The Internet of Things, or IoT, is already transforming the way we use and look at technology. From smart home appliances and wearable fitness devices to next-gen automobiles that report on their usage and factory machinery that can detect and diagnose problems, it seems that everything has a reason to connect to another device — or several.
While the IoT has a lot to offer in connectivity, accessibility and data analysis, it also raises some concerns among experts in the community of IT security. As more devices make the leap to the IoT — which is expected to encompass 200 billion devices by 2020 — it’s becoming increasingly harder to keep an eye on digital assets.
There’s also an increased amount of network entry points to secure. Whereas a potential hacker might have had to target a mainframe to gain access to a system in the past, there are now dozens — and in some cases hundreds — of machines to infect or hijack. Ultimately, this makes cyber attacks even easier to pull off. Cybersecurity experts are already stepping up their games to compensate.
Introduction to the Blockchain
Many industry leaders are putting their faith in the blockchain. A format that includes highly advanced cryptography, decentralization, and transparency, the blockchain could prove invaluable in combating cyber attacks of increasing sophistication.
The blockchain is currently featured in the popular cryptocurrency Bitcoin, which is touted as a digital alternative to traditional paper currency. SPDR Gold shares decreased between August 2016 and August 2017, while Bitcoin saw gains of over 1,000 percent during this period — and much of its success is credited to the blockchain.
This begs the question: What exactly is the blockchain, and how is it beneficial to the IoT?
Our current blockchain model works by tracking all cryptocurrency transactions using a distributed ledger technology, or DLT. This is a common technology among commercial software, but its use in the blockchain revolves around verifying and confirming transactions for validity.
Although it’s currently used as a digital ledger of sorts, the blockchain can be programmed to utilize virtually any electronic document or data. The result is a concrete record that cannot be modified or altered.
However, the blockchain takes security one step further by eliminating the possibility of fraudulent transactions and verifications. Since the digital ledger is available for everyone to see, the data contained within is ultimately policed by the whole blockchain community. This has worked well on the relatively small scale of Bitcoin and digital currencies, and it should translate well to the larger and more dynamic scale of the IoT.
Integrating With the IoT
One of the biggest shortcomings of IoT development thus far is the implementation of next-gen security. Currently relying on a highly standardized and centralized framework of cybersecurity, the network is susceptible to data corruption, falsification or other forms of tampering. Whether these errors are made on purpose or by mistake is irrelevant once the damage has already been done.
Integrating the IoT with blockchain technology would put an end to any questions surrounding data integrity. With the value of data generated by the IoT speculated to expand to $14.4 trillion by 2022 it’s clear why data plays such a huge role with both IoT and blockchain. Seeing how some of this data is used in critical applications, such as urban planning and medical care, it’s crucial that this data is of the utmost quality and legitimacy.
However, the process of marrying IoT and blockchain is complicated. It’s not as simple as just registering a device with the blockchain and using it to transmit data, as this still leaves the system prone to hackers and even human error. To achieve the level of security that is needed for efficient interactions between the IoT and blockchain, we need to address the unique challenges it presents.
Tackling the Nuances of the IoT
The current blockchain is not equipped to handle incoming data from hundreds of billions of devices securely and efficiently. Many issues need to be addressed, including:
- Control over who has access to the individual machines or appliances in the first place. If a malicious user gains physical access to a verified machine and uses it to transmit data, how can we be sure it’s not a legitimate entry?
- Issues with the community consensus platform. Part of what makes blockchain so popular is the fact that it works via community consensus. If 51 percent of the network’s machines deem a transaction legitimate, the network accepts and verifies the transaction. In theory, a dedicated group of hackers could gain control of 51 percent of the blockchain’s resources and have full control over the entire system — although it has yet to happen.
- Advanced power requirements. The blockchain requires a tremendous amount of processing power — something that most IoT-enabled devices are lacking. Not only is it more expensive to upgrade product plans and manufacturing lines to include sophisticated processors, but it’s also not even a viable option in some situations.
- Legal and regulatory compliance. Running data through the blockchain introduces a lot of complexities to the process of big data management, and many IT officials already find it difficult to keep up with all the legal standards, regulations and potential repercussions of online data storage. Introducing, even more, validity checks add another level of legal muck to sift through.
- Individualized security planning. Enterprises will need to tailor each IoT deployment to their specific security schematics. Whereas current IoT security experts can focus on one or two security platforms, the integration of the IoT and blockchain might result in dozens or hundreds of potential security frameworks in use within the coming years.
There are a lot of issues standing in the way of a full-blown integration between the IoT and the blockchain, but they’re not insurmountable. These roadblocks can be overcome with further planning and development over the course of time. Depending on who you ask, though, we’re already running late.
The Future of the Blockchain-Driven IoT
While the integration of the IoT and the blockchain sounds great on paper, there are many obstacles and challenges to overcome before it becomes a reality. That’s not to say we’ll never achieve full-scale integration — the world’s IT leaders are nothing if not innovative and dedicated. However, it will take a fully concentrated and collaborative effort, focused primarily on security, to see it through to the end.
Nathan Sykes is a tech writer with a passion for IT and business. To read more posts by Nathan, go to Finding an Outlet.