Blockchain was invented by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008 to serve as the public transaction ledger of the cryptocurrency bitcoin. The invention of the blockchain for bitcoin made it the first digital currency to solve the double-spending problem without the need of a trusted authority or central server. The bitcoin design has inspired other applications, and blockchains which are readable by the public are widely used by cryptocurrencies. Private blockchains have been proposed for business use. Some marketing of blockchains has been called "snake oil".
This type of permissioned blockchain model offers the ability to leverage more than 30 years of technical literature to realize significant benefits. Digital identity in particular, is fundamental for most industry use cases, be it handling supply chain challenges, disrupting the financial industry, or facilitating security-rich patient/provider data exchanges in healthcare. Only the entities participating in a particular transaction will have knowledge and access to it — other entities will have no access to it. Permissioned blockchains also permit a couple of orders of magnitude greater scalability in terms of transactional throughput.
Transparency does not, however, mean that public blockchains are completely unhackable. Any time data enters a digital network, it is subject to security breaches and unethical uses. Although public blockchains looks to be highly secure right now, there are always going to be bad actors interested in exploiting weaknesses in the system. This is often through hacking methods that are difficult to predict and account for — so claims of one-hundred-percent security in any technology should always be read with a critical eye
In general, so far there has been little emphasis on the distinction between consortium blockchains and fully private blockchains, although it is important: the former provides a hybrid between the “low-trust” provided by public blockchains and the “single highly-trusted entity” model of private blockchains, whereas the latter can be more accurately described as a traditional centralized system with a degree of cryptographic auditability attached. However, to some degree there is good reason for the focus on consortium over private: the fundamental value of blockchains in a fully private context, aside from the replicated state machine functionality, is cryptographic authentication, and there is no reason to believe that the optimal format of such authentication provision should consist of a series of hash-linked data packets containing Merkle tree roots; generalized zero knowledge proof technology provides a much broader array of exciting possibilities about the kinds of cryptographic assurances that applications can provide their users. In general, I would even argue that generalized zero-knowledge-proofs are, in the corporate financial world, greatly underhyped compared to private blockchains.
Developers and Cryptocurrency enthusiasts have been looking at expanding Bitcoins functionality as mainstream adoption increases. Side chains would increase the resilience of Bitcoin: If one of the sidechains was to be compromised, only the Bitcoins on that chain would be lost, while other sidechains and the Blockchain would continue like normal. This would further stabilize the Bitcoin network and increase security.
I said above that you can build sophisticated rules into Bitcoin transactions to specify how ownership is proved. However, the Bitcoin scripting language is deliberately limited and many ideas in the Smart Contracts space are difficult or impossible to implement. So projects such as Ethereum are building an entirely new infrastructure to explore these ideas
The immense promise and accelerated development of permissioned blockchain technology, combined with intense business interest from a wide range of industries, is acting as a perfect stimulant for more and more enterprises to start rolling out blockchain networks into production. I envision these permissioned networks will soon directly or indirectly influence every facet of human enterprise.