Markets), and Rosanna Chan (Economist, Transport & ICT). The external reviewers were Nicole Becher (Biplane Security/NYU Adjunct Instructor/New America Cyber Security Fellow) and David Mills (Federal Reserve Board of Governors). A special thanks goes to Aichin Lim Jones (Graphic Designer) for her work on the design, layout, and graphics of this publication.
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