In 1982, the idea of the internet of things (IoT) started with a soda vending machine that was connected to the internet, allowing the machine to report its inventory and whether the drinks were cold or not. This increased the efficiency of the vending machine, allowing a worker to be sent out whenever it was actually needed, and ensuring that the machine was always stocked with cold drinks.
Since then, IoT has expanded to integrate any device with internet or radio connectivity, and it is estimated that 8.6 billion devices are connected as of 2018. For example, via Apple Home, a person can control their air conditioning, heating, light, speakers, outlet, switches, windows, fans, humidifiers, air purifiers, security sensors, security cameras, locks, doorbells, and garage doors with an iPhone app. This technology has the potential to make someone’s life much easier, and it sounds like something from a futuristic sci-fi movie. However, there is a major caveat: security.
IoT security concerns
With everything in someone’s home connected to the internet, a hacker could theoretically gain access to everything in someone’s home. Imagine if a hacker who intends to rob someone’s house gains control of the garage door, windows, locks, security cameras and sensors. This hacker could literally watch via the camera and wait for a family to leave their house, and then open up the windows or garage door and turn off all the security sensors, and rob the house blind without being caught. Also, having cameras connected to IoT could allow a hacker to spy on someone, compromising the basic human need for privacy.
A real-life example of IoT being compromised by hackers is the Mirai botnet, which took control of cameras, home routers, and DVRs. This botnet was leveraged to perform DDoS attacks, and also led to device connectivity problems and the exposure of private data.
Imad Labbadi is the CEO of VeCap, a company that focuses on securing IoT powered smart homes. He says:
“There is insufficient protection, several devices from well-known companies and other vendors have serious breaches in their security systems: insufficient encryption, weak authentication requirements — for example, auto-login, possibility of external connections via VPN. All it takes is one unprotected device to compromise the security of your smart system or smart home. Hackers only need to find that one breaking point to bring down the whole network. It takes hackers less than a minute to get access to smart home devices, from phones and TVs to routers and consoles; all these machines are connected to the internet. Vast numbers of devices with zero-day vulnerabilities will be hacked as soon as the breaches become known before manufacturers will be able to update all vulnerable smart devices. Short-term thinking compromises long-term security.”
Blockchain to the rescue?
This security caveat has prevented widespread adoption of IoT. However, the security and encryption of blockchain technology have the potential to make it completely secure, which would allow it to reach its full potential and be used by people worldwide without fear of hackers.
Data stored in a properly built blockchain cannot be modified or deleted, nor accessed by anyone who does not have permission. This is because blockchain technology is built with powerful cryptography. Smart contracts on the blockchain can then be used to run IoT devices.
Cyber-Trust is a blockchain-based platform which focuses on securing the IoT. It uses HyperLedger Fabric from IBM, which is a blockchain that can handle up to 100,000 transactions per second, quite necessary for global scalability considering the number of IoT devices is expected to reach 22 billion by 2024. The updated history of an IoT device’s integrity state is stored in the blockchain, which minimizes the risk of cyber attacks by ensuring that devices have the most up to date security software. Also, in general, all IoT device actions are performed via blockchain smart contracts, which prevents hackers from accessing the devices.
Another company which is using blockchain technology to secure IoT devices is VeCap. Smart contracts are used to secure all internal communications within a home IoT system, and all data is stored on the blockchain to prevent hacking.
The need for securing the internet of things (IoT) becomes even more essential due to industrial and government applications. For example, the power company CenterPoint has 7 million customers and they have installed digital meters and internet connected sensors for a 5,000 square mile area around Houston, Texas. This allowed CenterPoint to restore power more rapidly than usual after Hurricane Harvey, but it is essential that this connected grid of devices is secured from hackers. Also, medical devices in hospitals, industrial robots, and self-driving cars use the IoT, and it could be life-threatening and costly if hackers compromised those systems.
AI and computing
Hewlett Packard has invested USD 4 billion into edge computing, which uses a combination of blockchain technology and artificial intelligence (AI) to strengthen industrial uses of IoT. For example, X-ray machines across the US download data to the blockchain every 10 minutes or so, ensuring the data and the devices are secure, and then the data is analyzed by AI to help identify diseases like tuberculosis and pneumonia. This combination of blockchain technology and IoT is being called swarm computing.
Perhaps the greatest endeavor which has combined blockchain technology with the internet of things (IoT) is IOTA, which has a cryptocurrency called MIOTA that has a market cap of nearly USD 1 billion and is ranked #18 on CoinMarketCap (at time of writing). IOTA’s developers foresee that global data pipelines will inevitably become congested, preventing IoT devices from communicating and storing all the data they produce. The IOTA network prevents that problem by funneling all of this IoT traffic into their blockchain, which has the additional effect of providing higher security and decentralizing the network, so centralized points of failure are eliminated.
IOTA uses a unique variation of blockchain called Directed Acyclic Graph (DAG), and in the specific case of IOTA this DAG blockchain is nicknamed “The Tangle”. With a classical blockchain such as Bitcoin, all previous blockchain history is required in order to issue a new transaction. With DAG however, a node only needs two previous transactions in order to issue a new transaction. This makes IOTA fast and efficient while providing the same cryptographic security as a classical blockchain.
Aside from providing a medium which can handle the storage and communication of data for all IoT devices, IOTA also creates a new system where individuals and machines pay micro-transactions for exactly what bandwidth they consume and when they consume it instead of subscription models. Also, individuals maintain ownership over their data, and they can sell their data to make money, which has applications for the big data industry.
Thus, the proliferation of IoT, which has the potential to revolutionize the way people live, has encountered a roadblock due to security concerns. However, blockchain technology appears to be the solution, and companies and organizations like IOTA, Hewlett Packard, CyberTrust, and VeCap have already successfully integrated blockchain technology with IoT, which prevents hackers from accessing IoT devices.
This merger of blockchain technology and IoT is paving the way for a future where all the devices in the world are connected, leading to a more efficient life and a more efficient economy.
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