At first, making all of our machines and devices “smart” seemed like a great idea—and in many ways, it ways. The digitization of our very lives through the internet of things (IoT)—including conveniences like Bluetooth speakers, iPhones, and voice-activated baby monitors—has changed the landscape of our day-to-day experiences and made them easier, more intuitive, and—well, just better. But the smartification of our world did not stop at phones and household appliances; it moved on to the advent of smart homes, cities, and smart anything. In fact, Cisco Inc. has predicted that over 50 billion connected devices will be established by the year 2020. That’s a lot of smart technology that, unfortunately, carries with it significant risk of hacking and digital compromise.
These smart, sensor-laden devices are particularly useful because they can exchange data across the internet without any help from humans, essentially creating a wide range of applications and opportunities. Gartner now predicts by the year 2020, security costs will have risen 20% to deal with all the emerging breaches and problems. But despite this impending cost and headache, the IoT train has left the station and is now picking up speed like a locomotive. Experts predict the U.S. alone will spend $15 trillion in aggregate IoT investment between 2017 and 2015 to keep that train moving at full capacity.
Because the IoT aims to seamlessly integrate both the real and digital world into one functioning ecosystem of smart technology, it is an innovation with tremendous business value and a mind-boggling number of practical applications. Yet, it also suffers from some pretty serious security issues that still demand our attention and our best problem-solving abilities. One technological solution on the table capable of addressing these problems—namely, blockchain—is related to networking and cryptocurrency fields and has been revolutionizing the IoT with its overall efficiency and scalability.
What is the state of blockchain technology now?
The only new technology capable of overshadowing IoT is the blockchain, a system first built to underpin and authenticate the cryptocurrency known as bitcoin. There is a lot to say on the subject of blockchain; however what’s most important to remember here is its use as an unchangeable, distributed ledger. It can track almost anything, from financial transactions to digital identity to the origin of goods, in a way that cannot be faked or forged. When looking at it this way, blockchain has recently come on the radar as a solution for IoT security issues, primarily because it can be used to trace and authenticate IoT data.
Although blockchain made its debut through the introduction of bitcoin, the technology itself has since gained a big following based on its own merits and its potential applications to a wide range of industries. To see its progress more clearly, take a look at Gartner’s Hype Cycle, a graphical representation of the stages a technology must go through—from start to finish—in order to reach widespread adoption. Because as we know, humans need to time to get their head around new inventions and to see for themselves how the technology shakes out on its own merits. The Hype Cycle consists of these five stages:
- Technology Trigger: Aha moment! Prototypes and model for sure, but no functional products or market studies—perhaps a proof-of-concept demonstration at most.
- Peak of Inflated Expectations: Implementation is happening, especially by early adopters, and publicity is coming out with mixed reviews.
- Trough of Disillusionment: There will be flaws and failures abound, some leading to disappointment and resignation, with others lead to continued investment in eventual success.
- Slope of Enlightenment: Hope for the technology has been established and further applications become clearer, thereby increasing outside interest, testing, and financing.
- Plateau of Productivity: The technology is off and running; implementation is happening everywhere; and applications are effective—at which point standards for evaluation become necessary.
At the moment, blockchain has made it through the first two hype tests and is lingering in the Trough of Disillusionment, where only the most promising applications of blockchain technology will survive. And right now, the entire extent of these solutions remains to be seen.
What could blockchain technology actually do to help IoT security?
Some of the threats facing IoT include unauthorized physical access to devices, malware, and denial of service attacks taking down an IoT network, not to mention man in the middle attacks that guess passwords using clever methods or brute force. Blockchain could solve a lot of these threats by providing a more automated system of security and attack prevention. Here are some things blockchain could do for IoT:
- Create a distributed system of record for sharing data across a network of key stakeholders, essentially embedding business terms for automating interactions between nodes in the system
- Enable consensus and agreement models for detecting cybercriminals and mitigating threats
- Improve security by allowing blockchain-enable IoT deployment to register and everifty itself against the network
- Deter threats like denial of service based on its decentralized nature
- Enable real-world businesses to track data and create an unchangeable history of why certain decisions are made by an IoT device.
- Permit secure software updates, as well as payments and micropayments for the completion of an IoT service or product delivery
Any one of these solutions could be enough to propel blockchain technology to the front of the line for IoT needs. But all of them? This is the stuff technology dreams are made of.