The Internet of Things (IoT) is on track to change our world: an estimated 50 billion devices are expected to be operational by 2020, ranging from wearables to vehicles. But at the heart of IoT is an unprecedented amount of connectivity – and with it, grave security concerns that threaten to derail public trust.
Whether you’ve noticed it or not, the Internet of Things is already changing how we live our day-to-day lives. From smart companions such as Alexa and Siri, to our cars providing manufacturers with maintenance data, and the introduction of Smart Cities, IoT is responsible for telling us more about the world we inhabit and how we can better navigate it.
But behind the shining façade of IoT lies various security concerns, not eased by recent personal data scandals. After all, to achieve the connectivity which makes IoT so useful, devices must be constantly connected to the internet, whilst smaller manufacturers lack the resources to secure complex vulnerabilities.
Addressing these security concerns has become a priority amongst technology experts and IoT commentators – and it seems that the solution could have arrived in the form of another spotlight-hogging technology: Blockchain.
What is Blockchain?
Blockchain is a distributed ledger, a system of verifying and recording transactions across a network of computers. Each block holds a transaction’s data, a hash number to identify it, and the hash number of the previous block, scaling all the way back to the genesis block – hence the ‘chain’.
If you’ve heard the name Blockchain before, it’s likely in conjunction with Bitcoin. In 2008, the enigmatic Satoshi Nakamoto developed Blockchain as a means to decentralise transactions, with the popular cryptocurrency originating from this system. Now, however, the two technologies are approached individually, with both fighting critics in their own corners.
What Makes Blockchain Secure?
Blockchain enjoys an unprecedented amount of security thanks to several of its fundamental features. For a start, the ledger is distributed across an entire network of individuals, each receiving a record of all previous transactions. This means that any unscrupulous activity can be instantly recognised, preventing someone from receiving the consensus they need to validate a transaction.
The ‘chain’ element of the system also plays a large role in keeping Blockchain secure. Because each block features the hash number of the previous block in the sequence, any changes create a discrepancy which can be detected as all future blocks become invalid. The longer a chain becomes, the more secure it is as more blocks would become invalid.
Without a bank or retailer acting as a middleman, and with every future block acting as a tell-tale sign, a hacker would need to change records on thousand computers and take control of over 50% of the network to make any change – and it’s this reassurance which has made Blockchain a secure and immutable ledger.
How Can Blockchain Help to Secure IoT?
As mentioned above, security is a key concern for IoT’s critics as devices collect, store and transmit large quantities of data, gathered from our lives. With Blockchain, we may have the secure solution needed.
Initially, applying Blockchain to IoT might seem a little illogical – after all, the former is about transactions, whilst the latter is the connectivity of devices and data. Change ‘transactions’ to ‘messages’, however, and Blockchain’s place becomes clearer.
At its core, Blockchain provides IoT developers with three fundamental advantages: transparency, governance and consistency. These advantages are rooted not just in Blockchain’s inability to be tampered with, but also the distributed nature of the system. Without a third party to pass through, users can be confident that their data is in safe hands with the Blockchain. What’s more, as a distributed ledger, there’s no one single point of exploitation for any potential cyber-attackers, keeping the ecosystem consistent and safe.
The lack of an intermediary also means lower costs, allowing smaller manufacturers of connected products to create and sell secure devices to customers, opening up the market to more than just the likes of Google and Amazon, without compromising on quality or safety.
Finally, with the use of Smart Contracts – self-executing tasks – Blockchain can actually enhance front-end security too. The startup Slock has developed the best example of this to date with their connected door handle, which uses Blockchain to verify a person’s identity, their deposit payments and their arrival to unlock the door. This has made fully-automated Airbnb’s a possibility, and opened up opportunities to rent smart items and inject life into the sharing economy, securely.
A Safer Future for IoT
When asked on LinkedIn for my thoughts on Blockchain as a security platform and whether the network connectivity on the scale of the Internet of Things would be safe, I had to take a moment to consider the options we have.
Demand for IoT is clearly on the rise, with giants like Microsoft willing to pour $5billion into development. As such, we have to keep one step ahead of security vulnerabilities and potential difficulties. With Blockchain, we have a proven
method for keeping transactions and messages secure, and as the system has gained validity away from Bitcoin, I posit that we’ll see it become more synonymous with IoT in the months that follow.
That’s not to say, of course, that we won’t have to review Blockchain’s efficacy as technology develops, or that something better won’t come along. But for now, the tech world is feeling confident about Blockchain, and that means we can be confident in the Internet of Things too.
Kaleida is a bespoke software development house in Manchester, with an ear to the ground. Keep up to date with the latest news and commentary on our blog, or feel free to get in touch directly to ask our team any questions about our work.