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A blockchain is a growing list of records, called blocks, that are linked together using cryptography. Each block contains a cryptographic hash of the previous block, a timestamp, and transaction data (generally represented as a Merkle tree). The timestamp proves that the transaction data existed when the block was published in order to get into its hash. As blocks each contain information about the block previous to it, they form a chain, with each additional block reinforcing the ones before it. Therefore, blockchains are resistant to modification of their data because once recorded, the data in any given block cannot be altered retroactively without altering all subsequent blocks.
Cryptographer David Chaum first proposed a blockchain-like protocol in his 1982 dissertation “Computer Systems Established, Maintained, and Trusted by Mutually Suspicious Groups.” Further work on a cryptographically secured chain of blocks was described in 1991 by Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta.They wanted to implement a system wherein document timestamps could not be tampered with. In 1992, Haber, Stornetta, and Dave Bayer incorporated Merkle trees to the design, which improved its efficiency by allowing several document certificates to be collected into one block.
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