51% attack means a majority attack that breaches blockchain security. There is a possibility that blockchain security can be breached and the database manipulated if more than half of the computers validating its data are compromised. This can occur when hackers take control of more than 50% of the network’s mining hash rate either by generating enough computational power or by gaining control of more than 50% of the validating nodes. It can be used to change the transactional processing on the blockchain whereby transactions can be reversed, malicious nodes can prevent other nodes from mining, double-spending can occur, and lots more.
The threat to data security is very diverse especially in this age of social media where private institutions have access to sensitive data and can transfer ownership without legal consent. Blockchain technology is one the best forms of data security because of the concept of decentralisation — a form of storing data in a distributed network where there is no central control or ownership. And data storage and ownership are distributed across all computers that function as validating nodes on the network. While the decentralised system of data storage is not susceptible to a single point attack, it can still succumb to a majority attack if the network is small.
How does 51% attack work?
The probability that a majority attack on a blockchain network will succeed depends on the size of the network and the consensus mechanism. The Proof of work algorithm makes it more unreasonable to attack because the reward expected at the end of the attack will be too small compared to the cost of the attack. The Bitcoin blockchain has a very low probability of majority attack because it is a very large network of nodes and its mining operation is very energy consuming and requires expensive mining rigs.
Some blockchains that have suffered 51% attacks include Ethereum Classic (ETC), Feathercoin (FTC), Bitcoin Gold (BTG), Vertcoin (VTC) and Verge (XVG).
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