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Blockchain could help answer one of IoT's biggest questions

The biggest promise of the internet of things is also arguably its biggest weakness — namely its scale. While the prospect of billions of IoT devices has the potential to alter the global economy, it also creates an enormous attack surface for hackers to exploit. Luckily, blockchain technology is providing new security benefits, which have caught the attention of companies worldwide.

The traditional method of network security is the client-server model, which attempts to protect the confidentiality, integrity and availability of each layer of the networking stack. However, this centralized security model is struggling to meet the demands of large IoT deployments, which can easily include tens of thousands — or more — of endpoints deployed across large areas. The sheer scope of such IoT deployments can overwhelm traditional network administrator professionals, while also creating a sizable attack surface. It can also be challenging to run security software on many IoT devices because of the constrained computing resources of many of these devices, increasing the need for alternate cybersecurity strategies that are compatible with low-bandwidth devices.

Decentralized security

In contrast to the client-server model, blockchain is distributed ledger wherein transactions are verified and an immutably recorded across the network, not a single central authority. This means blockchain technology can help distribute security-related decisions, allowing IoT devices themselves to play a role in detecting and reacting to network anomalies while assuring that data within the IoT network is not tampered with. In addition, blockchain is inherently resistant to outages and is open source. As a default, the technology is permissionless, allowing anyone to enter the network and join in the process of creating consensus. But blockchain can also be configured so that it is permissioned and private, which is preferable for many IoT security applications.

Increased adoption rates

Blockchain technology is steadily gaining ground for enterprise applications with companies like Nasdaq, JPMorgan, Spotify, UPS and Barclays deploying the technology. IoT World’s recent study (note: registration required), “What’s Keeping IoT Executives up at Night in 2018,” surveyed over 100 IoT executives and found that 46% of respondents are currently considering the use of blockchain technology in their IoT strategy. With blockchain adoption rising, it is important for companies to consider its benefits — and limitations — when implementing an IoT security plan. Blockchain’s transparency, tamper-proof record and decentralized nature give it an edge in preserving data integrity compared to a repository under the control of one entity, which could become a single point of failure, and can be used to secure everything from financial transactions to voting and medical records. Although the technology can prevent tampering once data has entered the distributed ledger, care must be taken to ensure that the data entering the system is accurate.

Widespread benefits

For the companies that are seriously considering how to incorporate blockchain, there are many potential benefits to consider justifying investing in the technology. Our survey respondents valued blockchain’s ability to reduce the risk of collusion and tampering (15.05%), followed by building user trust with blockchain-based cryptography (13.98%) and accelerating transactions by reducing the settlement time from days to nearly instantaneously (12.9%).

As IoT adoption accelerates and matures over time, blockchain seems destined to be a powerful tool to help organizations both secure their IoT deployments while also enabling complementary services such as smart contracts, proof of payment in IoT-related transactions, and helping enable traceability in the supply chains. Furthermore, blockchain can help ignite cross-sector collaboration and knowledge-sharing. An emerging number of organizations are stepping up to test the power of distributed ledger technology for IoT deployments, giving new meaning to sci-fi novelist William Gibson’s proclamation that “the future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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